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Cinema Nostalgia: Jaws

June 1, 2018

Cinema Nostalgia is a feature in which we look back on some of the great films of the past. Some may be all-time classics, others might be underrated gems. Each and everyone of them are great examples of why we love movies. Today we look at the 1975 classic Jaws.

The summer is kicking off with everyone itching to head to the beach. So what better time to revisit the movie that made generations of swimmers afraid to ever go back in the water? It’s Steve Spielberg’s Jaws!

Plot: A beautiful island community has its peaceful summer beach season turn into a nightmare as a massive shark begins preying on the residents. With more victims being claimed, the island’s chief of police teams with a marine biologist and a veteran fisherman to hunt down the beast before it kills again.

Starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfus, Robert Shaw

Directed by Steven Spielberg

Looking back on this movie now is not just appropriately timed because of its summer setting, but this is the movie that created the summer blockbuster. Every summer since, movie studios have pushed their biggest releases towards the warmer months, providing moviegoers with some fun popcorn adventure – and its all thanks to this film. It was a wild hit upon its release in 1975 with people lining around the block to see the most talked about movie. Not only did it prove to be a hit with the audiences, but it was nominated for Best Picture at the Academy Awards. All from a movie that was almost sunk before it was finished filming.

“You yell barracuda, everybody says, ‘Huh? What?’ You yell shark, we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.”

Most movie buffs will know the behind-the-scenes story of the making of Jaws, but if you don’t know, here’s why it was a disaster film in and of itself. Spielberg was not the universally-loved and iconic director he is today. He had helmed only two small yet acclaimed films before becoming interested in the adaptation of Peter Benchley’s novel about a man-eating shark. Though seemingly B-movie material, Spielberg saw the potential to make something special. Executing that vision would be another challenge. As the young, 29-year-old director dealt with a crew that thought him an amateur and the constant fighting between co-stars Dreyfus and Shaw, it was, appropriately, the shark itself that almost swallowed his career whole.

“This was no boat accident!”

Realizing that using footage of real sharks wouldn’t be enough, Spielberg decided to use a massive mechanical shark for several key scenes. The rig was impressive in size and craftsmanship for the time, but unfortunately proved nearly impossible to control in the salt water setting. Day after day the shark sank and looked to take the whole picture down with it. Finally, the brilliant idea was made – don’t show the shark. Thus birthed one of the most terrifying movie creatures ever created.

“Y’know the thing about a shark, he’s got lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes.”

When audiences went to a movie about a killer shark, they had expectations for being adequately scared of the monster – but they weren’t ready for how scary it was to not be able to see that evil lurking under the water. For the first two-thirds of the film, we see glimpses and hints. The iconic fin sticking out of the water proved to be far more effective than a mechanical shark could every be. Seeing its victims from the point of view of the shark, accompanied by John Williams’ legendary score, it made swimming at the beach, a pool or even the bath tub one of the scariest things imaginable.

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

The film also cemented Spielberg as a master filmmaker. It was not just how he turned a bad situation into a genius idea, but how he created a perfect film. Yes, it is scary but far more than that. Jaws is a horror film, an adventure film, a film about family, about these three men who don’t get along – Spielberg gave all these elements their due leading to a much richer film than anyone had expected from a killer shark movie. Likewise, the performances from the three leads are exceptional with Shaw as the standout. His Captain Quint is unhinged and surly but his speech about the  USS Indianapolis incident is one of the highlights of the film.

“Smile you son of a …”

Despite the troubled production, Jaws has become a classic of all-time. It is a film that inspired countless other directors and created the trend of summer blockbusters. It also remains one of the most rewatchable films ever made, still holding up remarkable well more than 40 years later. Do yourself a favour and re-watch it this summer…though maybe on dry land.

Best scene:

Set out on the ocean to track down and kill the shark, Quint, Hooper and Brody are readying a trap. Brody, the least experienced seaman, is given the unenviable task of shoveling chum into the water. As he complains about the smell, the gigantic mouth of the shark emerges from the water. Brody gets a wide-eyed look at the thing he’s hunting before it disappears back under the surface. It’s our first look at the monster and it’s effectively terrifying.


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