Thursday, 29 November 2018

Jaws

JAWS


(Even though you've probably seen it, contains spoilers)



You know, Brody and Quint are the polar opposites. Quint is the seaman's seaman, a larger than life war vet straight out of Moby Dick, played with relish by Robert Shaw, has a history of taking down killer sharks. "You all know what I do" he says in his introduction, we don't need to know his backstory until bits of it are fleshed out later at sea. The characters take it as read they all know his reputation and so should we. And he's in complete control of his actions, and his knowledge around sharks. Until... Jaws starts to react atypical to any shark this expert has met, and that's when he starts to panic. And when Quint panics, things go wrong in a hurry.
Whereas Brody spends most of the film in a panic. When he spots the shark, he panics. That brilliant claustrophobic zoom Spielberg does on the beach sets the scene for the panic. The walk backwards into the cabin of the Orca, the drinking, the blinding terror when the shark nearly kills his son. This is a man who can't cope with the pressure he puts on his own shoulders. And yet, when he stops panicking, and acts on instinct and intelligence, he saves the day. And his life.
Polar opposites. Richard Dreyfuss, looking youthful in a way he rarely seems to, is the expositional middle ground between the two. I like how his dropping the shark tooth in fright at the corpse-less head is repeated in dropping the poisoned harpoon when Jaws sneaks up behind him.
But then, what can be said about this brilliant film, and it truly is a work of genius. Steven Spielberg used the worst nightmares of any production team - that their main gimmick was a rubber shark that kept breaking down - and by referring back to his hero Hitchcock, turns what could have been run of the mill 70s horror into art. Suspense is the key to the drama. We actually see the shark 5 times in a 2 hour film, and in the climatic moments, its bloody obvious its rubber, but by that point, nobody cares. The underwater shots, the looming sense of dread, and the build up of suspense carries through the film that the audience is well immersed in this world and these characters by the time Jaws shows up properly.
And really, who is the villain of Jaws? The shark, which is avoiding starvation, or the Mayor, who will casually and slimy sacrifice the odd tourist to keep the money flowing in. Also, if I recall correctly, Jaws II is set year later, and Murray Hamilton is still Amity Mayor. He got away with it! Certainly not a villain is the likeable but flawed Brody, played by reliably 70s every man Roy Scheider, bringing the same charm and realism here as you'd find in Sorcerer and elsewhere.
What else can be said? That the film has several horrific moments (not least the double death of the dog and Alex) which surprise in a PG. But this is one of the great triumphs in the career of one of the great directors. And even 43 years on, it holds up as something special.
When I first saw Jaws, I was seven - blame mum - and I was terrified, but knew it was clearly a great film, by what I recognised "great films" to be at that age.
At 32, there's more of a thrill than the old terror, but I know what I saw back then. On a directorial, acting, filming and writing level, Jaws is a hit, and still stands as one of the greatest of all 70s films.