|Screenplay||Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb|
|Editing||Verna Fields (AA)|
|Sound||Robert Hoyt, Roger Herrman, Earl Madery and John Carter (AA)|
|Music||John Williams (AA)|
|Ellen Brody||Lorraine Gary|
Steven Spielberg's adaptation of Peter Benchley's best selling novel is that rarity of rarities a movie that is better than the book. One of the biggest box-office attractions in the history of motion pictures, "Jaws" unerringly swam its way into our cultural lexicon with its stunning animated score by John Williams. It literally took a bite out of beach attendance in 1975.
In his second directing job Steven Spielberg demonstrates an extraordinary
ability to develop a stock scary story (giant marauding shark
attacks swimming villagers) into a sweeping adventure with the
power capture and hold the audiences attention.
When a marauding great white shark begins attacking bathers in
the waters off Amity Township the local sheriff, Martin Brody
wants to close the beaches. He is prevented from
doing this by the towns mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton),
the political and economic repercussions if he does so. It is
not until the shark strikes again that the mayor, reluctantly
agrees to heed the advice of the expert -Hooper (
an ichthyologist who has suggested the closing of the beaches.
He also agrees to hire Quint (
Robert Shaw), a crusty shark hunter,
to pursue and destroy the shark. Guilt ridden over his failure
to close the beaches Brody (who ironically is afraid of the water),
sets sail with Hooper on Quints' boat the Orca.
As a horror film "Jaws" is peerless. The bulk of the
carnage occurs largely off screen. Like its predecessor "Psycho"
the touches of gore that Spielberg does show on screen are used
to effectively increase the audience's dread of the next shark
attack. "Jaws" achieves its thrills by appealing to
the audience's imaginary sense of danger, their dread of the unknown.
As in the best horror movies, the audience is encouraged to care
for every victim, and Spielberg's masterful direction ensures
the audiences direct involvement in every attack.
The film's few technical and dramatic rough edges are more than
overshadowed by the strength of
Bill Butler's cinematography and
Verna Fields' Oscar winning editing. When combined with
Hoyt, Roger Herrman, Earl Madery
and John Carter's Oscar winning
sound and John Williams' Oscar winning animated musical score the
sharks presence is felt before the audience even sees it. By the
time Spielberg finally gets around to showing us the shark (nicknamed
Bruce), it doesn't matter that it is obviously a mechanical prop.
The audience is so rattled that a plastic model would probably
None the less it is Spielberg's ability to induce precise and
economic performances from his actors that elevates this film
above the standard monster / horror picture. Roy Scheider is perfectly
cast as the water hating sheriff who must surmount his fears in
order to save the villagers. Robert Shaw's exceptional performance
as the eccentric Quint heightens the tension of the man against
nature (shark) conflict. The most exceptional example of this
occurs in the scene where he recounts the terrifying fate of the
crew of the USS Indianapolis. Richard Dreyfuss provides the film
with its much needed comic relief as a visiting ichthyologist
Matt Hooper whose professional knowledge facilitates the viewers
participation in the film. Lorraine Gary
strikes the right note
as Brody's supportive wife, it is to the authors credit that they
wisely left out her love affair with Hooper from the screenplay.
"Jaws" is not a cheep rip off of
Moby Dick ,
it does borrow heavily from the classic novel. It is rather, an
exemplary product of the monster - genre that it represents. That
Spielberg obviously admires classic films from this genre is apparent,
examples of the classics are liberally inserted throughout the
film. The films' opening sequence where the shark stalks its first
victim is strikingly reminiscent of scenes in "The Creature
From 'The Black Lagoon" (1954). The sequence where Brody
sets his communications system on the beach is highly suggestive
of a similar sequence in "The Forbidden Planet"(1956).
The smash zoom shot of Brody's face as he witnesses a brutal shark
attack comes directly from Fritz Lang's "Metropolis"
via Alfred Hitchcock's "Vertigo". Although these sequences
are inspired by previous films here they have been refined to
a new level. "Jaws" is a prime example of what can happen
when a young filmmaker, who is already performing at the top of
his art, is allowed to do what he does best. It stands independently
as classic monster film.