For this month’s next review for Genre Grandeur – Nautical Films, here’s a review of Jaws (1975) by John Michael of The Sixth Station
Thanks again to Sean of SeanMunger.com for choosing this month’s genre.
Please get me your submissions by the 25th of Mar by sending them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Try to think out of the box! Great choice Jay!
Let’s see what John Michael thought of this movie:
I always get a kick out of watching Jaws with my dad. His uncle lived on Martha’s Vineyard, the Massachusetts island where much of the film was shot. He spent a lot of time there growing up, and had friends who worked as extras on the film’s set. There’s always something in this movie that transports him, and it’s fun to listen to his commentary.
The point being, there is an authenticity to Jaws, a sense of a real time and place that is rare in thrillers and monster movies. With Jaws, Steven Spielberg took a pulpy genre premise, infused it with copious amounts of local flavor, and then kept the action taut and unbearable. More than 40 years after its release, it doesn’t just hold up; it remains as fun and thrilling as it’s ever been.
The sense of place that Jaws brims with isn’t just cosmetic. It shows Spielberg’s patience, his willingness to ease us into this world. Yes, the film opens with that terrifying skinny-dipping scene, a masterclass in minimalist horror filmmaking. But Spielberg also takes his time with every scene. His camera scans the crowd and closes in on locals. Chaos erupts, not out of meticulously constructed set-pieces, but as bursts of sudden violence interrupting the normal rhythm of everyday life. That Spielberg wanted to show as little of the shark as possible, relying on John Williams’s score as a stand-in is well-known, but that is only part of why this film remains so effective. It works because we continually see the aftermath of the shark’s attacks, as it wreaks havoc on a little town that feels completely real.
The film’s casting is essential as well. As the film’s protagonist, Chief Brody, Roy Scheider doesn’t look the part of a blockbuster hero. He’s lean and lined and weary. He is constantly overwhelmed, trudging on in the face of likely death because he must. Richard Dreyfuss, still young and up-and-coming, gives one of my favorite performances of his as Matt Hooper, the young marine biologist who waxes almost romantically about the beauty and spectacle of the shark. But arguably the key performance in the film is Robert Shaw as Quint, the sun-baked sailor who, it turns out, has a Captain Ahab complex when it comes to sharks, a result of his experiences as a survivor of the USS Indianapolis disaster. On paper, Shaw- a theatrically trained Englishman who made no attempt to mask his accent- should be an anachronism as a sailor from coastal Massachusetts. But his performance is mesmerizing. His accent doesn’t matter when he so convincingly embodies the image of someone who would risk everything if it meant he got to kill one more shark.
Jaws came out at a time when horror, monster, and disaster movies were at peak popularity, and it has outlasted almost all its contemporaries. It remains fresh because it’s not really about the shark. It’s about a small community on a beautiful island that depends on the sea, and then the sea turns on it. Spielberg wanted to keep the animatronic shark off screen for a reason. This isn’t a movie about a monster; it’s a movie about a place and people, which makes just the hint of the monster that Spielberg relies on all the more effective.