With this being 4th of July week and all the tar balls from the BP spill scaring people away from the beaches, I thought I would spend the week covering other reasons to scare you away from the beaches. This is Shark week. Jaws is currently available on instant Netflix.
WATCH: Jaws (1975) – Rated PG.
“Director Steven Spielberg virtually invented the summer blockbuster with this white-knuckle adaptation of Peter Benchleys novel about an insatiable great white shark that terrorizes the townspeople of fictional Amity Island. John Williams legendary score punctuates the tension as the police chief (Roy Scheider), an oceanographer (Richard Dreyfuss) and a grizzled shark hunter (Robert Shaw) seek to destroy the bloodthirsty beast.”
“Martin, it is all psychological. You yell barracuda, everybody says, “Huh? What?” You yell shark, we have got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.”
It is hard to know where to begin with this classic. Jaws set off the summer blockbuster craze. While it would be eclipsed shortly by Star Wars, Jaws deserves props for being there first.
Steven Spielberg had shown glimpses of being a master filmmaker with his made-for-TV movie Duel and the flawed but interesting Sugarland Express. Here he knocks it out of the park and rockets to stardom.
He uses some wonderful tricks. The scene where Sheriff Brody witnesses a shark attack on the beach and the camera telescopes his horrified face is wonderful. A later scene where our heroes go out to sea on the Orca is brilliant – it is shot through a window and framed by a pair of shark jaws.
A large part of the credit for the incredible suspense generated in the film has to be given to Bruce (named after Spielbergs lawyer) the mechanical shark. Bruce was constantly malfunctioning so Spielberg had to shoot most of the attack scenes in various point-of-view styles without showing the shark. Spielberg handles it masterfully, sometimes with camera as killer, sometimes just using other props – as when the holiday roast bait does not exactly work as planned.
The score by John Williams is amazing. Even today everyone recognizes the central Jaws theme from just a few notes. Quite rightfully Williams won his second of five Oscars for this. His other wins were for Fiddler on the Roof, Schindlers List, E.T. and Star Wars.
Besides the technical wizardry of Spielberg, the John Williams score and the realistic monster hunt story by Peter Benchley, the other main reason that Jaws works so well is the incredible interplay between the three main leads.
Roy Scheider, a very underrated actor, plays Sheriff Brody, a man literally out of his depth. Brody is an island sheriff who is afraid of the water. While Scheider does a wonderful job and this is the role he is most famous for, his best roles are actually in Sorcerer and All That Jazz.
Robert Duvall turned down the role of Brody. Charlton Heston wanted the role but was rejected (wisely, as his performance would likely have ruined the careful balancing of the three main leads). Heston was so furious that he vowed never to work with Spielberg and in fact turned Spielberg down for a role in 1941.
Richard Dreyfuss plays marine biologist Matt Hooper. Not only does he also do a wonderful job but his offscreen feuding with co-star Robert Shaw adds a lot of wonderful tension in the relationship between Hooper and Quint. Between this, Close Encounters, and The Goodbye Girl, Dreyfuss would likely have been a major star if he had not self-destructed.
Other actors considered for the role of Hooper included Jeff Bridges, Timothy Bottoms, Jon Voight and Jan-Michael Vincent.
Our third hero is the crusty old sea captain Quint, played (yes again wonderfully) by Robert Shaw. While he does steal most of the scenes he is in, Shaw also interacts beautifully with Scheider and Dreyfuss.
Spielberg wanted Sterling Hayden for the role but Hayden was in such trouble with the IRS that he was unable to take the role. Lee Marvin was offered the role but turned it down. Ironically, like Hayden, Shaw was also in trouble with the IRS and fled the country after filming was complete.
Lorraine Gary plays the only female lead, Ellen Brody. She is quite good but is not given too much to do, especially as the affair between Hooper and Ellen in the book is dropped in the movie script. She does have the virtue of being in more of the Jaws movies than any other actor.
While I normally refrain from commenting on the ending, I will say that reportedly the changes to the ending from the book so disturbed Peter Benchley that he had to be banned from the set. I appreciate the literary spin Benchley put on his ending but the one Spielberg filmed is quite thrilling.
I wholeheartedly recommend this classic film for the three of you who have not seen it.
Unfortunately I am not sure what is up but the Netflix transfer was very pixelated for the opening scene and for many other scenes. The picture quality on the rest of the film is quite good but every time you start to appreciate the clarity *boom* another pixelated scene. This is one of the worst transfers and certainly the most inconsistent I have seen on Netflix.
Trivia: The name of Bad Hat Harry productions, producers of the wildly successful House TV series, comes from a line early on in Jaws.
People Watch: Steven Spielberg himself can be heard as an Amity Lifestation Worker and scriptwriter Carl Gottlieb plays Meadows. Author Peter Benchley has a cameo as a reporter on the beach.