Jaws review by Tom Blain
Jaws is the film that rose Stephen Spielberg up to the ranks of super director. Before ET, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and Close Encounters he stormed to the silver screen with Jaws. It was a box office smash that still holds a strong audience. Jaws is the type of movie that Spielberg is good at: he takes an average guy, surrounds him with a cast of characters, gives him an impossible task, and helps him pull through that task by the skin of his teeth (no pun intended). His films follow a fariy tale-like formula, where Jack destroys the evil giant, or the little broad with red hat escapes the nasty wolf and lives happily ever after. Lately it seems that Spielberg movies have become predictable and cliche'd, but in the begining his films were filled with energy and inspiration to entertain.
Jaws takes place on a vacation island called Amity (located somewhere on the East Coast). Amity is a fictious island and after seeing this movie I can see why. The central character is Chief Brody, who began working in Amity to relax. This is his first summer there and he quickly finds out that it is a town that thrives on tourism. Without visitors and beachgoers, the people of the town would most likely starve. Suspicion begins to arise as to the safety of the waters in Amity as chewed up bodies wash up on shore left and right. Some towns people deny that these are shark attacks, and some become cautious, and still some go mad. So Brody must erase the threat of more attacks without causing more of a panic. As the audience we know that these deaths are shark related, even if we can't see the sucker.
The special effects of Jaws are top notch considering you rarely see them. The shark itself, for example, is only seen in the last 30 minutes of the movie and only in quick 1-2 second takes. For the first couple hours the viewer is aware of the shark's presence without seeing more than a fin or a wedge of moving water. By keeping the suspense high throughout the film, Spielberg was able to minimize the amount of special effects he used. This is the mark of a truly great suspense/horror film; not to let the audience see your big trick until the grand finale.
The opening scene of Jaws (which was later mocked in the opening of Spielberg's own underrated comedy 1941) sets the tone for one of its many themes: the theme of male helplessness. During a late night beach party, a young woman throws a seductive wink towards a young male. They procede to run down the ocean, flinging articles of clothing aside headed towards the ocean waters for some late night skinny dipping. The woman jumps into the water completely naked as the man drunkenly falls on the sand; to inebriated take his clothes off. He is left helpless on the beach as the woman he was chasing after is devoured by an unseen shark. This idea of helplessness can be seen in Chief Martin Brody. As Chief of police in the small island town of Amity, he is the protector/father figure to all of its citizens. But as alcohol was the weakness of the young boy who couldn't enter the ocean, fear of water is Brody's weakness. Brody comes from a New York City cop background. In New York, danger was on the streets, but now Brody is finding out danger can be in the water which is something he can't emotionally handle. This presents a patriarchal conflict between his duties as a protector and his fears of the water. It digs even deeper when his own children are involved and he is left on the beach side with no alternatives but to yell instructions to them.
There is a strong post-Vietnam theme that is present in Jaws; that being the theme of a failed government. Mayor Larry Vaughan 'is' the government of Amity. His Vietnam parallel would be president Lyndon Johnson (or any generic government official). Despite advice from his counsel (Brody and Hooper) he refuses to close his beaches, and instead of pulling people out of the water, he urges them to keep swimming. The people trust his decision, until they have seen one shark attack too many. Brody, once again, is in a tight situation being a protector of his people who is concious of the shark threat, and a government pawn (comparable to an Army general who experiences the danger firsthand). He is constantly having to juggle both duties and having to pay a price for leaning in one direction (ie when he is slapped by Mrs. Kitner, when he loses permission to close the beach).
I mentioned above that the main character is surrounded by "other characters". The most interesting character in Jaws is Quint played by Robert Shaw. Quint is the rough, blue collar, dirty ole shark catcher. Everyone knows what he can do and they respect him for it, but they dont necessarily like him. Robert Shaw plays him with a thick almost pirate accent to complement his dirty mouth ("Here's to bow-legged women." he toasts). Quint introduces himself early and plays an almost last resort background character until desparate times call for desparate measures. As we see him on the boat we learn more about his mania and his obsession for conquering the sharks. He will not quit until it is either him or the shark that floats up on shore.
When it comes to Spielberg films I would have to say Jaws and Raiders of the Lost Ark are my favorites. What Spielberg is good at is creating these highly entertaining films with characters an auidence can really invest in. That has always been his way but lately it seems some of his films have lost that 'character' that Indiana Jones, Chief Brody or Quint had. Too many of his films have cardboard leading chaacters which makes their resolution bland. Jaws is an engrossing suspense film, that almost 30 years later still looks (at least on the anniversary edition DVD) brand new.
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