Just when you thought it was safe to go back on the Internet, Jim Brymer returns with some thoughts on the quintessential summer blockbuster: Jaws
Recently, Avengers: Endgame blasted records for a movie release, surpassing every movie ever released in history except Avatar (and it may yet surpass even that). The so-called “summer blockbuster” has been a designation that has been around for about 40 years or so. Of the top grossing films of all-time, at least half if not more were released during the summer. (The other half were released during what is at least equal to summer as a big money time to release movies, during the Thanksgiving/Christmas season).
The one that started it all for the summer blockbuster designation however was Jaws. This movie proved that a great movie, released at an opportune time, could mean profits that could line studios pockets for months (or even years) to come. When people forgo going to the beach for the weekend in order to spend two or three hours in a theater to watch a film, that says something about the power of movies. And studios for the last 45 years or so have strained to capitalize on that market. Jaws made some $470,000,000 off of a $9,000,000 budget. (It also had the effect of reducing the amount of traffic at the beach that summer, but that is for later in the review…)
Jaws was such a huge hit that, of course, Hollywood tried to go back to the well again and again. It spawned four sequels to date, each one increasingly worse than the original. Fortunately for us it didn’t make it to Jaws 19, a movie “predicted” in Back to the Future Part II with the tagline “this time it’s REALLY REALLY personal!”
But the original still can be an exciting film. A couple of weeks from now Flashback Cinema is going to re-release the original for a one-week stand.
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat” -Chief Brody.
Villains come in all shapes and sizes. What motivates a villain to act the way he or she does can vary across the entire spectrum of the so-called “seven deadly sins.” The predominant one in my opinion, having seen hundreds of movies featuring villains, is greed. The villain of Jaws is not the shark, in this view. The villain (or villains, if you will) are the greedy townspeople of Amity, who don’t want their money ticket, the summer vacationers, scared away by a “rumor” of a shark. In other words “money talks and BS walks”.
At the start, on Amity Island, a girl goes skinny-dipping with a guy, and is attacked by a shark. This should be a warning to you youngsters…. it’s a bad idea to go skinny-dipping! After discovering remains of the body, Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) wants to close the beaches, but the Mayor (Murray Hamilton) won’t hear of it. Doesn’t Brody realize that the entire economy of the island depends on vacationers coming to use the beach during the summer?
When the coroner — who was either uneducated in shark attacks or maybe bribed by city officials — determines that the death was the result of a boating accident, Brody reluctantly agrees to forgo his plans to close the beach. But the shark attacks another boy. What ensues is havoc, as the mother of the boy offers a reward for the capture of the shark. This brings out every amateur money hungry fool to try to get the reward.
At a council meeting local fisherman and would -be aquatic hero, Quint (Robert Shaw) offers his services, but for no less than $10,000. His offer however, is rebuffed, and in the meantime two of the fools trying to get the smaller reward bring in a tiger shark, which is pronounced by everyone to be the culprit shark.
Everyone that is except for marine scientist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), who claims that the tiger shark is too small and proves his theory by cutting open the shark and finding no proof that it had attacked either of the victims.
The second half of the movie includes the (finally) introduction of the shark in question. Imagine! We were halfway through the movie and had not actually seen the monster. That’s a tribute to how intense the build up was. The shark’s first appearance is when Brody, who is rather reluctantly tossing chum out into the water in order to attract the shark actually succeeds in bringing the culprit to the surface, and determines that the boat they are in is a bit inadequate for the job.
Quint, saddled with two amateurs, and being overly enthralled with his own abilities, has his hands full. But the three manage to survive without killing each other. Can’t say the same about the shark. Old “Bruce” (as the mechanical shark was called during production) has other ideas about who is going to come out on top in this battle of wills.
In the end, all the sophisticated gadgetry is pretty much useless. Saddled with no less than three barrels which have been harpooned into him, the shark continues to wreak havoc, and while the ultimate end may come off as a little anti-climatic, at least it did to me, it does satisfy.
The movie had an impact on people who watched it. It caused many to be wary of going into the ocean. I don’t know what the actual figures were, but the reduction in beach traffic seems to be a given in talking about the effect Jaws had on the public.
And it became a part of the zeitgeist of American culture for years to come. It continues to be an influence. It crops up in political cartoons, TV and movies (just the strains of John Williams‘ “Duh-dum duh-dum duh-dum” and most people know exactly what the film is referencing, even if they haven’t seen it. And being afraid to go into the water? That crops up too. A 1981 film, Blood Beach, capitalized on the theme with a catch-phrase of “Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…you can’t get to it!” (That movie featured what was apparently a giant ant lion living on the beach).
The Jaws phenomenon made Steven Spielberg a household name. Its success opened the door for a wealth of great (and not-so-great) movies over the years. Spielberg followed up Jaws with Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T: The Extra-Terrestrial, the Indiana Jones movies, and Schindler’s List (which netted him his first Best Director Oscar), just to name a few.
As stated earlier, I will be going to see Jaws on the big screen later this month. Although it will be at an indoor theater…
Jim Brymer, AKA Quiggy, runs the movie blog The Midnite Drive-In, check it out for more insights on other classic films.