Jaws - Summer movie 101
| Jaws was the first Summer Blockbuster in the sense that we understand that phrase today. For better or for worse, Spielberg invented a style of film making that has become one of the most prevalent in western cinema. Re-watching the film today, Jaws feels almost like a how-to lesson in the creation of crowd pleasing popcorn flicks.
There isn’t much to Jaws. Giant shark (anomalous problem) appears in normally quiet resort town (anywhere USA). People react with shock and denial. Smart man (or woman, but rarely) sees beyond the common hysteria/rationalization, fights loosing battle for common sense and ends up having to solve problem on his own or with the help of sidekicks who happen to be oddballs who are quite entertaining.
This has been repeated time and again every summer for the past decades and with good reason. Jaws created a pattern that works.
Jaws, like most trend setters, is actually superior to its successors. With the odd exception, most summer movies don’t maintain the buzz they create 5 minutes after you leave the dark and head back to the parking lot. However, the idea of a good popcorn flick is that it gets under your skin and jazzes you. Jaws jazzes.
I can’t remember if this film ever “made me afraid to go back in the water” as the original advertising claimed, but it does get me all excited about sharks and shark attacks which is more than I can say for the snooze-fest that was Open Water.
Spielberg actually breaks a lot of the “rules” that have emerged from this very model, killing kids and dogs and actually making the deaths gruesome enough to be disturbing. The first shark attack, which comes within minutes of the film opening, is actually quite distressing and sets you up for discomfort all along. Most movies in this day and age, even the horror films, spare you ever having to really experience the terror of sudden, horrible death but Jaws puts it in your face.
Spielberg also masters the art of showing us just enough to scare us without showing too much so that we don’t believe. We never see the shark too closely which is a good thing, as anyone who has ever taken the Universal Studios tour knows, “Bruce” didn’t work that well and looked fake most of the time. This lead to the fortunate accident of keeping him hidden and creating some of the best suspense the screen has ever seen.
Then there is the killer score.
While I find the film feels somewhat clichéd watching it today, and goes on a tiny bit too long near the end, this is the very model of a satisfying summer film. Even if you’ve never seen it, it’s familiar enough, from being copied incessantly, that you will recognise it immediately. However, the best part is, it’s entertaining enough to keep you excited beyond the credits rolling.