56 – Jaws (1975)

Hooper: I think that I am familiar with the fact that you are going to ignore this particular problem until it swims up and bites you on the ass!

 

Seen before?

F: A fair few times yes.

R: Once properly and a few more times over the years catching odd bits on TV.

 

Thoughts?

F: I’ll give you a question to kick this off: Is this Spielberg’s best? (Spoiler – I think it is)

R: In terms of his impact as director, and the way he turns a pretty hokey story into something that’s really tense and enjoyable, I might say it is. But it’s far from the best film he’s made. It’s not even his best monster movie (which is obviously Jurassic Park).

F: I think Jaws is better than Jurassic Park for a number of reasons: 1) Sharks are real. It’s like The Birds in that it plays on a fear you didn’t know you had. I can’t be scared of dinosaurs because they don’t exist! 2) The characters are stronger. As much as I love the characters in Jurassic Park, the central three in Jaws are so great! 3) No annoying kids running round.

R: Your second point there is certainly your strongest. Jaws doesn’t have half as many named characters as Jurassic Park, so naturally there’s more depth to them. And sure, I remember finding the kids in Jurassic Park annoying even when I was a child myself – but that is of course an intentional thing to help get the audience on side with Doctor Grant. Where you are quite spectacularly wrong is in saying the threat here feels more real than the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park. The science in Jurassic Park might be a bit far-fetched but a lot of effort is made to at least make it plausible. A boat-eating shark is just daft.

F:  Of course, but there’s no denying sharks have killed humans and T-Rex’s haven’t! Moving on from the Dino v Fish debate, the special effects are pretty outdated here but didn’t bother me. Do you think it shows this film is over 40 years old?

R: Yes, it really does. We’ve seen quite a few films older than this and been impressed at how well the effects have held up. The mistake this film makes is that from around the halfway mark we start to see the shark closeup, and it looks ridiculous. The film gets less scary the longer it goes on, and I’m pretty sure that wasn’t Spielberg’s intention.

F: It’s true the film is probably better when the shark is unseen. But I think audiences would feel very cheated if they never got to see the shark! And it’s pretty fake but not too bad… 

R: My issue is that what the shark is doing, as well as what it looks like, feels fake. Although one thing that goes a long way to redeeming those scenes, and makes them effective, is the score.

F: I like the use of music in this a lot. Obviously the Jaws theme is ingrained in people’s minds forever, but I also like the moments when there is no score. This is most noticeable when [SPOILER] Quint gets bitten in half [END SPOILER].

R: John Williams does an amazing job here, I certainly won’t argue with that. The music often gives as much information about what’s happening as what you see on screen.

F: There’s the moment where the patrols are on the beach and someone spots a shark fin. But the music isn’t the Jaws theme and so the clues are there that maybe this isn’t a threat. Until 5 minutes later when the theme does kick in! 

R: I think it’s fairly uncontroversial to say the score is the most memorable thing about the film.

F: What about the performances here? We’ve seen Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss on this list before (with Dreyfuss looking so much older here than in American Graffiti – surprised this is only two years later) but Robert Shaw stood out for me as Quint.

R: I’d say the performances are good but not particularly extraordinary. Shaw plays a pretty bog-standard salty seadog, doesn’t he?

F: Perhaps but it’s hard to not make these sorts of characters caricatures and I don’t think they are here. 

R: I prefer the oceanographer character Matt Hooper, played by Richard Dreyfuss. 

F: Hooper has the best lines for sure!

R: The other two – the dislocated cop trying to do the right thing in an unfamiliar town and the world-weary sailor – might not be caricatures but they’re certainly overused archetypes.

F: Perhaps but I feel you get more from them especially during the scene in the boat where they get drunk, compare scars and tell stories. It’s a scene that doesn’t need to be in the film in terms of progressing the plot, but it’s probably my favourite part of the film. 

R: Whoa there! That scene is totally essential, if not to the plot then to the pacing. We need that calm before the storm of the finale. It’s also where that deeper characterisation comes from, and to take us back to where we started: that’s about the only thing this has to recommend it ahead of Jurassic Park.

 

Is it worthy of the top 100?

F: Yes, it’s one of my favourites!

R: No. Jurassic Park does a much better job scratching this particular itch.

 

Up next:
55 – North by Northwest (1959)
Previously:
57 – Rocky (1976)
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