Before people were devoured by CGI, tourists along the New England coast were being eaten by a killer shark. Based on the novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws sees Roy Schneider’s New York cop, Martin Brody, investigating a series of deaths that bear all the hallmarks of a shark attack.
After the shark gurgles on little Alex Kintner, his mother sets a small bounty and the idyllic costal resort of Amity Island becomes a frenzy of pitchfork mentality. Brody drafts in Marine Biologist Matt Hooper (played with eccentricity by Richard Dreyfuss) and the two men discover that a Great White has come to feed off their shores.
What sets Jaws apart from your average creature feature is an emphasis on suspense while interest is sustained through good characterisation, understated acting and great dialogue. The film also offers an insight into small town dynamics with the whole island gripped by fear, paranoia and greed with town Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) eager to keep the beaches open for the much needed tourist trade. But when Brody’s own son has a close encounter with the shark, he’s finally given the green light to hunt the thing down.
Unfortunately with the whole town’s resources at his disposal, Brody chooses to go to sea with Hooper, the effeminate scientist and Quint (Robert Shaw) a mad fisherman who owns the most rickety piece of shit boat you have ever seen. Why didn’t they just take Hooper’s boat, the one with the steel hull and sonar? And where do they all plan to sleep? Or has Hooper got plans for them 'below decks' ?
What then follows is the most inept fishing trip of all time, with Quint trying to reel the shark in with a fishing rod! Now I’m no fishing expert but bearing in mind U.S gun laws and the fact that this thing has killed at least four people, I would have loaded up on Uzis, assault rifles, Elephant Guns, Samurai swords and RPG’s (grenades not Dungeons and Dragons) which would have finished the thing off before breakfast. Instead Quint and the gang dick about with a harpoon and a bunch of barrels (why are you launching them one at a time, just fire all ten at the fucker, better still clip on some C4!) Needless to say their Moby Dick tactics result in Brody going eyeball to eyeball with the Great White in a sinking ship. Fortunately the same shark that has deftly evaded capture for so long suddenly decides to aimlessly swim about instead of sneaking up from below like it had done before.
After Jaws, my brother and I used to endlessly debate if anything could defeat a shark in a pit fight, until we saw Richard Kiel casually dispatch one in The Spy Who Loved Me. Then we used to argue if anything could defeat Richard Kiel, well I suppose Acromegaly put pay to that. But still to this day, I have sworn that if ever I become a millionaire I will construct a large tank full of underwater cameras and film a Great White fighting one of those massive Saltwater Crocodiles. That would be the mother of all pit fights. RSPCA and tree-huggers aside, any man would hack off his left testicle to see that fight. Unfortunately, in South London all we've got are loan sharks.
Back to the film, when we finally get to see the shark it’s a real disappointment, it looks mechanical, rubbery and slightly retarded (fooling only pensioners with dodgy tickers at Universal studios). I can’t help thinking that Spielberg should have kept the shark unseen. I think this would have made the film truly timeless.
His best films combine thrills with a childlike sense of wonder, but when he turns this to serious films like The Color Purple, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Munich and Bridge of Spies these efforts are, perhaps, less effective than the out-and-out popcorn movies which suit him best. Of his other films, 1941 was his biggest flop, The Terminal fell between two stools of drama and comedy and one-time Kubrick project A.I. divided audiences; Hook saw him at his most juvenile - the downside of the approach that has served him so well. Also a powerful producer.