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“Invitation to Dance - It’s a Dance. And sometimes they turn the lights off in this ballroom. But we’ll dance anyway, you and I. Even in the Dark. Especially in the Dark. May I have the pleasure?” --- Stephen King ::::::::::: MY CRITERIA FOR DISCUSSION ENCOMPASSES THE HORROR GENRE AND BEYOND, SO I USE THE TERM "NIGHTMARE MOVIES". SPOILERS CAN OCCUR WITH OR WITHOUT WARNING. READ AT YOUR OWN RISK.

Jaws

February 26th 2009 00:45
Jaws movie poster
As I was swimming in Sydney's Coogee surf yesterday (not too far out), I thought about how the two recent local shark attack survivors had bonded in hospital over their horrific experience, and I realised it was about time I reviewed one of the biggest horror movies ever made, arguably the biggest of them all; Jaws (1975).

Steven Speilberg’s landmark movie changed the course of Hollywood moviemaking. Jaws became the first serious event movie. The term “blockbuster” was coined in the wake of Jaws’ phenomenal box office success. Before Jaws the five biggest money-earners had been The Godfather ($85 million), The Sound of Music ($84m), Gone With the Wind ($70m), The Sting ($68m) and The Exorcist ($66m). Jaws broke the $100 million mark. And that was just in America, before even foreign sales had been made.
Jaws Roy Scheider
Roy Scheider as Chief Brody
Jaws Robert Shaw
Robert Shaw as Quint
When Jaws was released in American in the summer of ’75 it tore the roof off cinemas. Sixty-seven million Americans went and saw it! People screamed their lungs out, popcorn flew through the air, and pandemonium broke out. But most significantly, people became terrified of going swimming. The curious thing was children loved it, but adults were scared shitless. The producers managed to secure the all-important PG rating (a few seconds were trimmed of a severed leg falling to the seabed). In New Zealand it was rated GA (General Exhibition but recommended for adults), however my parents wouldn’t let me see the damn movie! And neither were several of my buddies, except one, and boy did he skite about it. I didn’t get to see the movie until many years later on VHS.
Jaws Richard Dreyfuss
Richard Dreyfuss as Hooper
I don’t really need to describe the synopsis do I? A very large Great White shark (25-feet long) terrorises a local fishing community on Amity Island, and the Chief of Police Brody (the late Roy Scheider), along with shark expert Hooper (Richard Dreyfess) and tough opportunist sea dog Quint (Robert Shaw) set out on a small trawler called Orca in order to kill the monstrous fish.
Jaws Susan Backlinie
Susan Backlinie as unfortunate Chrissy
Peter Benchley was commissioned to adapt his exceptional novel, Carl Gottlieb was then brought in to completely re-shape it (both of whom have cameos), and the famous “Indianapolis” monologue was written by Howard Sackler, John Milius and actor Shaw. Jaws marked the breakthrough movie for director Speilberg. He started working on the movie aged 26. He likened Jaws as a kind of monster kindred to his first feature, the brilliant Duel (1971), both dealing with an inhuman “leviathon” relentlessly terrorising humans. But it was Speilberg’s cinematically Hitchcockian approach to the visual narrative which lifted Jaws out of the water and thrusted it full force into the popular consciousness. He engineered a sensational nightmare thriller that has become ingrained in pop culture.
Jaws Jay Mello
Jay Mello as Brody's son Sean
Everything from lines of dialogue (“You’re gonna need a bigger boat”), the John Williams nerve-wracking score (duh-dah-duh-dah-duh-dah …), the movie’s two perfectly timed jump-scares (the severed head poking out of the damaged boat hull and Brody grumpily throwing chum behind him as the massive shark lunges out of the water right behind him), and the famous opening sequence with the young woman having a skinny dip at night and the shark chomping on her and taking her for a fatal ride.
Jaws beach panic
Someone yell 'Shark!' and we've got panic on the fourth of July
But Jaws does have a trapping. The elaborately-designed mechanical shark didn’t work properly, and the more you see of it in the movie’s second half, the less convincing it becomes. It is the movie’s first half where only a dorsal fin is shown, or the torn end of a jetty becomes a symbol for the shark, that the fear is truly palpable. The footage of a real Great White “attacking” a miniature cage which was shot by Aussie shark experts Ron and Valerie Taylor in South Australian waters certainly adds authentic weight.
Jaws Great White shark
One of the real Great Whites filmed for the movie
Jaws Robert Shaw and Bruce the shark
The captain always goes down with the boat
Regardless of the shark’s fakeness being so apparent the movie still works on two basic levels; the character empathy for and friction between the three leads, especially during their time on the Orca as they begin to realise just how deadly dangerous their mission has become, and the steady tightening of the fear and dread thriller screws that Speilberg applies so well. The camerawork and editing is top notch, and combined with the tense music it makes for fantastically suspenseful cinema.
Jaws Roy Scheider
Chief Brody vs. The Shark
Jaws novel cover art
The curiously unscary novel cover art
The poster itself is pure nightmare genius. I owned one for many years, but it got lost (stolen?). It was huge and I was constantly reminded of just how cleverly horrifying it was. It was based on the cover art for the novel, but the original artwork depicted the Great White looking more like a rising dolphin than a shark, with its mouth only slightly open and no jagged teeth exposed. Whoever made those significant changes for the movie poster should get a pat on the back.

If you’ve never seen Jaws do yourself a popcorn favour and check out just how clever Steven Spielberg was so early in his career. In retrospect he describes himself as “young, courageous and stupid”, but he’s just being humble (although he was nearly fired off the movie). It’s only time before Jaws is remade, and even if they make the shark look ten times more realistic with state-of-the-art special effects, I cannot see any director coming close to bettering the pure cinema of the original.

Here's the original trailer:


Here's an original TV spot:

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Comments
9 Comments. [ Add A Comment ]

Comment by Cibbuano

February 26th 2009 01:55
are you crazy? I would never review "Jaws" then have the cojones to go swimming at Coogee. Man, this is now Great White territory...

absolutely incredible movie... I love how Spielberg was so disappointed with how unreal the shark looked, so he showed very little of it - unplanned suspense, in a way.


Comment by Chris Champion

February 26th 2009 02:26
Back when Jaws was first released, when Genghis Khan was playing full-back for Ulan Bator, I lived in Canberra and went to see this much-hyped new film with my girlfriend and her girlfriend.

I remember wondering what all the hype was about. The opening scene was a bit tense, but a lot of plot development follows and I was relaxing between my two friends, thinking this was tantalising rather than terrifying.

Then the head appeared in the hole in the boat. The cinema erupted, I froze, and the two women grabbed me, both by the throat, for some reason.

The audience never really settled down after that.

I stayed that night with my girlfriend in her house in Yarralumla, a Canberra suburb next to Lake Burley Griffin. This is a huge, man-made lake, and about the biggest fish in it are brown trout.

It was a warm night and we lay in bed with the window open. I could hear the quiet lapping of the clear, fresh, trout-filled waters of the lake.

I could not sleep.

Comment by Bryn

February 26th 2009 05:23
Cibby, I reviewed after my swim ... but while I was swimming I was distracted by a large dark shape under the water a few metres out from me ... Turned out to be a big clump of kelp, seems to be a lot of it washing up on Coogee beach at the moment. Kelp underwater is rather ominous looking I must say!

Chris, that's a great little tale. In the making of doco on the DVD of Jaws Speilberg talks about how he shot that severed head sequence after principal shooting was completed. He filmed it in close-up in his editor's swimming pool with a balsa wood section for the hull and shot seven or so different takes of the head appearing and then after tried each one out on the editing department to see which got the best reaction.

Comment by James Rickard

February 26th 2009 20:05
Nice review! "You're gonna need a bigger boat," is one of my favorite movie lines of all time!

Comment by JohnDoe

February 26th 2009 22:45
Greetings my friend from the other end,

Great review as always, this film certainly did a number on my joy of marine activities...now I'm in conditions that would make the Thing feel at home I only prey there are frozen jaws awaiting beneath the ice.


Comment by Damo

February 26th 2009 22:56
Despite the clunky old mechanical shark this is still a good film that delivers all the right punches.

It is a monster film reinvented for a new audience.
There are some really great scenes in Jaws. When it eats the boat, when it eats Robert Shaw. All classic moments.

The editing had to be spot on to hide clunky robot shark but by concealing the shark it became more frightening.

Comment by Bryn

February 27th 2009 00:22
Cheers for the comments guys ...
Yes Damo, it seems the dodgy shark actually worked in the movie's favour.

Bets on when the remake will surface anyone?

Comment by Anonymous

June 14th 2009 16:03
Is jaws real because if he is I will never toutch saltwater again.So is he real or not?Ow and everything you said is totaly true.

Comment by Bryn

June 15th 2009 04:50
Anon, um, are you for real? Jaws is not real. But Great White sharks do grow very large, some well over twenty feet in length.

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