A short review of the classic movie "Jaws"
|Sharks are scary.
Scientists and water hippies tell us that sharks are just the misunderstood emo kids of the ocean, but they are still bloody scary.
They can strike from out of the murky depths to eat you and your surfboard whole in one serrated toothed bite. Admittedly, if you ride a surfboard it’s your own fault and you have no one to blame but yourself. In fact if you go in the ocean (and some tidal estuaries and bodies of fresh water), you are asking for trouble. In fact, if you do get bitten by a shark, you are guilty of contributory negligence and don’t deserve any insurance money (not legally proven, but I’m just saying).
Because sharks are so scary, it’s only natural that sooner or later some bastard movie director will take advantage and throw a scary shark movie at us.
Vampires and Werewolves have evolved over the centuries from slavering predators to sensitive and sparkly globs, but she good old shark has not changed since dinosaur times. Tyrannosaurus Rex even said “Swim here? You must be mad.” In fact I am going to turn evolutionary science on its head with my theory that the dinosaurs actually died out because sharks ate them all. What have you go to say about that discovery channel?
Sharks themselves may not have changed over the millennia but shark movies have. Early shark movies had a very “Hey let’s kill an actual shark” feel about them. This sucks.
As shark movies evolved they became an opportunity for scantily and if we were lucky, non-clad young ladies cavorting on the beach and in the water before getting eaten in increasingly gory and inventive ways. Most of these movies were cheap and tawdry “Jaws” rip offs, though, the 70s and 80s were cheap and tawdry times.
Released in 1977, Tintorera is a prime example. IMDB lists this pretty tasteless affair as “drama, horror, romance”, while Google lists its genre as “thriller, softcore pornography”. Moral arguments aside, this listing should tell you all you need to know. There are oodles of nudity and sex and gory shark attack scenes, some of which seem to involve a small shark, and a diver holding a bag of animal guts. It would be funny if it didn’t make you feel just a bit grubby. Overall, it’s a bit like finding out your parents were porn stars in the ‘70s by seeing them in action. Yeah, that bad.
Shark movies went a bit quiet for a while, except for a succession of Jaws sequels. These declined in quality, to the point where they even tried 3D for “Jaws 3D” (imagination not being a strong suit in Hollywood). This one made me want to go back and watch Tintorera again.
Special effects improved a lot in the intervening years to the point that one didn’t need a mechanical shark, or a diver with a bagful of animal guts to make a scary shark movie. CGI effects meant that you could get a scary shark for next to nothing. Suddenly every man and his dog was churning out a shark movie. These are generally so terrible that it almost makes a man yearn for the good old days of gratuitous nudity and animal guts. In fact, I think there has been a secret bet to create the most ridiculous shark movie possible.
At the quality end of this list of atrocities, Craig T Nelson found himself battling a human/great white shark hybrid in the could have been a lot worse TV miniseries “Creature”, and “Deep Blue Sea” where genetically improved Mako sharks stalk their creators through a flooded deep sea research facility. Honestly, why would you want to make sharks even scarier than they already are?
At the less tolerable end of the scale we see the modern classic Sharknado series of movies. As if the idea of man eating sharks getting sucked up into tornadoes and flying around eating people isn’t silly enough, “Sharknado 3, Oh Hell No!” features some sharks in space!
My particular favourite really really bad shark movie is “Ghostshark”. A great white shark is mortally wounded by a poacher but manages to somehow sell its soul to satan for revenge. Naturally, the young pretty daughter of the captain of the poacher’s boat must somehow survive and defeat the ghostly predator. Did I mention that the shark can materialise at will in any body of water, no matter how tiny? This allows ghost shark to pop up in a swimming pool to disrupt and dismember a bunch of teens before it can turn into an orgy (wishful thinking on my part), pop up through a toilet to grab a bad guy, and even, get this, pop up out of a rain drop to disarticulate a gang member threatening our heroine and her mates. However ghost shark is only able to mildly wound the heroine's little sister when he attacks her in the bath!
In Australia, the world capital of shark movies, we are not immune from making bad shark movies. “Bait” takes place in a flooded underground supermarket in the aftermath of a tsunami. Did I mention that Julian McMahon from “Nip and tuck” is robbing the place? Will the beleaguered ragtag group of survivors make it to safety? Who cares really, the movie sucked. The Aussie actors, most of whom had been kidnapped from local soap operas somehow developed terrible American accents, and the CGI sharks looked terrible.
“The Reef” is another Aussie shark movie, purported to be based on a true story. Incredibly cheap, it is actually not a bad movie, and quite scary in bits. When the survivors of the capsized yacht look around them and see only the vast empty open sea, it is more frightening than any rubber shark.
To find the best shark movie, we have to return to the dim dark days of 1975 for a little known gem called “Jaws”. This movie is based on the novel of the same name, by Peter Benchley. The novel itself is more about class warfare and marital infidelity with no particularly likable characters, and oh yeah there just happens to be a man eating shark swimming around eating people, but that’s beside the point now.
Beyond this point there may be spoilers, but seriously if you haven’t seen Jaws by now you need to get out more…or maybe stay in more.
The movie begins in traditional shark movie fashion. A pretty young girl goes swimming and gets eaten in a truly scarring attack sequence.
The Amity Island police chief, Martin Brody (Roy Schieder, the French Connection, marathon man and blue thunder) wants to close the beaches, but the local town council won’t let him. After all it is the 4th of July weekend, and the town can’t afford to lose the tourist money.
A bunch of people and a dog get eaten, and the tourists bail out quicker than you can say “Oh, shit. A bunch of people and a dog got eaten”. The town council finally allow Chief Brody and his new buddy Marine biologist shark expert, Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss, Close encounters of the third kind and one episode of Gidget) to hire grizzled shark hunter Captain Bartholemew Quint (a suitably drunken Robert Shaw).
Together they all go out on Quint’s boat “Orca” to hunt down the rogue shark. From this point they do a bit of fishing and it’s a bit of an old boy’s adventure, complete with stirring adventurey music. At one point, the shark makes his first real appearance, prompting Brody to utter the best ad libbed line in movie history “ You’re gonna need a bigger boat”.
In the midst of all this adventure, our brave hunters have a drunken scar showing contest until Quint completely one ups them all with his story of being aboard the USS Indianapolis. This scene alone makes it well worth the viewing. His speech is truly chilling. Watch it. Stop reading and go check it out on youtube, right now. Seriously, it is brilliant.
The shark turns the tables on them now and knocks a couple of holes in the boat, sending things rapidly downhill. As the “Orca” starts to sink, Hooper jumps in his little cage with the intention of sticking the shark with a poison needle. Needless to say, the giant shark regards the cage as a lolly with a crunchy shell and a gooey centre and proceeds to smash the cage to bits. Hooper narrowly escapes by hiding in the seaweed at the bottom.
Once he has dealt with the cage, our monster shark takes his frustrations out on the floundering boat. Somehow, he flops his twenty five foot, three ton body onto the stern of the Orca. Quint, being he experienced, but obviously tragically doomed Ahab of the crew manages to literally slide right into the shark’s mouth. Couple of good bites and Brody is all alone.
But our toothy friend isn’t full yet and he smashes his way into the rapidly filling cabin to get some Brody flavoured dessert. Brody isn’t quite ready to be dessert and throws one of Hooper’s oxygen tanks into the shark’s cavernous maw, forcing it to retreat momentarily.
Brody grabs Quint’s old M1 and limbs the mast as the boat disappears beneath him. The shark turns and charges at our water phobic police chief. Just as the shark is about to chow down on him, Brody fires and hits the tank in the big fishes mouth. KABOOM! Shark fillets fill the air and our finned villain is done. Hooper conveniently reappears and together he and Brody swim for shore, and no doubt years of counselling. The end… until next time.
I saw this movie on Betamax as part of a movie marathon that included “The empire strikes back” and “Raiders of the lost ark”. Three classic movies in one sitting, but only this one scarred me for life. That in itself as a fair recommendation.
“Jaws” had a rather troubled production which led the crew to rename it “Flaws”. There were three robotic sharks to be used in the movie, but two of them malfunctioned the very second the hit the water. This forced the Director, Stephen Speilberg to change tactics and keep the shark out of sight for most of the movie. This was a genius move. The invisible threat of a man eating monster lurking just out of view, coupled with John Williams’ unforgettable score, Da Dum, Da Dum, made for gut twisting suspense.
The remaining mechanical shark, named Bruce by the crew was pretty cutting edge for 1975, but becomes a lot less scary, the more you see him. To be frank, the moment where the shark flops onto the sinking boat looks a little bit like a giant rubber willy with teeth. Bruce is definitely at his best when seen fleetingly knocking off a limb here and there.
There was also trouble with the cast, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw had trouble getting along, mainly because Shaw was drunk for most of the movie, and more than once was unable to actually deliver his lines intelligibly.
For all that, “Jaws” became the highest grossing movie in history (to that date. Some seriously terrible movies have made more money since then).It was nominated for four Oscars, missing best picture, but winning for sound, editing and as mentioned before, John Williams chilling music. It alo became the highest grossing movie up till that point (some really terrible movies have made more money since), and spawned the phenomena of the summer blockbuster movie. So it has a lot to answer for.
The inevitable sequel had the tagline “Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…” That’s a little bit misleading. “Jaws” made me realise that it will never be safe to go back in the water.
“Jaws” earns a solid 8 ominous fins slicing through the dark water, out of 10.