Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Movie Review: "Jaws" (1975)

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Year Nominated: 1976
Director: Steven Spielberg
Rating: PG
Running Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes
Did It Win?: No.

One summer, the small island community located on the New England coast called Amity, is terrorized by a giant great white shark. As people start to get eaten, the island is terrified and Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) is worried about the economic impact this will have, as the town's economy is reliant on tourism. The Mayor tasks the town's new police chief Brody (Roy Scheider) with solving the problem. Brody enlists the help of an oceanographer named Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and a shark fisherman named Quint (Robert Shaw) to hunt down and kill the man-eating shark. 
The Academy has a bad habit of excluding certain genres from its nominations, either mostly or wholly. For example, it doesn't usually nominate horror films for anything, especially not for the award to end all awards, Best Picture, but "Jaws" is one of the very rare exceptions, and for a good reason. Steven Spielberg manages to find a way to uniquely balance suspense, tension, gore and drama into a very well made, almost flawlessly executed and completely enthralling film that hits home when it comes to basic human fears. Though some may argue that "Jaws" isn't a horror film at all, we would have to disagree. We mean, come on! It's about a giant man-eating shark that terrorizes a small town...this is a classic "creature feature" formula! Sure, the creature here is not a monster, or an alien from another planet, or some unidentifiable pathogen set to destroy humanity, and this is why we say "Jaws" is even more horrific than these other types of horror movies: because it is a real, tangible creature we have seen and actually know about, and it's lurking just outside your nearest stretch of ocean. This is a movie that actually scared huge numbers of people out of the water for many, many years after this film was released, and it is the likely the inspiration for the Discovery Channel's Shark Week. Sure, the giant animatronic shark itself isn't perfectly done, but at least it is there in the water and looks real enough that you know it is a shark. Most of the time, having an actual object on screen helps to make a movie feel more real, as opposed to a CGI'ed creature wiggling around in all its computer generated glory. Though the shark is not perfect, it's still pretty damn terrifying. Also, having the shark off of the screen for much of the movie helped build tension and fear as well. For much of the flick, people only get hints of the sea beast, as swimmers get yanked underwater one by one, only to have pools of blood bubbling up on the surface of the ocean, that is, if they manage to come back up at all. As the audience, we imagine the shark doing this as opposed to seeing it happen, and as we know fully well, the thoughts from your imagination can sometimes be even more disturbing than what's happening in reality. It isn't until the tail end of the film that we actually see the full shark.

Beyond the shark itself, the story surrounding it is a good one, as there is much human drama and rivalry sprinkled in between the shark attacks. Chief Brody butt heads with mayor Vaughn over public safety, and the mayor simply wants the city's economy and budget to thrive during the summer months. This is probably the biggest point of contention in the film. Will they choose to keep the townsfolk well informed about the dangers of swimming in the ocean with the looming threat of a shark nearby, or will they keep an economic frame of mind so the city can stay on its feet a little while longer and ignore the potential peril and even possible deaths that could be caused by keeping quiet about the shark? The scientist Hooper, played by the ever wonderful Richard Dreyfuss in his DTF phased (ohhhh man, he was lookin' GOOD in this movie) also has a bit of a rivalry with old-school fisherman Quint, played by Robert Shaw, in another iconic performance. Quint sees Hooper as an educated theory-man who is only interested in money and science, and Hooper sees Quint as someone who only knows life from his very limited experience. Their rivalry also produces some interesting drama long the way. When you put all of this against one of the top five most noticeable movie scores in film history, you've got the recipe for a fantastic, well made, brilliantly executed, well written film that is relevant as much now as it was then.

My Rating: 9/10
BigJ's Rating: 9/10
IMDB's Rating: 8.1/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 98%
Do we recommend this movie: ABSOLUTELY YES!!!

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