Jaws (1975): Terror and Politics in a Tourist Town

Jaws

Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” is a beloved classic for a reason. It is also a film that I had not seen until quite recently. This actually applies to a lot of Spielberg’s work, so one of these weeks I will be doing a Steven Spielberg week since his style, for better and for worse, it so distinct.

“Jaws” is based off the book by the same name by Peter Benchley, who also wrote the screenplay in this instance (which is a pro for the story) along with Carl Gottlieb. The writing and the world are very solid and serve the film extremely well.

The story takes place in the small tourist town of Amity, whose income almost entirely relies on people coming to enjoy the beach. It kicks off with a bunch of kids partying and one of them going out to swim and getting killed mysteriously. Brody the Sheriff later finds her body and suspect a shark, which the mayor covers up because he doesn’t want to cause a panic or hurt the local economy. He continues to cover it up after the scientist Hooper arrives and confirms the shark they captured, did not have a big enough bite and that the shark is still out there. From here the story unfolds as the shark strikes again and Brody, Hooper and the eccentric fisherman Quint have to stop it.

jaws_robert_shaw_roy_scheider_richard_dreyfuss

Here is the assessment of the film:

Pros: The Soundtrack – John Williams does an excellent job scoring this film, especially with the memorable shark approaching theme in how it causes tension. The only thing I don’t like is when he goes whimsical, which I think might be more Spielberg’s fault than his since it clashes with the rest of the movies tone.

Rising Action / Tension – The Tension in this film is palpable, you never see the Shark until the very end, so it is the hidden underwater threat. This is done well in how Spielberg shows us the Shark’s point of view when it is stalking it’s human prey on a few occasions. Whenever he gives us the human point of view we are left in the dark until it is too late, even at the end this rule applies.

The Three Leads

Brody – Roy Scheider does a good job as the detective who is torn between his duty to the local government and the mayor, and to protecting his family. He pretty much goes along with the mayor with only slight protest until Hooper reminds him that they can confirm the Tiger Shark was the killer by cutting it open. They do so and that keeps him fighting again and making sure the beaches are being scoured by police to protect the visitors. Brody also gets the final kill and is the one who doesn’t give in to Quint’s machismo as Quint destroys the radio when he is calling for help as the Shark has destroyed their boat.

Quint – This guy is the fisherman and shark hunter with a major chip on his shoulder. He’s had a few marriages and thinks the only measure of a person is physical strength. He does have some great moments connecting with the guys though, especially with Hooper as they swap shark stories and he opens up about the fact that he fought in World War 2 and why he has such a depressed outlook on life. When his ship sunk he saw sharks kill most of his men which gives him a “Moby Dickish” relationship to them, and like Captain Ahab he dies fighting Jaws at the end. Robert Shaw is good in this role.

Hooper – Richard Dreyfuss is fantastic in this role. He’s the college educated guy who studies sharks for a living and loves them. He’s the outsider and his connecting with Quint over scars from the sharks is pretty fun as they are all getting drunk. He can be annoying sometimes, but you get where he is coming from as Quint doesn’t listen to anyone. He is also the one who motivates Brody to action and actually doing something about the shark. He’s my favorite character in this and one of my favorite actors.

The Mayor – The Mayor is good as the corrupt guy just going after the bottom line, until the 4th of July when the shark strikes again and he is forced to recognize he’s been wrong all along and this his child could have died. He has sleaze and charisma, making him and interesting secondary antagonist who comes around to neutral.

Okay: Brody’s Family – They are mostly there as a motivator. They don’t hurt the plot in any way, I just never felt connected to them as people. They only existed as possible victims of the Shark.

The Townspeople and Tourists – Are all pretty one note, they are doing their thing, but none of them really stand out as unique. They are more of the setting than anything else in the end.

Con: The Chase and Change of Tone – There is a seen where Brody, Quint and Hooper have attached barrels to Jaws and are chasing after him and the music gets all whimsical…there is still 30 to 40 minutes left…the victory music was declared way too early and clashes with the fact that Jaws destroys their ship later and eats Quint. The score should have just stuck with tension…cause even when they are chasing Jaws, the boat and are characters are still getting hurt by Jaws.

This film is a classic for a reason. I love how it explores the small town politics and how distinct the three leads are as characters. Hooper has to be one of my favorite characters in any films and it is awesome seeing a young Richard Dreyfuss. I would definitely recommend this film. It is a classic for a reason and has an amazing score to go with it along with the amazing direction of Steven Spielberg.

Final Score is 9 / 10.

 

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