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Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gray
Thriller / Horror
|What can you say about one of the most inspired and original films ever to come out of Hollywood? A film that made its young director world-famous, grossed a staggering amount of money and made people truly afraid, something that only the goriest and most disturbed of cinema's whacked-out offerings had achieved. If Duel brought Spielberg's talent to the feet of producers it was this seminal work of fear and heroism, of man pitting himself against a killing machine in its own territory, that rubber-stamped his passage to the big-league and major acclaim.
The opening sequence has gone down in history as one of the best ever filmed, with a young female swimmer mercilessly torn apart by a powerful, yet unseen, aquatic killer. Martin Brody, the police chief of the small island terrorised by the shark, is called to investigate and what he uncovers is quickly hushed up by the local governing body, afraid of the repercussions on vital tourism. As the death toll mounts he alone struggles to stop a creature he knows little about until eventually an attack happens that brings the sheer horror of it all into undeniable public view.
All the elements of this film have become instant classics and the basis for a squillion rip-offs since. Without Jaws there'd be no Deep Rising, no Lake Placid, no Deep Blue Sea. Hmm, that'll probably count against it in the final score but then again, the wonder that is Tremors wouldn't have come about either. It basically invented a whole genre of realistic(ish) creature movies and not a year goes by that one doesn't hit the big screen with a blaze of hype and 'son of Jaws' stamped all over it. Not one has been as succesful and in critical terms none have been good enough to even sit in the same cinema as the original.
Much has been documented about the underlying themes present in the movie (Douglas Brode's excellent book, The Films of Steven Spielberg is a must read) and so I'll only scratch the surface of what is a plethora of intellectual thoughts and expressions. The shark itself for instance isn't properly seen until well into the movie, something that came about because of problems with the mechanical versions, but is in hindsight a move of sheer brilliance. The fear is all the more real when you realise that you cannot see what is attacking all these people, only that it is huge and terrifying. The bit that I most like though is the shot through a shark's jaw, showing the boat sailing away, which becomes horribly symbolic later. To say that there are many, many more is an understatement and repeat viewings are necessary to truly understand each sentence, each particular shot.
The casting is superb with Robert Shaw especially turning in a career-best performance as the mad but brilliant shark-hunter Quint. Roy Scheider is excellent as the water-hating policeman who, though used to fearlessly catching criminals, is completely out of his depth at sea, and Richard Dreyfuss rounds off the triumvirate as shark expert Matt Hooper who clashes with Quint as to the hows and whys of sharks and the possible killing of them. To anyone who has read the book huge liberties are taken with this vital part of character building, originally it was Brody and Hooper who were at each others throats, but it works just as well if not better this way.
Excellent scenes are not hard to come by, most of which happen on the boat, and have been copied and lampooned in dozens of films. The drinking scene, where Hooper and Quint resolve their differences for a brief moment, is a classic with both the scar competition and the drinking song lingering long in the memory. The sharks first real appearance is also impressive coming as it does nearly two-thirds of the way through. The expression on Roy Scheider's face explains everything and his immortal line 'You're gonna need a bigger boat' is the starting point of their doomed hunt. I also like Dreyfuss's 'This was no boating accident!' purely because on its own, it's so damned funny.
What's so different about this movie-making slice of genius is not that it was first, not even that the underlying idea is particularly brilliant (though is so obviously is), it's that it fits together so superbly. There isn't one scene, not one line, that isn't either integral to the plot, prophetic of the climax, or in for pure humour value. Unsurprisingly editor Verna Fields won just about every award going for her snappy, inspired cutting and it is this that makes Jaws so utterly compelling. I can whole-heartedly recommend this film to anyone either looking for a good night's viewing or even mildy interested in the very best cinema has to offer. It became a classic the day it was released.