It will probably not come as a surprise to you, dear reader that I was not a fan of the summer smash blockbuster that, with Star Wars, changed movies forever. After all, I wasn’t a fan of Star Wars and I thought Raiders of the Lost Ark got too silly when Indy rode on top of the Nazi submarine as it crossed the Atlantic. And all those Spielberg-produced ’80s kid-oriented movies struck me as piles of mediocrity. This may be why I liked “The Critic” TV show so much: I am Jay Sherman.
That aside, in retrospect, the reason I may not have cared for Jaws is that it was described to me as being “so scary”, like it’s a horror film. And as a horror film, it’s not really…well, it’s not a horror movie at all. It’s not really trying to scare you, except at moments in the build-up, and the scares are more roller-coaster than “spooky boo”. It never tries to build up an existential chill, there’s no sense of nihilism, the atmosphere is actually pretty bright and cheerful, where men with a purpose are off to tackle a man-eating beast.
It’s an action-adventure! And as such, it works really well. I took the kids to see it, and we all really enjoyed it.
I was actually sort of meh on seeing it but, as I pointed out, taking it for what it is, it’s really quite good. It’s also not a movie about a shark, which to reference The Shallows review, I will reiterate that most shark movies get that wrong: The idea that it’s about a shark, and therefore it’s the shark that has to be more interesting. This is why 99% of Jaws ripoffs (including its own sequels) are so bad.
The screenplay, from novelist Peter Benchley and longtime funnyman Carl Gottlieb (the guy who gave The Jerk (1979) its shape and who plays “Meadows” in this movie) gives us a bunch of strong characters to like, or enjoy disliking. Sure, there’s Quint, Brody and Hooper, the three men after the man-eating
lionshark, and Shaw, Scheider and Dreyfuss were at the top of their game. But there’s also lovable Murray Hamilton as the Vaughn, the man who launched the “sure, some people might get eaten, but what about the tourist revenue?” trope. Lorraine Gray is the patient but loving wife, hitting all the beats you can see echoed in (the not dissimilar Scandi disaster movie) The Wave (Bølgen).
There is just a lot of love here, and it oozes with the sincere conviction of youth (Spielberg was 29 when he made this). The movie greatly benefits, by Spielberg’s own admission (I think) from the fact that Bruce The Shark was a very unreliable robot, and in places where he would’ve used the shark, he had to excite the audience by proxy. Suggesting the shark’s size and ferocity.
As such, this movie holds up shockingly well. It is only in the final scenes that it looks its age. Bruce is not a very convincing shark, even if he is a method actor. Also, sharks don’t behave that way. But you need a big finale, and you get a big finale. (This is the same problem faced by the otherwise sensible The Shallows.)
Anyway, great fun, and a good reminder that seeing it on TV, you’re not really seeing it. We’ve been going to a lot of these “throwback” shows, and a lot of times you say “Well, that was way better than I thought it would be.” The theater gives you a chance to fully focus on the screen and a truly immersive experience.
So, check it out: But whenever possible, check it out on the Big Screen.