Cinema & Movies

Screening Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, 1975

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By DAVID BEILSTEIN

Jaws is awesome.

Far from mere popcorn escapism — directorial maestro Steven Spielberg’s shark movie is a tight knit film moulding adventure and dread into a cinematic treat.

I don’t remember the first time I saw the film … it was in the ‘80s sometime. What I do remember is when I would hunt through the video sections when older; the movie was somehow in the horror section. Having watched all the sequels — a mishmash of dreadful acting and other lowbrow heights — Spielberg’s original movie is pure film.

There is so much to love about this film … but most of all … it’s the characters.

Every character in Jaws acts according to their nature. We know them by what they do. And they are wonderfully human … their interaction with each other proves more human than our current crop of movies based on attitudes … not character.

There’s an easy way to prove me right or wrong … watch Jaws, then watch Deep Blue Sea.

Then get back to me.

One inspires generational love — and awe — at a film moving and working on several levels of story. The other … comedic where it should not be funny.

I popped Jaws in the DVD player today … watched it closely. And I’m still intrigued by the shot selection of the film … bringing you to the story at the surface of the water … and the dread and death that swim beneath it.

Based upon the novel by the late Peter Benchley, Spielberg wisely jettisoned the syrup of the novel of martial affairs and boudoir troupe, and focused on the destruction of the shark and the hunt to kill it … following Quint — the movie’s Ahab as he carries Chief Brody and Oceanographic academic Hooper on a seafaring adventure of obsession and survival.

Chief Brody played by the late Roy Scheider is amazing … every line and every posture the character takes are consistent from the get go. He is afraid of the water — and must face his deepest fears to conquer the leviathan of the Great White Shark.

Quint is crazy, but skilled at the only life he knows … and he judges Hooper in the beginning to be a spoiled rich boy … Hooper’s hands, says Quint, are made for counting money and not work. Class and humanity come streaking together in ways we typically do not see in popcorn movies.

And then … the mechanical shark. Barely used … and because of that — the movie succeeds where other movies always showing too much do not.

The music makes the movie … humming, coming, reaching, going … announcing death unforeseen coming from the viewers worst fears … under the water, within the deep.

Jaws’ characters conflicts work … because they are human and because they are specific. The bungling Mayor of Amity does not do the right thing (closing the beaches) because of some vast conspiracy, but because he desires to do the right thing for a rural town dependent on tourist dollars. Chief Brody and Hooper are able to see the danger the shark poses not because they are perfected men … but because their concerns allow them to. In the case of Hooper, because it’s his vocational expertise.

Goodness, there is so much to love about this film … and ladies and gents, it is a film.

Jaws is one of those genre movies where technical film expertise exercised at the highest level makes a mere popcorn movie something timeless … something brilliant.

My favourite part of the film is the humanity … at Brody’s house and his interaction with his kids and wife … his protection of them … and of the camaraderie fused when Quint, Hooper, and Brody head out onto the boat for the final chapter of the film.

Then the ending … so human and so beautiful. Hooper surfaces having escaped the cage in which the Great White Shark tore apart almost destroying him too. He asks Brody, laying on a board, afloat — what about Quint?

Brody simply says … “No…”

Meaning the obsessed man of the sea — of Hemingway grit and working class steel — that Quint paid to kill the shark, was himself, destroyed.

Not too far from Ahab’s self-destructing fate.

*For more film and movie reviews, go here, and here. 

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