Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenwriter: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb
Cast: Roy Schneider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw
Runtime: 124 min
There is something about watching movies as an impressionable youngster – the age when repeated viewings are preferred (finish, rewind, play) –which causes incidental, non-essential moments stand out. Just as when a word is repeated until it becomes abstract, (‘towel’ is a good one), snippets of dialogue, the twitch of a hand, the lost face of an extra who has forgotten he is on camera, become the transcendental personal reasons that you love film as an adult.
Jaws is a beautiful tapestry of such moments; a note played on a harmonica at a beach party, the sing-song cadence of Richard Dreyfuss’ “That’s not funny, that’s not funny at all”, a big tooth bending as a mechanical jaw breaks Robert Shaw down into bite-size chunks. There are the stars, the excitement, the time in history into which Jaws was born – all aspects of the film that have earned it it’s sterling reputation – but it is these almost inconsequential moments that make you smile or cry or quote along; moments that make Jaws yours.
The story – production, reception, legacy – has been reprinted ad nauseum, and when that
happens a film’s Greatness can lapse into cliché. Do yourself a favour: if you haven’t seen it in while or (grit teeth) never seen it, go and watch Jaws (available in endorphin pumping high-def) because this story of a menacing Great White Shark and the three men determined to catch it (“the whole damn thing”) really is a phenomenal experience.
It is not perfect (let me finish), but its imperfections are part of its beauty and every frame is infused with a twentysomething Steven Spielberg’s adoration for storytelling and cinema. He shares his enthusiasm with anyone who will listen, compounding a mix-tape of his favourite tricks with from Hitchcock to Tobe Hooper. It has a freshness, a buoyancy, and whilst there is no denying Jaws’ ability to shock – that poor little Kitner boy – the lasting impression is one of intimacy and warmth. Remember the story you wrote in your writing book in Year 1 about why you love your Stretch Armstrong so much? It feels like that.
Whilst borne out of technical difficulties, the restraint that the film has with its Big Bad feels perfectly calibrated, Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb’s script is snappily written, John Williams’ score is John Williams’ score, and the triumvirate of actors – Roy Schneider, Richard Dreyfuss, the fan-fucking-tastic Robert Shaw – share legendary chemistry.
Verdict: A family film, a horror classic, an adventure, the arrival of The Blockbuster. The whole damn thing.