A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 154 – Jaws

Jaws – August 1st, 2010

As you might be aware, it is Shark Week. This is the Discovery Channel’s week to showcase a crapload of shark documentaries and specials. We do enjoy Shark Week, and as we ended up with some amazing examples of shark movies, we decided to play along. Interestingly, the real world is also playing along, with great whites spotted off of Nantucket, leading to beach closures. We’ve got to close the beaches! And so, we begin Shark Week with Jaws.

Now, I didn’t grow up in an area like Amity, but I did grow up in a beach town, and I’ve spent a good amount of time on Cape Cod, both in the winter and the summer. The setting of the movie is intended to be a Massachusetts island town. A summer town that relies on two or three months of tourist industry to fund the lives of the locals for the rest of the year. Anything that jeopardises those short months of income is a big-ass deal. Amity rings true to me, with what experience I have. The worries of the locals seem right. Safety versus the income you need to survive. It’s easy to look at the beginning of the movie from Chief Brody’s point of view and wonder why the hell one would keep the beaches open. After all, we as the viewers know there’s a god damned shark attacking people out there! But to me, I think it lends more tension to it to really feel the difficulty the locals have in making that decision, to be able to feel bad for them even when you want to shake them.

I almost feel like it’s pointless to explain the plot of the movie. It’s about shark attacks and how can you not know it by now? It’s part of the cultural lexicon, with the closing the beaches and needing a bigger boat. This is a classic. But for the sake of completeness, let’s do a quick overview. Our main player is Chief Brody, played by Roy Scheider. He’s not local to the island of Amity, but he seems to like it there. After a couple of shark attacks he’s joined by Hooper, played by Richard Dreyfuss, a scientist from a mainland oceanographic institute (based on the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute) who’s an expert on sharks. The locals don’t want to believe there’s still a killer shark out there, so there are several grisly deaths within the first half of the movie. And then the second half is Brody and Hooper out on a boat with local Quint, played by Robert Shaw, hunting the shark.

I would say there are three acts to the movie. There’s the first act, which sets up the risk, with the attack on the teenage girl at the beginning and then the first beach scene. It’s on the short side, as is the second act when the risk is known but nothing’s being done yet, but it’s essential to set it all up. The tension of the situation depends on setting the stakes high. And they are quite high, with deaths happening on camera and chewed up boats and rafts. And then they get higher with Brody butting heads with the locals. So by the time we get out to sea, we’re really ready to spend an hour with just three characters who have the same goal, but three very different approaches. We’re up for that, because we want that shark taken down. We want someone to get it, be it the scientist, the police officer or the fisherman. Therefore, while the third act is a full hour, with only three characters, and has some of the quietest moments, with the Hooper and Quint comparing scars and lots of empty ocean around them, it also has all the real action, and it doesn’t feel long. It feels right.

Now, one could quibble over some of the failings of the movie. There’s the notoriously horrible mechanical shark that never worked correctly. There’s the exploding air canister. There are little things here and there. But while I admit that I did laugh at one scene of the giant fake shark, it’s otherwise a very good thriller of a movie. Who cares about the air canister? With the tension built up by the first two acts, the action in the third and the phenomenal and famous score by John Williams, a big explosion works just fine. It’s a well built movie, set up just right to make the audience jump and laugh at just the right intervals. The acting and direction invite you to suspend your disbelief, because they’ll give you a good show, and they really do deliver.

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

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