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Friday, October 19, 2012

Jaws - A Review

There are certain movies that, in the course of your life, you will come back to. For me those movies are dominated by two directors, George Lucas and Steven Spielberg.

In my formative years these magicians of film were at the top of their game and produced some of the most memorable movie moments that, like handprints in wet cement, left their mark permanently in my developing brain.

But this Review is thanks to Spielberg, so move over George.

I was three when I first saw E.T. at the local cinema with my older cousin who was babysitting me that day. I still remember how both awe-struck and devastated I was when E.T. finally went home; his mother ship leaving its rainbow trail in the night sky.

The days of VHS came along and the bright among us discovered that if you had two VCRs you could easily “dub” video rentals. Of course this was illegal, but this was the 80’s when most of the population’s hair cuts should have been illegal. We had an uncle who had amassed for himself a monumental private library of some of the best films of the day. Thanks to his criminal ingenuity my brother’s and I must have seen Raiders of the Lost Ark and Close Encounters of the Third Kind at least a hundred times throughout our respective childhoods!

The result was I spent much of my younger days dreaming about either being abducted by Aliens (stupid, I know) or unearthing lost Biblical Relics, and let’s not forget – outsmarting Nazis. Clearly, my imagination was like a Lego set and Spielberg was one of the masterminds behind putting its pieces together.

In some ways, these movies for me have become psychological landmarks. Every few years when I watch them again I am able to somehow, almost mystically, reconcile myself now with who I was then. I don’t mean that in some Hippie New Agey way, just that if my life was like a road map, these movies would be like the occasional pit stop circled in red, I take a break from the journey and find “relief” in these films that wind my mind back to the child who saw them, and then, in a way, I bring that child back with me and feel like I can go on the next leg of the journey with a new sense of vitality and wonder.

Or perhaps things really were better then, before mobile phones and Xboxes and poor old E.T. had to make his intergalactic telecommunications device out of transistor radios and Simon Says components. The movies remind me of a time when I had never heard about “left” wing politics, “Socialism” and the various “agendas” that have swept across the vista of my adult life. Vietnam was ancient history, the golf war was ages away (for a kid at least) and if you said the words “Culture wars” I would have thought you were from a non-English speaking country. I like going back to those days, even if just for a couple of hours, to escape the insanity of super-modern living.

The strange thing is however, I can probably remember more about these stories of Spielberg’s than I can about my own actual childhood! I remember the first time I saw Goonies, the first time I saw Hook, E.T. and Jurassic Park… but strangely enough, I have absolutely no recollection of when I first saw Jaws. Its first screening seems blurred in the murky waters of reminiscence – because it was too darn scary to remember!

I know this because when I saw Jaws 2 I was about 7. I lived by the seaside as a young lad where swimming was as natural as pouring a bowl of cornflakes to most of my classmates and I. After I saw Jaws 2 I was so scared I couldn’t even walk on the thick carpet of our living room for fear that a shark was going to come out of the woolen floor and devour me, and that wasn’t even a Spielberg film! So I can comprehend what an impact the first movie must have had on me… even though I have a vague feeling I was much older when I finally saw it…

Anyway, my apologies for the long introduction, my point was and is that Jaws is one of those movies that I come back to every five years or so to refill my “Wow” tanks. I saw Jaws last night on Bluray and my “Wow” tanks are overflowing.

Jaws, based on the novel by Peter Benchley, is the inspiring tale of a Great White Shark who has staked his territorial claim on the waters surrounding Amity Island, where the townsfolk depend on the Summer tourist trade for their dollars. The season has arrived and the tourists are coming but the Shark has already claimed its first victim, in the first five minutes of the film, a drunken skinny dipping hippie chick.

Roy Scheider plays Martin Brody, the former New York cop become Sheriff who hates boats and has no idea what he is up against. The girl’s remains wash up on the beach, an arm sticking out of the sand amidst a small mound of human hungry crabs and Brody is quick to close the beach to prevent more carnage.

But the good sheriff’s best efforts are thwarted at every turn by the stupidity and stubbornness of the local authorities who are only concerned with the money the town will lose if word gets out that there “may” be killer shark on the loose. For a while there you don’t know which is scarier, the Shark or the small island’s bureaucracy!

It takes almost four victims before the Mayor admits they have a real problem on their hands, and so Brody, an Oceanographer named Hooper (Richard Dreyfus) and Quint, the mysterious sea Captain played by the late Robert Shaw, set out on a journey into a watery hell to catch the dreaded hungry Jaws of the deep….

When writing a film review there is one thing you must never do – never simply say, “I loved this movie, it was great.” Well, stuff it, I loved this movie, it was great!

CGI has spoiled anyone unfortunate to be born after the 80’s. Plot, character development and dialogue have all, on most occasions, been sacrificed on the altar of great visual effects. Just look at AVATAR, heck just look at the new Star Wars Trilogy!

Ok, obviously this is not always true, The Lord of the Rings Trilogy has proved that you can still tell a good story even though some of the characters aren’t really there, but back in the olden days, before a computer program could make anything from nothing, a good film relied on its director and its actors to convince their audience that the animatronic shark was real!

Spielberg does this by painstakingly ensuring that you don’t see the whole shark for most of the film, and when you do it’s blurred by enough water to hide the fact that under the boat was 25 feet of prosthetics.

The way the actors interact with the fake animal is also important, the shark’s first course in the beginning of the movie, the nude hippie, is so convincingly eaten by nothing that you’re convinced she was killed by something!

Again when Richard Dreyfus puts on his diving suit in the middle of the night to get a closer look at a partially submerged boat manages to scream like a little girl under water when a mutilated corpse floats out of the bite hole under the boat; all the while you’re begging him to GET OUT OF THE WATER! Again, there’s no shark in this scene, just the idea of one.

But even more terrifying is the yellow lilo scene where a great day at the beach is interrupted by the sudden appearance of fins behind a boy on a lilo. Next thing you know, there’s no boy, but there sure is a lot of blood and scores of children splashing to safety. Suddenly silence as everyone looks back at the now empty water and the mother of the eaten boy moves to the front calling his name; the only answer to her plea being a deflated shredded yellow lilo lapping at the shore. Bone chilling stuff… still, there’s hardly any shark in this scene, mainly the idea of one.

I mentioned earlier about coming back to films from your past, well, this time round I watched the film as a father and the horror of it all was completely new to me, from the boy lost in the previous paragraph to the Sheriff’s son’s brief brush with the shark. Suddenly the film feels less like the slasher-like movie I once thought it was to having more in common with Liam Neeson’s Taken, where a Dad will stop at nothing to save his kids.

In the end it is the desperate boat fearing Father who saves the day.

Finally I simply loved the fact that at the end of it all this was just a great story. There were no hidden analogies, no political agendas, no political correctness, no environmentalist propaganda; just a darn hungry shark. Heck, the shark didn’t even need a reason to be hungry, he didn’t have to be genetically engineered and he wasn’t punishing Amity for not paying their carbon tax either, he was just a scum-bag of a shark who needed a swift bullet to an oxygen tank in his mouth! I loved that.

I give this film a 9 out of 10 because I’m going to watch it again and again and again at five year intervals throughout the rest of my life, and each time I see that shark get what’s coming to him I’ll get that sense of satisfaction a man is supposed to have when a desperate Sherriff says, “Were going to need a bigger boat!”

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  1. Hi Kerin,

    It's Murtaza from A Potpourri of Vestiges. Thanks for submitting the article to Best of the Best Blogathon. I liked it a lot. I had watched Jaws a very long time back and can't seem to remember much of it. I will probably have to watch it again in order to truly appreciate the nuances of your review.

    Btw, you are welcome to submit more of them.

    Here are the details:

    1. Hey Murtaza, thanks a lot! You must be the first REAL person to leave me a comment in a while :) I'll be sure to submit more stuff to you soon... I'm a projectionist for a cinema chains so see a lot of films... I've included a link to your site on this blog... cheers, K


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