I thought it best that my first film review should at least give some insight into the cinema I love watching that has inspired as well as encouraged me to study film at university level. One film in particular which my dad first showed me, in which I consider to be my first 'grown up' film would be the nail biting thriller that is Jaws (Spielberg, 1975). My dad made the ever so wise decision to show me this film at the age of 6. Hopefully, these good judgements are bestowed upon me when I have children. Nevertheless, now that I am older, I can appreciate Spielberg's masterpiece and look at the picture in a whole new light.
Based on a novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws takes place in the quaint, white picket fenced town of Amity Island, New England. A heavily tourist based beach getaway for city dwellers, run by the ‘people pleasing’ Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), heavily focused on bringing in those big bucks at any cost. Throw in a ferocious, cold-blooded predator into the mix and Spielberg had a summer block buster on his hands. Although the film adopts a very simple pitch: man eating shark terrorising local bathers. The truly defining aspect of the story is the relationship between actors Schneider, Dreyfus and Shaw. It is their flawless performance which invites the audience in and creates an exciting premise for all thrill seekers.
The town was in need of a dedicated, fearless hero ready to take on the merciless shark that stalks the town’s beloved beaches. Unfortunately, the only man available at the time who was only somewhat willing to protect the people was hydrophobic chief officer Brody (Roy Schneider). Brody pleaded with the Mayor to shut down the beach, but was instead forced to sail into the open ocean with shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) and Oceanographer, Hooper (Robert Dreyfus) in order to catch and kill the monster.
In my eyes, the impact of the film came from the unknown rather than the shark itself. The audience are left in the dark for a large majority of the film as no one knows what the shark looks like. Instead, Spielberg leaves us in a state of suspense for pretty much the entire first half of the film, by allowing us to see body parts washed up on shore and boats with huge chunks ripped out the side. This allows us to build an image of the shark into a vicious monster without even seeing the beast in its true form. However, we are very much aware of its presence by use of John Williams’ genius soundtrack which sets an ominous and foreboding mood throughout the entire cinema. Williams describes the music as a sound which is almost "grinding away at you, just as a shark would do, instinctual, relentless, unstoppable" (Friedman, 2006, pg. 174).
Spielberg cleverly delays the shark’s appearance, without this, I believe the film would not be as popular as it is. If Spielberg were to over expose the audience to gruesome gore and fully reveal the killer too early on, then I feel the audience’s reaction would become stunted. The delayed appearance allows us to over think and use our imagination to build the shark into this ruthless monster. The fear of the unknown is what truly creates the perfect thriller, as the imagination is far more fearsome than the monster itself.
One particular actor whose performance should never be forgotten is that of Robert Shaw. Shaw creates Quint into a fascinating character by combining elements of fear, mystery and even humour to his persona, forming a unique and endearing individual. Quint rapidly takes on role of the leader (much to Brody and Hooper’s dismay) as they board his vessel and take to the ferocious waves which holds the dreaded beast. The moment where I became truly mesmerised by Shaw’s performance would be his USS Indianapolis monologue. The scene is completely stolen by Robert Shaw (and for good reason!), as both Hooper and Brody sit and listen to Quint’s haunting memories of the journey back from delivering the Hiroshima bomb June 1945. It is at this moment the audience realise Quint’s motivation and hatred against sharks, as well as the reasoning behind his dark and angry façade. I believe that his bloodcurdling speech not only enthrals us, but allows the audience to connect with Quint and evoke a sense of sympathy from both characters and spectators.
If you haven’t already picked up on the subtle hints thus far, then I shall state more clearly that this is a must see film and I highly recommend. Although, those that haven’t already seen this masterpiece should keep that information tightly to their chest. Jaws exhibits all you could ever want in one film: fear, action, murder, passion and even comedy at times. Everything all wrapped up in one big fish, an offer impossible to pass up.
Friedman, L. (2006). Citizen Spielberg. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, p.174.
Jaws. (1975). [film] Directed by S. Spielberg. United States: Universal Pictures.