Stay out of the water. As the Fourth of July weekend approaches, a small New England island town is terrorized by a great white shark. It’s up to a police chief, an oceanographer and a shark hunter to come together and neutralize this unstoppable death machine. This movie recently celebrated its 40th anniversary, and it is just as effectively terrifying as if it had come out yesterday. It is brilliant filmmaking that you don’t get to see every day, and Spielberg in his top form is always something that is destined to stand the test of time.
Just like the vast majority of the public, I feel that this movie has incepted a base fear of sharks in my brain. It’s a frightening concept: something you can’t see, just beneath the surface, and to top it off, it is engineered by nature to be the perfect killing machine. Being drown and eaten at the same time has to be one of the absolute worst ways to go, and if you remember anything about this movie, it’s likely the opening; you see a young girl get toyed with before succumbing to her sharp, shiny fate. It gets in your head, and this is the movie that I feel unlocked the secret to psychological horror: it’s what you DON’T see that makes it scary. The infamous prop shark turned out to be a in a blessing in disguise; the original script called for the shark to be given a lot more screen time, but because of technical difficulties, Spielberg wasn’t getting the shots that he wanted. Because the shark is only hinted at through implications, it makes it that much scarier, as your imagination kicks in and fill in every single gap.
You are on the edge of your seat every single minute anybody is in the water because this is so well done, and you don’t want to see anybody die, not even the simpletons who attempt to collect the bounty on the shark’s head. All three of the leads give knockout performances; Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw all share a perfect chemistry together, and when shit is hitting the fan, you are in the moment entirely because of their reactions. One of my favorite scenes of this film is in the third act when they are in the boat, comparing battle scars. The scene goes from funny, to dramatic, to a drunken sing-along, to scary, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a movie do that before. Also, I can’t wrap up this review without touching upon the classic John Williams score, and those iconic opening notes are immortally carved in everybody’s brains as meaning shark. It’s an incredible movie where the tension only escalates and this is absolutely mandatory viewing material for a countless number of reasons, but also because this is where the blockbuster started.
Jaws (1975) *****
– Critic for Hire