Midnight Madness – Jaws (1975)

Jaws Poster

At the end of last week, Jaws, the original summer blockbuster, was re-released in cinemas. Needless to say, this made me incredibly happy, as it finally gave me a chance to see a film that I loved on the big screen, as well as making me think that, there was a time when summer films weren’t 3D, sequels, directed by Michael Bay, based on a line of toys, or any combination of the above. Apparently, and long before my time, there was an era where summer blockbusters were actually… Good, believe it or not.

To say the least, the film remains as tense, thrilling and entertaining as it was when I first saw it, and I can only imagine the impact that it had when it was originally released back in the 70’s.

For the minimal number of people out there who don’t know what Jaws is about, it’s simply about a shark attack. Perhaps I’m selling it short by that, but that’s the essence, a group of people attempt to kill a giant great white shark that’s terrorizing the people of the idyllic Amity Bay.

From the ominous opening notes of John Williams’ Oscar winning score, the film immediately lurches into life, throwing the audience into the action through the eyes of the shark. The film wastes no time as it begins to rack up its body count, but it’s more than just gore and summer teenagers being eaten, these attacks are genuinely tense, and still provoke great audience reactions.

The ensemble are uniformly solid, particularly the three men who go out to kill the eponymous shark, played by Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss, all of whom have excellent chemistry, and the scenes that they share, particularly on the boat in the film’s last act, truly come alive. The best among them is Scheider as Chief Brody, who, from his dedication to catching and killing the shark, to his ironic fear of water, is fully rounded and wonderfully portrayed, and the audience can’t help but cheer for him.

Perhaps one of the film’s greatest assets is the sheer level of energy that  Spielberg, in one of his first outings directing features, brings to the table. From the pace of the characters of the dialogue, to some exceptional shot choices, it truly feels like a young director truly in love with his craft is creating this film, which of course makes it all the more enjoyable.

Much to my surprise, and considering the strides made in visual effects just a short time after this film was originally released (Star Wars was released in 1977), the shark itself did not look at all dated, and although far from being hyper-realistic, its appearance in no way detracted from my enjoyment of the film, or the aura of menace that the shark has. The shark is made a character just as much as Brody or his wife or Hooper, or anyone in the cast. We are shown sections of the film through the shark’s eyes, and they work wonderfully, creating wonderful tension, particularly when in counterpoint with simple, lingering shots of the people of Amity in the water.

Jaws is, simply put, an endlessly enjoyable and masterfully crafted thriller, embedded with wonderful energy and a high calibre ensemble. If you are in the minority that hasn’t seen it, you simply must, and if you have seen it already, watch it again. If nothing else, Jaws should be required viewing every summer as a reminder for how blockbusters could, and should, be made.

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