'Jaws' Review: Legend of the Deep
1975’s Jaws is a film with a truly remarkable reputation. Released to both critical aplomb and mass hysteria, Spielberg’s seafaring thriller quickly proved to be a classic to be feared and respected. It’s the kind of movie I avoided for my entire life, as it inflamed my mother’s fear of the deep ocean, but still couldn’t avoid the impact upon popular culture. It’s precisely this conflux of reactions that made me unsure of how to approach this titanic tale.
Telling the story of the island town of Amity after a string of violent shark attacks, Jaws sees police captain Brody (Roy Scheider), marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and the grizzled fisherman, Quint (Robert Shaw), study and hunt the seafaring behemoth responsible. Even when they think they have the creature cornered, the beast proves to be a worthy opponent for the trio, resulting in a climax drifting deep out to sea.
To the question of whether Jaws really lives up to thirty years of hype: I think it’s a little “yes” and a little bit “no.” For once, a movie that everyone threatened me with didn’t terrify; I don’t think I was honestly scared at any point in the two-hour proceedings. I may have felt some shock or been reviled at the thought of the gore, but I found myself swept up in the action too much to be afraid of the shark. The tension of the movie is perfectly taut, but while I worried for the welfare of the pedestrians and heroes, I don’t think I’ll be scared away from water anytime soon.
Yet, on the other hand, boy does Jaws score high! As I briefly mentioned, the pacing is completely on point throughout the film, knowing exactly when to rev things up and when to slow them back down. Not only that but the acting and writing are superb. Every character is fully realized and truly engaging, to the point that I was glad just to have some quieter moments with the main three heroes. We got to know their history and personalities naturally, at their own pace; an element I think many later films failed to realize.
And, really for me, that’s the greatest takeaway from Jaws: it's fantastic impact. So many later thrillers and monster movies tried to ape the style of this titanic classic, but almost always fall short. Sure, holding back the view of the creature is great, but if you don’t have strong characters and an engaging plot to fill the time, what are you really accomplishing? You can try to dial up the horror and the tension, but if you don’t ground it in reality and give the audience time to breathe, you’re doing your movie a disservice. It’s blindingly clear that Spielberg and company understood these elements so completely that it takes the film to a whole new level.
That’s the true legacy of Jaws, the way it forever changed the landscape of film. Sure, some of the effects haven’t aged so well, and maybe some of the music cues give away the game a little too much, but it’s impossible not to feel the reverberations from this colossal movie. Really, it’s the characters and the high stakes that drive the movie to its eternal status. In a way, Jaws is like a proto-Jurassic Park, albeit with less awe and a sizable amount more violence. Go in expecting a fine narrative, fine-tuned tension, and some well-placed action, and you’ll find a movie that’ll swim through your veins in all the right ways for years to come.