You ever had (or asked) that fateful question? You know the one, the question that makes most people sweat or shrug because they either can’t (or won’t) come up with an answer? Sure you have, we all have. I believe to answer such a question takes a fair slice of self-awareness because to answer what your favourite ANYTHING is, is an inherently personal question and requires a suitably personal reply.
In case you were wondering, the question is what is your favourite movie; my answer – unequivocally and without pause – is Steven Spielberg’s Jaws.
It feels over the decades that Jaws is a part of me. Made in 1975 it’s a year older than me and therefore I’ve technically never known a life without it, it’s relentlessly scary yet it’s still manufactured for the widest possible audience, it ingrained whole generations of movie goers with an elemental fear of the water and all the slithery, bitey eating machines that may or may not lurk under the surface and it’s really, really fucking good.
Based on (and vastly improving on it’s airport novel style roots) the bestseller by Peter Benchley, Jaws tells the tale of a small New England town whose summer businesses are held hostage by the arrival of a leviathan-sized Great White shark. Boasting a bowel loosening length of 25 feet and more sharp points in it’s cavernous maw than a John Wick knife fight, the mountainous, death-fish starts amassing a preventable body count thanks to the disbelieving townspeople and despite the efforts of Police Chief Martin Brody to get people to listen to reason. Eventually joined by nebbish shark expert Matt Hooper to try and maintain some sort of control eventually the contents of the shark’s cheeky binges become too much to keep under wraps and the duo enlist the help of deranged fisherman Quint to turn the aquatic monster into enough sushi to easily fill 30 branches of Wasabi. Can the three men overcome their differences to avoid becoming the personal chew toy to a giant, finned biting machine or can man possibly hope to overcome this freak of nature on it’s own turf?
When it comes to describing the pluses of Jaws, the only real problem you have is knowing where to start. The three leads are legendarily good with Roy Scheider channeling projecting a relatable everyman performance as he struggles as the middle man in the class war between upper class, rich kid Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss putting his coke habit to excitable good use) and lunatic, working class, old-schooler Quint (a career best Robert Shaw chewing as much scenery as the shark chews torsos), with world class character work being bandied around like there’s a two for one sale, literally EVERY character here feels fleshed out and fully three dimensional, from innocent Deputy Hendricks to the shifty Mayor Vaughn and his endless collection of genuinely upsetting suits.
Plus a young Spielberg, obnoxiously hungry and drunk on his own talent, creates indelible, unforgettable scenes all over the place. A director would be lucky to magic up over a dozen scenes that will live forever over the course of their whole career, Spielberg easily doubles that in just one movie! The opening attack, the head in the boat, the Hitchcock dolly shot, the Indianapolis speech (surely one of the finest in film history), Brody’s son mimicking him, Quint and Hooper bonding while comparing scars, “You’re going to need a bigger boat!” and so much more.
The film constantly and effortlessly shifts gears, moving from relentless, legitimate terror (thanks Ben Gardner’s startling appearance in the hull of his boat for fucking me up for decades) to stirring high-seas adventure and back again with a surprising humorous touch (it’s surprisingly funnier than you remember) and it’s a massive testament to cast, script or director that they never once let Jaws slip into the B-movie it so easily could have become.
Endless praise must go to John Williams to for creating one of the most iconic and important scores ever made, something so simple and yet so versatile as that two-minute theme that literally gives everyone instant chills the second they hear it within 20 feet of even a drop of H²O (notice how it ONLY plays when the shark is around and is never used for a cheap fake out scare).
So is there ANYTHING wrong with Jaws? No. It’s basically perfect, and even when the big, rubber (and infamously temperamental) shark fails to convince as a real animal it still easily makes you spasm like an electrocuted octopus when it erupts from the deep like a flesh-eating torpedo with an aggressive overbite.
An incredibly satisfying cinematic experience that created not only it’s own killer-animal sub-genre (Piranha, alligators and bears, oh my!) but the very concept of blockbusters as we know them, Jaws is one of the greatest movies EVER MADE and any more praise I heap upon it is gonna make me need a bigger review.
Like the slow swimmers of Amity – with Jaws there’s plenty to chew on and even more to swallow, so smile you son of a bitch…