A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.


August 1, 2010


“You’re going to need a bigger boat.”

Both Amanda and I are big fans of the Discovery Chanel and of Shark Week, so in celebration of Shark Week we’re holding one of our own this week on our movie project. And what better way to start a week of shark movies than with the granddaddy of them all: Jaws. (It’s even more appropriate because in a bit of free advertising for the Discovery Chanel the beaches on Nantucket were closed this weekend because of great white shark sightings.)

Thirty five years ago Stephen Spielberg created the first true blockbuster film, and wrote the book on how a monster movie is to be made. And for thirty five years people have been following the outline that he laid out here. “Never show the monster in the first reel.” It’s a basic axiom of suspense film making, and every movie that has blurry up-close shots of its beastie for the first half hour or longer while it builds the tension up to the big reveal is paying homage to this groundbreaking classic work. Sure he had no choice but to show as little of the shark as possible because the mechanical beast he had was notoriously silly looking and unseaworthy, but it was the right choice to make. I wonder if when he was caught up in the chaos of making this movie Spielberg was aware that he was writing the blueprint for decades of monster movies to come – his own E.T. and Jurassic Park included.

Not to be forgetting the infamous theme music. John Williams began his mighty run with this movie. At times it seems like there’s not a big Hollywood movie that doesn’t have John Williams (or Danny Elfman) providing the music that drives the movie. And who can blame Spielberg and Lucas when Williams’ music is so memorable and effective. The shark’s “bum-bum-bum-bum” theme is almost more threatening than the blood soaked visuals of the shark attacks.

Ahh. We’re coming up on another of my favorite examples of why pan & scan is so inferior to wide-screen. As Chief Brody is chumming the water the shark makes its first above water appearance in the movie, looming up out of the water on the left-hand side of the screen. It’s an iconic moment in the film and one that few forget. And in the pan & scan version of the movie the shark is hardly in the shot, it’s almost completely cut out.

Of course this is really two movies. The first hour or so is the story of embattled police chief Martin Brody, who is the only person on all of Amity Island who really believes that there’s a shark problem. He’s a native New Yorker who has moved his family to Amity to get away from the evils of the big city. When a young woman is found brutally and savagely mutilated on the shoreline he wants to close the beaches, but the local townsfolk depend so heavily upon the revenue from summer business that the mayor refuses to do that. So the first half of the movie is involved in local politics and builds the tension as the shark picks off one person after another.

It isn’t until more than an hour has gone by that the movie really gets going. We’ve established that the shark is a monster and Brody sets out with the insane shark fisherman Sam Quint and the ivy league shark biologist Matt Hooper. The three of them spend the rest of the movie hunting the beast. Slowly it becomes more clear just how massive and unstoppable the beast is as it does things that no mortal shark could. Spielberg spends a lot of time showing the shark taking first one air filled barrel under the water, then another. Establishing that the shark is a demon, something unprecedented and colossal. At the same time Quint and Brody and Hooper learn to like and trust each other in spite of their differences. It’s a buddy film in a lot of ways.

Of course it all works wonderfully. The fantastic acting of Scheider, Shaw, and Dreyfuss is perfect. The Williams score wonderfully drives the movie forward. Even the laughable rubber shark is completely forgiven because by the time the shark finally arrives on the scene it’s been built up so well that the monster could be a soggy sock puppet and it would still have as much power. It’s a wonderful, bloody, exciting monster movie and although it has been imitated many, many times it has never really been topped.

Certainly I don’t expect any of the other movies we have lined up for this week to hold a candle to it.

August 1, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , ,

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