(United States, 1975)
With such a massive wave of publicity surrounding the arrival of Jaws in theaters during the summer of 1975, it was impossible for even a cinematically oblivious child like me to be ignorant of the phenomenon. I remember asking my parents to take me to see Jaws, but they felt that the subject matter was inappropriate for a seven-year old. (In 1975, Jaws was rated PG by the MPAA; if it came out today, it would garner a PG-13 rating.) Undaunted, I decided that if I couldn't see the movie, I would read the book. So I spent most of the summer sloughing through Peter Benchley's novel, alternately being thrilled and bored. Several years later, when I first saw Jaws, my impression was that the movie was better than the book. Certainly, when it comes to action and suspense, that's a true statement. More than anything else, Jaws proves what a master craftsman Steven Spielberg is. Stymied by technological limitations that would have defeated nearly any other director, Spielberg soldiered on, and not only made the movie, but crafted a classic that will forever be used as a model to aspiring filmmakers.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
Jaws introduces us to Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), the police chief of the small island resort community of Amity. Martin has come to Amity to get away from the hassles of New York City, but is finding it difficult to adjust to a less hectic lifestyle. That all changes about a week before July 4, when the mutilated body of a young swimmer washes up on shore. The coroner's stated cause of death is a shark attack. When the mayor (Murray Hamilton) and members of the town council refuse to allow Martin to close down the beaches, he puts in a call to the mainland for a shark expert. He gets Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), who seems to know just about everything there is about sharks. Following several additional deaths, the mayor is forced to admit that something has to be done about the shark. Martin hires a fisherman and shark hunter named Quint (Robert Shaw), who claims that, for $10,000, he'll eliminate Amity's nautical nightmare. Accompanied by Martin and Matt, he heads out to sea – and into a life-and-death struggle with a creature the likes of which he has never encountered. For Matt, it's the chance to study a great white up close. And for Martin, the experience demands that he overcomes his fear of water.
In addition to scaring the living daylights out of millions of movie-goers and putting a cramp in the revenue stream of nearly every North American beach resort, two significant developments can be attributed to Jaws. With its more than $250 million domestic theatrical gross (against a $12 million budget), this film laid out a blueprint for the summer blockbuster that has been followed ever since. Jaws was the first summer mega-hit, but, because Hollywood learns from its success stories, it has not been the last one. The picture also catapulted a lesser director by the name of Steven Spielberg out of relative obscurity and onto the A-list. Much of Jaws is an exercise in elevating tension - by keeping the shark hidden from the audience, the movie builds suspense to a high level. Many directors after Spielberg have used this "less is more" approach to monster movies, but few have employed the technique in such a brilliantly successful manner. When it comes to this kind of thriller, no movie has been able to top Jaws, although many have tried. And, as the years go by, it seems increasingly unlikely that anything will come close.
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