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Jaws (1975)


Sharks are pretty badass. On their own, many species of shark are the closest thing nature has come to a living chainsaw/garbage disposal combination. They are perfectly suited to hunting in the water, and they’re shaped a lot like torpedoes with teeth. Of course, of all the species of shark that stalk the seas, the one with the most bloodthirsty reputation has got to be the great white, thanks to a little book by Peter Benchley and a little-known director named Steven Spielberg, who combined forces like the Wonder Twins (only less lame) to produce a horror movie that made audiences of 1975 mortally afraid of cellos at the beach.

Oh, yeah, and they were afraid of being eaten by sharks, too.

Jaws is a horror film directed by Steven Spielberg and based on the novel of the same name by Peter Benchley, starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, and a frequently-malfunctioning animatronic shark named Bruce.

When a swimmer off the shore of Amity Island is killed, torn apart by an unseen force, the new police chief, Martin Brody, finds himself confronted by the possibility that there is a shark hunting the waters off the beach. However, the mayor is reluctant to close the beaches, as rumors of a shark attack will ruin the summer tourist season. The medical examiner reverses his initial ruling of death by shark attack and records it as a boating accident, and Brody reluctantly goes along with it, hoping it was just a freak incident. However, when a boy is attacked by a shark on the beach not long after, the evidence can no longer be ignored; the beaches are closed and a bounty is placed on the killer shark’s head. Brody ultimately finds himself teaming up with an oceanographer and a mercenary shark hunter to try to hunt down a killer great white that’s determined to snack on the denizens of a small island…

As with many horror movie series that started off good and then spiralled off into stupidity, the original Jaws is excellent. The accepted progenitor of the summer blockmuster, Jaws broke box office records of the day and put the fear of Bruce into moviegoers, with the result that beach attendance dropped sharply in 1975. Not bad at all, consider that you don’t even see the shark for the first half of the film. This decision (which legend holds is due to the animatronic shark repeatedly acting up on set) wound of the tension beautifully, to the point that you just about shit yourself when you see the thing for the first time. While nowadays the animatronic shark might seem a bit goofy and fake, nothing quite compares to that initial “OH GOD WHAT THE HELL IS THAT!?” moment.

The core cast was also excellent. Roy Scheider as reasonable authority figure Chief Brody was well-casted, and we share his frustration as he is forced to weigh OMG SHARK against the tourist season (which just proves that mayoral types in 95% of these types of movies just need a kick in the head). Richard Dreyfuss as oceanographer Matt Hooper makes his role as Captain Exposition fit in well, explaining the ways of sharks to non-Islander Brody as well as the audience. He’s the expert – that’s what he was called in to do. Hooper’s foil is Robert Shaw’s Quint, who also knows what sharks can do (his story about the sinking of the Indianapolis is based on actual history) and thus absolutely hates them. This film is surprisingly character-driven for a monster movie, making the plot every bit as much about the human cast as it is about the killer shark. The logical result is that the shark menace is more convincing – you are actually concerned about the people of Amity Island rather than waiting for a bunch of obnoxious sterotypes to get eaten.

If you’re sick of cookie-cutter monster flicks and just want a tense, engaging thriller, step into the Wayback Machine and check out Jaws. It’s by far the best and the scariest of the series, and the progenitor of the summer blockbuster and the modern monster movie.

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  1. Wild0ne189
    04/05/2011 at 3:04 pm

    This is definitely one of my all time favorites. Just a pity that they had to cast a great white in the terror role. Its true that they’re one of the bigger and more impressive species out there but they’re hardly the bad boys of the ocean. Blue sharks are a lot more dangerous to people and are even fond of fresh water, being known to swim up to 1000 miles up rivers. Its also a shame that the Jaws movies have made shark conservation nearly impossible due to stereotypes of them.

    Overall, definitely a good movie, and what I like in a horror film unlike the slasher and gore flicks that seem to happen nowadays. The shark buff in me does cringe a bit every time i see it though.

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