Rewatched: 20 January
I was probably only about 8 or 9 years old when I last saw Jaws, and the more extreme moments of horror, such as the sudden appearance of the bloated dead body underwater, or the severed leg that drops slowly to the seabed, absolutely terrified me at the time. They’re surprisingly gruesome scenes, given that Jaws laid down the template for the big, summer tentpole release, and I cant really imagine a studio in 2018 jeopardising a family-friendly certificate with jump scares like the ones Steven Spielberg included in this proto-blockbuster.
The film is effectively split into two parts. First there’s the build-up of terror as the shark repeatedly attacks bathers frolicking off Amity Island, Roy Scheider’s Chief Brody cutting a somewhat impotent figure as local commercial concerns take precedence over matters of safety. Using Brody as a proxy, Spielberg adopts a somewhat resigned, downbeat view of the corporate world, the needs of which are here seen as being farm more important than the lives of human beings, and it’s no surprise that the shark’s first human victim is a hippie, a character representing a kind of late-60s idyllic naivety who is literally torn apart by while skinny-dipping after an all-night campfire party. It’s the cinematic equivalent of The Stones at Altamont, albeit five or six years too late.
Later, Jaws focuses more on the three main characters at sea, Brody being joined by two men who represent science (Hooper, played by Richard Dreyfuss) and a kind of seadoggy mysticism or spiritualism (Quint, played by Robert Shaw). This is the part of the movie I enjoy the most, and though we see more of ‘Bruce’, the wonky, animatronic shark here, I do think that it adds a great deal to the charm of the film – the sudden appearances of the beast as it attacks the men on the boat come with a certain degree of mood-lightening humour. There are of course plenty of iconic shots, scenes and lines of dialogue within both parts of the film – and while I wouldn’t personally rate it as Spielberg’s best, or even his most entertaining, it is perhaps the most important film he has made and probably will make, as it helped to shaped the future of cinema like few others have done before or since. (*****)