Friday, July 3, 2015

Summertime: Jaws (1975)

Director: Steven Spielberg
Writing: Robert Benchley (book), Robert Benchley & Carl Gottlieb (Screenplay)
Composer: John Williams

Chief Brody- Roy Schneider (RIP 2008)
Quint- Robert Shaw (RIP 1978)
Hooper- Richard Dreyfuss
Ellen Brody- Lorraine Gray
Mayor Vaughn- Murray Hamilton (died in 1986)
Krissie- Susan Backlinie

Notable Award & Nominations:
OSCAR- Best Sound
OSCAR- Best Film Editing
OSCAR- Best Original Score- John Williams
nomination- OSCAR- Best Picture [winner: "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest"]
Golden Globe- Best Original Score- John Williams
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Film- Drama
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Screenplay
nomination- Golden Globe- Best Director- Steven Spielberg
Grammy- Best Original Score for Film/TV special- John Williams


Spoilers and Some Strong Language Ahead

Opening Remarks

For almost as long as we've had our shorehouse, we've had a tradition: every July 4th weekend, we watch two movies. "Jaws" and "Independence Day."

The first time I saw "Jaws," it was probably on VHS. That's how long ago it was. I have no memory of it the first time, so it must have been a long time ago.
I do have a vague recollection of being on the ride in Universal Studios back in 1997. I realize now that it's all fake, but it was terrifying.

It's a wonder to me [and I may have jinxed myself by saying this] that neither that nor the film (which I'd gotten to know better over the past 4-5 years) have given me nightmares. I haven't been terrified to go in the ocean because of this movie.

But considering all the attacks that have happened recently... I probably won't be going into an ocean anytime soon.
These past several times we've visited the shore, we spent our time on the boardwalk.

Plot, Characters and Commentary

I'm kinda surprised that this was actually nominated for Best Picture (I'm still stunned "The Exorcist" was nominated a few years prior... scary as fuck), but at the same time, I'm not too surprised. Steven Spielberg is one of the most reputable directors in the business. And for a good reason. This happens to be his first really BIG film after lots of TV episodes, short films and made-for-TV movies.

When it comes to Oscars, most of the movies awarded the highest honor (then again, the nomination is an honor in itself) are ones that are well shot, acted and produced and they had a major impact on the film-going community. "Jaws" had the impact in that people were literally afraid to go in the water for months, even years, after seeing it.
But like the actual winner, "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," it's very dramatic, has memorable characters and, per my perspective, drags in places. [My gripe with "Cuckoo's Nest" was that the ending was very anti-climatic and, well, kinda depressing].

Rightfully so, "Jaws" is considered one of the scariest movies of all time. The shark itself being one of the scariest villians and John Williams' "two notes on a piano" score still chill-inducing to this day.

The first half hour of the movie has shark attacks that result in three deaths (four if you include the dog that didn't fetch the stick the hundredth time).
Nowadays, it's kinda cliché. The unsuspecting female being the first to die in a horror movie. One year we were watching and my dad paused the movie while I was in the bathroom to make sure I saw this opening scene, even though I had seen it a few times before. It's still fucking terrifying to watch... even while acknowledging the fact the dialogue leading up to this scene is terrible :P she and this one guy head to the beach after a bonfire party. He's wasted while she jumps into the water and becomes sharkbait. ["Sharkbait, bru-ha-ha!"]. At least he had the decency to stick around and answer questions from the police when they were called to see her body [whatever is left of it].

I'd never seen sharks up close in the wild, but I do have a marine bio degree and some knowledge... and I'm pretty sure that sharks don't attack the way this one attacked Krissie.
Instead of just trying to pull her under, it would have at least taken a bit out of her first. If not for the score and her screaming/drowning in post-production, this might have been comical...

How the second victim died... that was more realistic. He was on the type of raft that leads to deadly confusion- great whites mistaking them for seals. And the shark bit him first before taking him underwater... it's all of 3 seconds and it still scares me.
I've had plenty experience snorkeling, so I don't have a fear of drowning in that sense. But if confronted with that type of situation... yeah, drowning in that fashion is one of the worst ways to die that I can think of.

Much of the first half of the film is about upping the hysteria that's gripping Amity Island (in real life, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts). Supposedly, it's an island whose livelihood lives and dies by a fruitful summer vacation season. So of course, the Mayor wants the beaches to be open on 4th of July weekend. Chief Brody gets called to see Krissie's body and rushes to have the beaches closed, only to be thwarted by the Mayor, who has him believing his inexperience (this being his first summer in Amity) is making him jump to conclusions too quickly.
In their own way, politicians like him are terrifying... terrifying because their priorities are out of whack and, therefore, tend to be complete idiots. I understand it from a business point of view, of course... but why the hell do people have to be in the water in order for him to turn a profit?! Everyone seemed just as happy to sunbathe on the beaches.

The part that still has me incensed... the mother of victim #2 slaps Chief Body after finding out about Krissie... SLAP THE MAYOR, HE WANTED THE BEACHES OPEN!.. and he was right there and like a puss, he just let Brody take it.
I'm surprised that the people of Amity didn't run him out of town after July 4th. Clearly, he cares more about turning a profit than the humanity of his cash cow vacationers.

Somehow, the only people with any sense in Amity are our three main characters. Chief Brody wants to do the right thing, but lacks the authority to really do anything about it.
When Hooper arrives on the island, I always breathe a huge sigh of relief because he's the only one who knows what he's talking about when it comes to sharks. Not that the mayor will listen to him... but it is a relief for the audience to have someone who knows "the enemy" as well as he does.
We also have our residential rouge, Quint. Your "Captain Ahab" archetype... except his version asks for a bounty of $10,000 to capture the shark. But seriously, you have a shark that's THIS deadly and you have a guy crazy enough to go after it... pay him whatever the hell he wants. He'll likely have more success than anyone else.

The second half of the movie, of course, is spent at sea with our three core characters going after the shark.
I understand there's a lot of trial and error involved and we need lulls to add to the tension and development of the characters and so on... but the movie always loses me from Quint's storytelling scene up until Hooper goes into the shark cage.
The guys have had a little too much to drink and are comparing scars and so on. Quint then tells his "seaman's tale" as a member of the "USS Indianapolis." Apparently, it's a massive naval disaster of their history and Robert Shaw ad-libbed his own telling of it. I realize a lot of people died in this tragedy, but I always wind up tuning this scene out. It drags WAY too long and I just find it boring as hell. Even as the ship slowly builds with water (how it stayed afloat as long as it did in all that water, I have no idea), I just can't wait for this thing to be over.

The ending has tragedy in it, of course... not everyone can make it back alive... and it is a little unrealistic (The Mythbusters disproved the possibility of it)... but it's just a relief to get rid of this shark... it's annoying how smart this thing is and how damn hard it is to kill.
The one plus out of these last 20-30 minutes- they actually use a real shark in the shark cage scene. Not that "Bruce" is NEARLY as bad as those CGI sharks we get in any Syfy original film.

Final CommentsThis years marks this movie's 40th anniversary. Funny enough, this entry is a timely one. Between that and all the recent attacks... so far, nobody has died and hopefully it'll stay that way.

And as of this moment, Richard Dreyfuss is the only member of the trio that's still alive... Loved him in this movie [Hooper's my favorite of the trio] and even more so in "Mr. Holland's Opus"... easily one of the best "inspirational teacher" films ever. Certainly one of my personal favorites of many in that genre :P

Overall, "Jaws" is terrifying and is really well-made with some memorable characters and a really impressive score [one of John Williams' many gems].

But personally, it's not one of my favorite movies and that's not just because I'd seen it too many times over the past 4-5 years.

In general, I don't like to see movies for the sake of being terrified... although I did have a good jump-scare in one scene [I didn't expect the shark to appear at that point, lol]. There are some good quotes and points of comic relief, but this movie thrives more drama and tension and for a few ticks over 2 hours, it's hard to stay invested. Not to mention come back for multiple viewings...

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