“Smile you son of a bitch!”
(This review contains spoilers).
Recently restored and screened in cinemas, and sadly followed soon after by the death of one of its co-producers Richard Zanuck, I thought it was about time I revisited those sandy white beaches of Amity with their hastily produced ‘No swimming…’ signs dotted around…
Jaws was the first video cassette I owned. I played the tape so often I wore it out. I was only 7 years old when the film first hit cinemas in the UK. My father – despite my numerous entreaties – declined to take me to see it. I sometimes wonder whether this was for my protection or his… But, with the advent of home video, I soon found myself dipping my toes in the crystal blue waters of Amity and becoming acquainted with the titular Carcharodon carcharias (great white shark) known affectionately to its film crew as ‘Bruce’.
The trials and tribulations of filming Peter Benchley’s source novel are now well documented. The fact that the saltwater caused the mechanical model sharks to malfunction and even on occasion sink forced the young Spielberg to become more creative and suggestive when depicting the shark – and the film is all the more powerful for it. Helped immeasurably by John Williams’ shark motif, surely the most instantly recognisable and effective piece of film music ever committed to celluloid; a crisp screenplay bristling with eminently memorable lines; and a trinity of actors at the peak of their game; it is rightly regarded as one of the classic films of all time.
So ‘Bruce’ is a tad unconvincing when he belly-flops right out of the water onto the Orca and chows down on Robert Shaw’s salty sea-dog Quint. It matters not a jot. Deep Blue Sea in 1999, Shark Night 3D in 2011 and practically every other movie on the Syfy channel have given us CG sharks which, in theory, given the technological advancements since 1975, should have blown Jaws out of the water. The fact that they haven’t is a testament to good old-fashioned characterisation and storytelling – two things Jaws has in abundance.
Unfortunately, both the film and the original source novel by Peter Benchley did (however unintentionally) contribute immeasurably towards the demonization of the great white shark – a much maligned and misunderstood fish. But in popular entertainment sometimes you can’t make an omelette without cracking a few eggs – ask any piranha.