Happy 40th Anniversary, Jaws!

Y’all know me. Know how I earn a livin’. I’ll catch this bird for you, but it ain’t gonna be easy. Bad fish. Not like going down the pond chasin’ bluegills and tommycods. This shark, swallow you whole. Little shakin’, little tenderizin’, an’ down you go. And we gotta do it quick, that’ll bring back your tourists, put all your businesses on a payin’ basis. But it’s not gonna be pleasant. I value my neck a lot more than three thousand bucks, Chief. I’ll find him for three, but I’ll catch him, and kill him, for ten. But you’ve gotta make up your minds. If you want to stay alive, then ante up. If you want to play it cheap, be on welfare the whole winter. I don’t want no volunteers, I don’t want no mates, there’s just too many captains on this island. Ten thousand for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing.”

June, 20th, 1975: The day everybody started reconsidering their summer beach vacation plans.

Based on Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel of the same name, Jaws essentially paved the way for what we now know as the “summer blockbuster event” movie. Forty years to the day after its initial release, the film really does hold up very, very well (yes, even considering what is obviously a fake shark.). What makes up for the sometimes scary/sometimes goofy-looking shark itself is the screenplay, keen directorial choices made by then-journeyman filmmaker Steven Spielberg, a landmark, haunting, and timeless musical score as delivered by veteran composer John Williams, and the razor-sharp performances of lead actors Roy Scheider (police chief Martin Brody), Robert Shaw (the salty sea fisherman Quint), and Richard Dreyfuss (oceanographer Matt Hooper).

As for the shark, Spielberg, owing to persistent malfunctions with the model and perhaps planning for the worst while hoping for the best, elected to keep the shark “behind the curtain” for most of the film. He waits until the one-hour or so mark to provide the first teasing glimpse, when it attacks a boater near the Amity beach. Even then we only get a fleeting look at the creature’s head before the camera cuts away, and we’re left to consider just how frikkin’ big this thing really is. It’s not until the pivotal moment twenty minutes later, when Brody is tossing chum into the water behind Quint’s boat, the Orca, that the shark reveals itself to the boat’s crew, and us, and provides what is arguably the most memorable line of the entire movie: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

There are a few things which obviously date the film, such as fashion, automobiles, and the like. Speaking of clothes, actor Murray Hamilton as Amity mayor Larry Vaughn gets my vote as worst-dressed dude in a movie not featuring RuPaul. Holy Shit on a Ritz Cracker…that multi-colored pinstripe number? I still have nightmares about going to prom wearing something like that. Still, such things are easy to dismiss when we’re talking about a film that’s able to transcend the era in which it’s made. For such movies, I simply consider them period pieces, and enjoy.

Yeah, these days we know that much of the shark’s behavior is wholly at odds with the way sharks really act, but we don’t care. It’s still a riveting story of man facing off against one of nature’s perfect creations; the consummate eating machine which goes about its singular purpose with simple, brutal efficiency. As for the lead characters, Scheider brings what would become his patented “every man” approach to the role of Brody, a regular joe caught up in a ridiculously extraordinary situation. Richard Dreyfuss is our translator as Hooper, explaining the shark’s actions and drive to do what it does, and providing much of the comic relief in the film’s latter half. Robert Shaw offers up an assload of quiet menace to his performance as Quint, and his recounting of the U.S.S. Indianapolis sinking and its aftermath is quite simply one of the most bone-chilling monologues in cinema, period.

Jaws did phenomenal business during the summer of 1975, and continues to be listed among the best films ever made by whoever bothers to make such lists. As for what came after? A sequel was inevitable, especially considering one of the producers involved with the film, Richard D. Zanuck, was the head of 20th Century Fox Studios when the original Planet of the Apes was made and greenlit the first of the sequels to that film (Hey, the man knew how to capitalize on an idea). What about the Jaws follow-ups? Jaws 2 is a serviceable if largely unremarkable sequel, the only saving grace of which is the always watchable Roy Scheider reprising the role of Brody. The less said of the subsequent two films, Jaws 3-D and Jaws: The Revenge, the better.

No. We’re not talking about those films here. Ever.

There have been rumors circulating for a while now that a remake of the original film is in the works (in 3-D, even). Whether this might be a straight-up retelling of the film itself, or a new take on Benchley’s original novel never seems to crop up during such mindless blathering. So far as I’ve been able to tell, cooler heads at Universal have prevailed in this regard, at least so far. Perhaps they’re worried about Steven Spielberg’s continued association with the studio (via Dreamworks), and the belief that he might aggressively fight any attempts at a remake, along with making miserable the lives of as many Universal execs as he’s able. In a world that’s given us Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus and Sharknado, I’m content for studio folk to leave this one well enough alone.

Yep, even after all these years, the original Jaws remains an eminently rewatchable film.

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About Dayton Ward

Freelance word pusher. Husband. Dad. Trekkie. Rush fan (the band). Tampa Bay Bucs fan. Observer/derider of human behavior. I know where my towel is.
This entry was posted in fandom, movies, nerdity, tributes. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to Happy 40th Anniversary, Jaws!

  1. My dad, brother and I saw Jaws on the opening Saturday at the “rocking chair” theater on Hillsborough Avenue. I had just graduated high school. No multiplexes back then and it was the first movie I ever attended that when we arrived there was a line around the building to get in. Once in, the only seats available were dead center in the second row – almost a little too close for that opening scene. Great movie though I prefer the book’s ending.

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  2. Doug Daniel says:

    This film was my introduction to Spielberg. Third row of a little theater in Palmdale, California, and I was never the same….

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  3. archersangel says:

    Robert Shaw offers up an assload of quiet menace to his performance as Quint, and his recounting of the U.S.S. Indianapolis sinking and its aftermath is quite simply one of the most bone-chilling monologues in cinema, period.

    i heard somewhere that someone (spielberg, probably) just gave him the basics of what happened & shaw decided himself how to tell the story. and because of that scene hunter scott did the research that eventually exonerated captain mcvay.

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