Saturday Night Classic Movie Review: JAWS (1975)

Because my cable internet likes to go down all the time, and because I personally can only read so long before I want to just passively absorb something, a couple of months ago I purchased a BluRay player and have been slowly building my collection…$5 or $10 at Target or Amazon at a time. Last weekend (last Saturday night, actually) I was walking through the store and saw that classic thriller “JAWS”.

Truth be told, I have only watched Jaws once before, around 2003. In anticipation of our family trip down to Myrtle Beach (which would be marred by a severe case of sun poisoning and subsequent days spent playing indoor laser tag), my Dad sat both my brother and myself down to watch it the night before we left. In what I would probably call a classic case of young whipper-snappery, neither my brother and I were frightened enough to avoid the ocean, but I do give my Dad props for trying to keep us out of there (most likely so he could go play golf instead). Because it had been a decade since I watched it, this was basically the first time I was seeing the film in my adult life…and I have to say, it clearly holds up to time.

One of the things I genuinely like about this film is that the acts are so clearly defined. The first half of the movie takes place on the island with a host of characters, plot lines, personal and relationship drama, and denials about what is happening and how to fix it. The second half is a stage play set on the “Orca” with two focuses: the screenwriter’s development of the three leads set against the second focus: killing that goddamned shark.

Getting to watch the movie alone, in the dark, on a big HD screen with nothing else going on really set up the movie perfectly. The opening scenes, where the woman goes swimming only to meet her untimely demise, feels ominous immediately. Throughout the first act, Spielburg masterfully guards against showing the entire animal, which conditions you as the viewer specifically not to see it, but to hear it…thanks to John William’s phenomenal use of music. Of course, this only sets you up for shock when you don’t hear the sound and the shark seemingly comes out of nowhere later in the film.

It is easy to look back at movies and shows from earlier decades scoff at not only the situations that the characters place themselves in, but at the way modern technology would solve many of the issues they have. I call this the “Seinfeld iPhone Effect”…where almost every episode would have been resolved today simply by having a reliable way to get in touch with each other. Jaws doesn’t really suffer this, which I think is why it has stood up so well. Think about it: the Orca could have more horsepower, the little GPS tracker could have worked better, the shark cage might be stronger, Quint could be wearing a carbon-fiber vest…but with the whole second act being three dudes on the ocean in a run down boat…the only real difference between then and now is that Brody and Hooper would have been wearing Sperrys and not Chuck Taylor’s running along the side of the boat.

Speaking of style…I don’t know how many times I wished I could get my hands on some of the things Brody was wearing through the entire film. Obviously not the police uniform, but the relaxed, upper middle class east coast beach dweller thing he has going on…some of the t-shirts and turtle necks just look comfortable, with a subtle amount of je ne sais quoi that you don’t see with the other New England/Kennedy/Brooks Brothers stuff.

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In any case, the movie holds up very well, and the BluRay restoration is stunning. While some movies from back in the day don’t have the staying power to get the full upgrade treatment (you can tell they have the B-Team working the restoration)…Jaws is clearly one of Universal’s babies, and they were not about to half-ass this one. The entire movie is crisp, the colors are consistent, and the sound, especially that Williams score, is crystal clear. If you haven’t watched it in a while, go ahead and throw Jaws up near the top of your list.

Corey can be found raving about other 40 year old movies on twitter @coreylarue.