JUMPCUT’s Favourites: Jaws

Year: 1975
Directed By: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary

Written by Sarah Buddery

People: What’s the film you’ll never get tired of watching? 
Me: Jaws. 
People: What’s the one film you would choose to watch for the rest of your life?
Me: Jaws.
People: What’s your favourite fi…
Me: JAWS OKAY. 

It is pretty much a guarantee that any positive film question such as those above, my answer will be ‘Jaws’. My love for this film knows no end, and whilst for many their favourite film may be one they first saw when they were young or when it first came out, due to my younger years and that I came into my obsession for film quite late, I did in fact only watch ‘Jaws’ for the first time about 5 years ago.

It was the start of a great love affair though, and since then I’ve attended every single big-screen showing of ‘Jaws’ I can get to, and most recently paid extortionate amounts of money to see it with a live orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall in London. I’ll have a ten slide PowerPoint presentation prepared for every retort – the shark looks fake, it isn’t scary, etc. etc. – and will defend it until my dying day.

‘Jaws’ represents everything that is great about cinema and can be credited with changing cinema as we know it. Being only the second feature film directed by now-legendary, and multi-award-winning Steven Spielberg, ‘Jaws’ ushered in the age of the blockbuster, paving the way for ‘Star Wars’ and the big summer blockbuster releases that followed, right up to the present day. Seeing ‘Jaws’ was an event, there were lines around the block, the praise spreading like the ripples in the sea as cinema-goers urged their friends, “You HAVE to see this film!”.

So what is so great about ‘Jaws’? The magic of ‘Jaws’ lies in its simplicity. At its heart, it is a story of survival, of humankind’s varying reactions to a shadowy threat which sets to supplant their comfortable way of life. The three main characters of Brody, Quint, and Hooper represent the different ways in which people react, and each has a different perspective despite their united goal of capturing the shark. Brody is the law man, duty bound to protect the inhabitants of Amity Island, whilst also trying to look after his family, and seek the acceptance of the locals because he is not an “Islander”. Quint is a hunter, seeking out the shark as a prize. He is experienced undoubtedly, but also arrogant and cocky, the capturing of the shark simply being another trophy he can adorn his walls with. Hooper is a man of science, an academic, fascinated with sharks and with a deep love and respect for them. Whilst unspoken, there is an obvious inner turmoil for this character, caught in the middle between the mounting pressure to capture the shark, and his own appreciation and respect for the creatures.

I’ve very deliberately chosen to focus on the characters first rather than perhaps the more obvious elements of the film, because the core of this film is a character study, each of the main trio having identifiable traits and because of their performances, it is near impossible to imagine anyone else playing those characters – which is all the makings of a classic really.

Of course, arguably the most iconic thing about ‘Jaws’ is the score. The menacing simplicity of John Williams score is crucial in creating the atmosphere of fear and dread, and has become totally iconic, striking fear in the hearts of everyone who happened to dip a toe in the water afterwards. The score has to do more heavy lifting than most as well. The famously temperamental mechanical shark – affectionately known as “Bruce” – caused all kinds of headaches in filming, so in the absence of the monster itself, the score is the shark. So many horror films could learn from ‘Jaws’ in this sense; the visual absence of the thing itself, yet the presence of the ominous score is enough to create fear. It is what we don’t see that scares us the most, and this is something so incredibly wonderful.

‘Jaws’ is the perfect film. Of course I am unbelievably biased in this, but packed with iconic lines, memorable moments, and with one of the all-time greatest cinematic trios and villain, ‘Jaws’ stands the test of time and still goes down as one of the very, very best.

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