SciFridays: “Jaws” (1975)

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Universal Pictures

Baddie – Rogue shark.

Lesson – Sometimes, nature operates outside your control.

Jaws | Jaws 2 | Jaws 3 | Jaws 4

A monstrous shark terrorizes the fictional Amity Island resort town, prompting a full-fledged hunt before the deaths start accruing. 

Hey guys, Shark Week stars Sunday! Get pumped! To celebrate, I’m reviewing all of the Jaws films.

Jaws holds a very special place in my heart. I grew up in East Hampton, Long Island, summer home to Spielberg and approximate location of Amity. There are also actually great whites there. I’m honestly not sure how old I was when I first watched Jaws, but I’m almost positive I was young, because I had a healthy fear of sharks in swimming pools way longer then someone should. To this day, in the ocean, if the water is dark and I can’t touch the bottom? Instant panic attack.

That being said, shark movies are my favorite. I think they inspire that kind of awe-inducing reverence that is still terrifying (when done correctly, Syfy /cough). Jaws is probably my favorite horror movie of all time. Every time I watch it I get chills, I jump at the right times even though I know what’s coming, and it’s just so genuine that the effects are held up with the pure nostalgia that comes with innovative filmmaking.

Jaws is based on a novel written by Peter Benchley, which is in turn based on the sudden onslaught of shark attacks in New Jersey in 1916, where a (probably) bull shark killed four people and injured one. This is actually referenced within the dialogue in Jaws, although it’s stated that five people died. Both the book and the movie are set on a fictional town on Long Island, while most of the filming took place on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. Filming utilized a bunch of interesting practical effects, including three mechanical sharks named Bruce (Finding Nemo reference explained) and an elaborate underwater rig for Chrissie’s death scene that literally yanked her around under the water to create the iconic first death scene. Shots of real sharks were included, and a few scenes were actually filmed in a swimming pool.

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Universal Pictures

Now, obviously this film is iconic. I could write a whole essay just picking things that are iconic about it. It’s birthed one of the most famous lines in the history of cinema, “You’re going to need a bigger boat.” The scene where Brody, Hooper and Quint compare scars around the galley table is forever parodied and homaged. Mythbusters has done an episode based on Jaws myths. It’s spawned dozens of shark movies and even more movie posters all based on the unforgettable Jaws poster. The soundtrack, by John Williams, is forever engrained into my brain. I only need to type, “Duhhhhh nuh. Duhhhhhh nuh.” and I guarantee most of my readers hear it in their brains.

Tell me your skin doesn’t crawl then Jaws just moseys up from the deep. It’s indicative of the give and take throughout the film. Brody isn’t ever in charge of the shark, and this is a great moment that demonstrates that. Simply in the ghostly rise of Jaws from the deep, slipping back into the water, Spielberg can communicate this. Swamp Shark, my favorite of the poor SyFy ripoffs, actually mimics this shot pretty effectively. Apparently, because of the poor functioning mechanical sharks, the ‘monster exposure’ was forcibly limited. Obviously this works out and makes for a much creepier movie experience.

It's behind me, isn't it.  http://bit.ly/1ov51cs

Universal Pictures
It’s behind me, isn’t it.

So why is Jaws so iconic? I think it ended up being the perfect storm of movie greatness. It came during a ripe age of horror movies (see Bay of Blood) and the advent of practical effects in full technicolor. Audiences were not prepared to see monsters like that, presented in that way. Even in contemporary movies we rarely see animatronic sharks (but when you do it’s super great, right Shark Night?) It was new and fresh and scary and full of happy accidents. Additionally, it featured some actual heart. It seems perfect that these reviews aligned with the release of, sigh, Sharknado 2, because it’s the antithesis of why Jaws is amazing. One movie featured great acting, sentimental moments sprinkled between tense death scenes and near-misses, concern and humanity fighting consumerism and greed, deeply dark music juxtaposed with sunny backdrop and special effects never before seen. The other movie featured cheap CGI, relied on cameos and poor dialogue delivery, had nothing to say socially or culturally and banked on pure spectacle to sell the movie. Guess which is which.

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It’s behind me, isn’t it.

On a very serious note, did you know that sharks are dwindling? This is due to fear based culling, illegal fishing, and of course, the consumption of shark fin soup. Every shark movie review from here on out will contain the information to the charity I’ve picked to help out sharks – Shark Savers. There are a few options to help, everything from signing petitionsdoing a dive to save sharks or spreading the word and educating people about sharks. You can also follow them on Twitter for current news, and of course you can donate. If you do donate, feel free to tell ’em who sent you! I don’t get anything out of it, I just think it might be neat if a bunch of readers all donated, even if it’s a little bit of money.

Click for Shark Savers

Click for Shark Savers

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaws_(film)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaws_(novel)

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jersey_Shore_shark_attacks_of_1916

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