In 1975, Steven Spielberg created “The Summer Blockbuster”. Based on the book by Peter Benchley Jaws tells the story of police chief Martin Brody, who must deal with an aggressive great white shark that has invaded the beaches of his island community.
The film opens on a beach party, a young woman named Chrissie runs off with Cassidy for a late night skinny dipping session. While Chrissie swims, Cassidy passes out on the beach. Suddenly, Chrissie is jerked under water…she surfaces, now frightened, then she thrashes violently. We never see her attacker as she disappears below the water.
Chief Brody is a man frightened of water, yet lives on an island (He tells Matt Hooper that it is only an island if you are looking at it from the water). When the coroner suggests Chrissie was the victim of a shark attack, he leaps into action, only to be shut down by the Mayor, who does not want to close the beaches during tourist season. Only after a very public series of attacks do they allow Brody to take measures to destroy the shark. He is joined by marine biologist Matt Hooper and the gruff Quint.
Jaws may have kicked off the concept of a Summer Tentpole film, but that does not mean it is light fare. While there are plenty of thrills, Spielberg is focused on the characters and their stories. Brody loves his family and becomes worried for their safety. His wife Ellen is constantly trying to fight his obsession with the danger of the shark. But even she finds it hard not to give in. In one scene, Brody tells his son to get out of his small boat. Ellen tries to convince him not to worry…until she sees a picture in a book that Brody is holding showing a shark tearing through a boat.
The film has many great character moments, such as when Martin and his oldest son are sitting at the table and the son starts to imitate his father. It is a touching moment showing the connection Broody has with his family. Then there is a moment between Hooper and Quint on Quint’s boat where they compare scars.
The performances in the film are compelling. Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss have a terrific chemistry.
The shark (nicknamed Bruce) tends to look pretty fake, and due to limitations of the time, Spielberg chose to cut the movie in a way that would hide these issues. And it is a wise move that builds suspense effectively.
In later years, Benchley became an advocate for sharks, feeling both his book and the film created an irrational fear of sharks that resulted in people slaughtering them. But still, Jaws is an effective classic, worth watching.