Anthony's Film Review

Jaws (1975)

Steven Spielberg's classic shark movie provides timeless chills and thrills...

Steven Spielberg was only in his 20s when he directed the 1975 thriller Jaws centering on a killer shark. Given his relative filmmaking inexperience at the time, there was naturally concern that he would not be able to pull it off. But as the young director would prove, lack of experience does not necessarily mean lack of skill. If anything, Spielberg would be one of those people who would shine in the director's chair if given the chance. Sure enough, he proved the naysayers wrong, because this is a movie that definitely does not disappoint.

That's not to say the production of Jaws went smoothly. For one thing, some of the mechanical sharks built for this movie malfunctioned, something that could significantly delay the shoot. That is assuming, of course, that the movie would be filmed in the way originally planned, with frequent use of mechanical sharks. Thankfully, Spielberg was clever enough to improvise. He decided to change his filmmaking approach by having camera shots representing the shark's perspective, which obviously does not require any mechanical sharks. In retrospect, this is perhaps a better technique for a shark thriller, so the mechanical shark mishap was really a blessing in disguise.

Consider the film's opening scene that ends with a young woman falling victim to the shark. You don't see the shark at all. All you see are underwater shots with the camera approaching the woman and above-water shots in which she is getting pulled in random directions before getting pulled under the surface of the water for good. You don't see the shark there, but you know it's there. This is essentially the classic Alfred Hitchcock method of presenting what's around the threat, but not the threat itself.

Speaking of Hitchcock, there's another important suspense technique employed in Jaws: building anticipation. There are a few scenes in this movie where people are having fun at a beach, even when the audience knows there is a killer shark in the water. As someone watching the movie, you want to tell the beach people in the movie to get out of the water, but you can't because they can't hear you (for obvious reasons). So you're forced to watch those people having fun, because the beach town's mayor does not want to close the beach and put the local tourism economy at risk, while being afraid because everyone on screen is so oblivious of what is to come. Eventually, a third thriller film technique comes into play: unexpected surprises. Even if you know the shark is coming, you still might not predict the exact moment when it comes and appears close to eating someone.

Already, you can tell that I really admire this movie. But there's more. Jaws features a great principal cast of three actors. Roy Schneider plays Brody, the chief of police in the New England beach town of Amity Island that thrives on summer tourism, especially on the 4th of July. Richard Dreyfuss is an oceanographer named Hooper, who comes to Amity Island to learn more about the recent shark attacks and eventually becomes an ally in a shark-hunting effort. Then there is Robert Shaw as Quint, a World War II veteran who is willing to kill the shark for $10,000, more than the $3,000 reward offered by a woman who has lost her child to the shark.

Thanks to great performances by these three actors, the main characters they play come alive. Brody is a man who does whatever it takes to protect the people of Amity Island, although he does have a fear of water that could hinder major tasks out on boats. Hooper is a curious intellectual whose knowledge of sharks knows no bounds. As for Quint, he is someone who is brave and tough and does not shy away from dangerous work at sea. This is best illustrated by Quint's monologue late in the film in which he describes his war experiences. Also in that same scene, the three men laugh and bond together, even as the task of killing the shark is still yet to be completed.

As for the plot, it's a simple yet nonstop series of events stemming from repeat shark attacks. The first half takes place in Amity, depicting investigations into the shark attacks, the mayor's concern about cancelling 4th of July parties on the beach, and a bit of Brody's family life. The second half is all about Brody, Hooper, and Quint sailing out as they hunt for the shark, which I won't detail further because this is where the real excitement of the movie lies. The two halves go together very well, because it's all one seamless story featuring the same trio of men on a mission. Also, the Jaws theme by John Williams, based on a simple two-note motif, is so effective in making us scared, from the film's opening shot to the shark's final appearance. John Williams should get much recognition for this movie, not just Steven Spielberg.

With all of this, Jaws earns my highest rating of praise. On my 1-to-10 scale, it starts off at an 8 and slowly inches its way up to a 9 halfway through the movie before reaching a 10 during the climax. This is a film worthy of the thriller genre, as well as a solid adaptation of the novel of the same name by Peter Benchley. It'll make you think twice about swimming in deep water. OK, maybe it won't actually change your swimming habits, but certainly you might lean towards it momentarily while watching the horror and destruction of this legendary cinematic shark.

Anthony's Rating:

For more information about Jaws, visit the Internet Movie Database.


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