Category Archives: JAWS Reviews

JAWS – Spielberg’s First Masterpiece

I found this interesting take on JAWS over at TrashCinemaClub.com. More praise for our favorite film — aside from the badmouthing of Quint, that is …

TRASH CINEMA ESSENTIAL MOVIE

Only his second feature film, Jaws cemented Steven Spielberg’s status as a great director in my mind. Jaws was also the first modern blockbuster, which helped to usher in the dreadful three-month wasteland of mindless action pictures and comedies known as the summer season, but I won’t hold that against it.

Jaws is thought of as a simple popcorn flick, but it’s much more than that. It has elements of horror, action/adventure, character-based drama, and political commentary. Jaws is a very rich film with a very simple premise.

A Great White shark has a midnight snack off the shores of Amity Island right before the summer tourist season. Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) concludes that a shark is loose and wants to close the beaches. He gets some opposition from Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), who’s primary concern is the local tourist economy. Eventually, the town hires local fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) to hunt down the shark. Brody and oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) tag along.

Spielberg demonstrates his filmmaking mastery right off the bat with a late night party on the beach. He captures the spirit of the teen gathering in a way that doesn’t talk down to young people. This is important because we need to see the first victim as a flesh and blood human being, not merely a shark snack. The way the attack is filmed is bloodcurdling. Spielberg taps into the atavistic fear of what is unseen under the water by filming at water level. The performance of the young actress Susan Backlinie as the victim is fantastic and heartbreaking.

Back then, Spielberg’s mastery extended to character scenes as well. He economically sketches Chief Brody’s relationship with his wife and sons. Roy Scheider’s Brody comes off as a fully formed character. He’s sensitive, brave, self-doubting, righteous, and with a touch of wry humor. He’s a great hero, much more compelling than the usual monosyllabic slab of bulletproof machismo we’re accustomed to.

Oceanographer Matt Hooper shows up when he hears about the shark attacks, purely out of professional curiosity. Richard Dreyfuss makes him into a wonderful character. Hooper is brainy, combative, and has a sense of humor.

In fact, there is a lot of humor in Jaws. There are hilarious false alarms, mini-parodies of macho chest-beating, and swipes at the dopiness of human greed. Spielberg uses this humor not only to entertain us but to lull us into a false complacency before scaring the crap out of us yet again. He plays the audience like a Stradivarius.

The only character that’s problematic to a certain degree is Quint, the Great White shark hunter. Robert Shaw famously thought that the script for Jaws was a piece of #&*^ and it shows. Shaw condescends to the character and so Quint comes off as being corny. His portrayal doesn’t ruin Jaws, but it’s too bad Spielberg couldn’t get Lee Marvin, who was his first choice for Quint and probably would have played the role straight.

Murray Hamilton is wonderful as the smarmy mayor who wants to keep the beaches open. Hamilton was so effective that he became typecast in the role of the corrupt government bureaucrat who wants to preserve the status quo.

But as good as the dramatic and comedic elements are, the most impressive aspect of Jaws is Spielberg’s filmmaking prowess. Here’s a small example. In one scene, Brody is sitting in a lawn chair on the beach, trying to keep an eye on the water. Someone is talking to him. Spielberg uses a special lens with two magnifications on it, with the dividing line obscured by the waterline in the shot. The kid in the water that Brody is watching is magnified, mimicking Brody’s subjective reality. It’s just brilliant. And there’s examples like that all through the film.

The mechanical shark that Spielberg used on Jaws didn’t work most of the time, but Spielberg turns this to his advantage. He shows the shark very sparingly, which works out well because of the nature of man’s natural fear of sharks, part of which is you can’t see them most of the time because they are below the water. There’s one reveal of the shark which is just priceless, accompanied by a line, ad-libbed by Roy Scheider, which has made it into the popular consciousness — “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Finally, I should mention composer John Williams famous score. When Williams first played the dum-dum…dum-dum theme for Spielberg on piano, Spielberg thought he was joking because the theme was so primitive. But that’s the point, isn’t it? The score is terrific and tragically one of the last great scores Williams would write. Basically, his theme for Star Wars would ruin him. After that, directors just wanted him to regurgitate variations of the same heroic claptrap, over and over again.

It would be hard to overstress how good Jaws is. The reason that it was critically undervalued at the time is because Spielberg made it look too easy. Jaws goes down as easily as a glass of Sangria. It’s so entertaining that it’s easy to miss how profoundly accomplished the filmmaking is. Jaws succeeds on every possible level and remains one of Spielberg’s very best films.

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The Indispensibles #2 – JAWS

The first time I heard about Jaws, or at least what I thought was Jaws, was in the playground at school. I was ten. Someone in the year above me was telling me it was the “scariest film ever”. They went on to describe to me how a shark terrorised a group of stranded teenagers whose boats had run aground and then went on to eat an entire helicopter.  I couldn’t compute that this “horror” film about a helicopter-eating shark was by the same guy who made E.T The Extra Terrestrial, my then favourite film of all time!  I begged my parents to hunt it out and show it to me! I cried for like a week (well, maybe ten minutes) when they refused on the grounds that a) I was ten and too young to be watching people getting eaten by sharks and b) my sister had a devastatingly annoying fear of sharks and I was only allowed to watch films we would both enjoy – with that in mind, how I ended up sitting through Adventures in Babysitting and Dirty Dancing, I do not know.

Thanks to a friend’s irresponsible parents though, I soon found myself sitting down to watch a copy of this much touted “horror” film one rainy Saturday afternoon.  My ten year old mind walked away from my first ever viewing of the film somewhat disappointed to find out that it was in fact Jaws 2 that held the delights of helicopters getting eaten by sharks, teenagers getting munched from their stranded sailboats and so on and so forth.  Damn that irresponsibly inaccurate playground blabbermouth!  As a schlocky piece of horror for a pre-teen frame of mind, Jaws is disappointingly bloodless for the majority of its running time.  However, it is indeed a film that you grow into loving with age. Ten year olds are not meant to be impressed by Quint’s ‘Indianapolis’ monologue or the now famous reverse zoom shot of Brody on the beach, spotting what he thinks is a shark zoning in on swimming tourists.  With time comes a mature understanding of those long boat-bound scenes between three great character actors, an appreciation for the setting up of an action sequence as opposed to the actual sequence itself and a true love of John Williams’ superb score (one of the greatest of all time!), outside of that infamous three-note signature piece.

So how did this three-men-versus-a-giant-rubber-shark movie come to be held in such high regard by a man, who two decades earlier bemoaned that it was “not as good as BMX Bandits”? To explain that I have to take you back, unfortunately for tangent-haters, to 1974.

Now, you need to bear with me on this because the history of the making of Jaws and how it came to be is just as famous as the film itself. It’s also one that pretty much everyone knows about. So why am I detailing? Because, it’s just so much f$cking fun for a fan to write about it!

Spielberg, the now legendary director, had seen the early proof-reads of Peter Benchley’s bestseller on the desk of producer David Brown and had asked what it was about, naively believing at first – thanks to the mocked-up cover of a bikini-clad babe splashing around in the ocean (no shark in sight) – that it was about a “pornographic dentist” (I kid you not!).  Brown explained the concept to him in a manner that can only be described as the absolute opposite of ‘high art’.  “It’s about a shark that eats people!” Yet it was so much more than that. Well, actually maybe the book itself wasn’t (it isn’t, believe me!) but the eventual film would indeed be – and then some:

Amity Island, on the East Coast of America, is plagued by attacks on swimmers by a twenty-eight foot great white shark. Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) would like to keep the whole thing quiet so that the all important tourist season – and the money that rolls in from it – remains unaffected but Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) disagrees. Soon the brutal attacks get to the stage where the shark cannot be ignored and Brody, despite his general hatred of the water, teams up with Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), a marine biologist, and a mysterious old sea salt of a shark hunter called Quint (Robert Shaw) to go catch the shark and stop its feeding frenzy once and for all. However, once out in the middle of the ocean the hunters become the hunted…

Read the rest of the article here:  The Indispensibles #2 – JAWS

Jaws 2: Revolutionary for Sequels

Variation has always been the source of much debate during this much scrutinized era of sequels. Before Jaws 2, sequels were primarily made for two reasons: to continue the storyline that was not initially concluded in the first film (Planet Of The Apes, The Godfather), or in the design of the episodic serial (Frankenstein, Dirty Harry, James Bond). Universal decided to do something that seemed improbable– make a sequel where most have failed (French Connection II & Exorcist II). This leaves a crew’s work cut out for them.

Chief Brody is now a disillusioned, paranoid man

Chief Brody is now a disillusioned, paranoid man

Chasing demons from the past in a darkroom

Chasing demons from the past in a darkroom

In 1975, director Steven Spielberg’s Jaws became the most successful picture of all time. The success of the film created a phenomenon that Universal felt somehow had to be continued. Enter Jaws 2, a film that proved more things than the general public knows today or when it was released in 1978. Only this time, no Spielberg and no Dreyfuss, for both were working on Close Encounters Of The Third Kind. So who was going to take over? What was going to make this film special in its own way? French director Jeannot Szwarc was brought on board by production designer Joe Alves who worked with him and Spielberg on Rod Serling’s TV horror show, Night Gallery. Upon winning the director’s chair, Szwarc decided upon a very meticulous and crucial design on how to make this film and what it exactly needed to be.

1. The main character must be emotionally enhanced, more matured, learning from previous film’s events; continuing arc. (you’ll see this later in Aliens, T2, etc)

2. Introduce new conflicts for the characters to face (nobody believes Roy Scheider’s character’s suspicions of a shark).

3. Nostalgia for the previous film must be established giving the character’s history.

4. The story structure and certain elements of the first film must remain in order to keep the audience’s familiarity of why they loved the first film (shark POVS, action elements)

5. Different cinematography or visual look (shooting behind the shark fin, different lighting).

6. Different editing style gives the film a different pace and/or energy.

7. Introduce elements that were not included in the first film or create different situations for the characters (shark is shown a lot to prevent duplicating the first film).

8. Bring back the characters that the audience fell in love with in the first film as long as it respects continuity.

9. Bring back the same musical themes from the original film (John Williams returns to enhance his Academy-award winning themes with new compositions.)

10. Enhance and extend the themes from the original film to bring new life and feelings for the film (Szwarc introduced sophisticated visuals giving an art history appreciation).

A glaring paradox can be noticed. For it all to work, such a film requires to be somewhat similar to its original source of inspiration and yet be different enough to reveal new storytelling possibilities and interpretations. Not easy…

Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it

"Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it"

Read more of this article at Mouthshut …

The Visual Language of JAWS – JAWS Shot by Shot

Jaws. The defining film in my life. The first film I remember seeing as a child remains my favorite film of all time. Steven Spielberg was a Wellesian 26 years old when he directed this masterpiece and it forever changed the landscape of the Worldwide Box Office, the film formula and Hollywood’s marketing machines.

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Based on the novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws tells the simple story of a small New England town terrorized by a great white shark but it’s in the 2nd act with what starts as a simple horror story turns into a Moby Dick tale at sea fueled by the 3 archetypes of Chief Brody, Matt Hooper, and Quint, our salty Ahab.

As much as it’s been compared to Melville’s Moby Dick, I don’t recall Dick giving people true fear. What Hitch did with Psycho and shower curtains, Spielberg to this day makes me think of what’s underneath me whenever I step foot into the ocean.

The film is perfect and I chose a very simple sequence too look at. A sequence which on the page was 3 sentences long. Keep this is mind all of you ‘page a minute’ sticklers. How would you have shot this? How many cuts? You know the drill. Read the quick passage from the script and then let’s have a look at it, shot by shot:

See the shot by shot analysis at Cineobscure …

Jaws: The Revenge Review [Jabootu’s Bad Movie Dimension]

If you keep slogging through life’s more unpleasant tasks, you’ll eventually see them through. This is a lesson I have recently relearned. I’ve spent the last several years—I’m pretty sure that’s right—reviewing the four movies that constitute the Jaws series. These sojourns have taken me from the Olympian peaks of the initial film to the Stygian depths of, well, this one. I’m just beginning the final leg of that epic journey, but I can see the sun stretching and yawning as its fiery pate edges over the horizon, bringing with it a new day. (Admittedly, I’ll probably spend this new day reviewing a Steven Seagal movie or something.)

Still, I’m not taking our current subject lightly, as it is marked by a rare distinction. The gulf in quality between Jaws and Jaws: The Revenge may well be the widest between any two such films in the entire history of cinema. This is not meant to be a hyperbolic claim. While I’m sure others can suggest competitors for this dubious crown, I’d be willing to defend our featured pair against all comers.

For instance, let’s look to the AFI 100 Best American Films list. Admittedly, that’s hardly a definitive reference, but it’s not a bad place to start. By my count, only the following films on that list have been by followed by sequels: The Godfather (#3), Star Wars (#15), Psycho (#18), 2001: A Space Odyssey (#22), The Godfather Part II (#32, just to be safe), King Kong (#43), Jaws (#48), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (#50, and technically, it was a prequel), All Quiet on the Western Front (#54), Raiders of the Lost Ark (#60), The Silence of the Lambs (#65), The French Connection (#70), American Graffiti (#77), Rocky (#78) and Frankenstein (#87). (Actually, Bride of Frankenstein should have made the AFI roster instead, but what are you to do?)

Among the cited pictures, and not counting TV movie follow-ups (sorry, Psycho), only one film has a sequel within shouting distance of Jaws: The Revenge. That sorry cinematic progeny would be Rocky IV. I can actually see a reasonable debate over which one of the respective offspring was worse. I myself would still go with Jaws: The Revenge, but I could respect somebody arguing for Stallone’s Folly.

However, even putting that issue aside, I’m still going with Jaws: The Revenge as being the most unworthy follow-up. This is because I remain unconvinced that Rocky deserves to be called one of the 100 Best American Films. It’s certainly a memorable picture, but among the best hundred ever? In contrast, I fully believe Jaws to be worthy of that designation. Therefore, I maintain that the greatest gulf lies between Spielberg’s film and this one.

Jaws: The Revenge—they stopped numbering the entries at this point, despite it being a direct sequel to the initial two films—remains most famous for two points:

1. It’s the movie with the Roaring Shark.
2. It’s the one where the Shark is out for, well, revenge.

Read more at Jabootu’s JAWS The Revenge Review …

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