Steven Spielberg’s breakout hit is a perfect storm of primal fears (man-eating predators, the unseen, the ocean), shrewd, emotionally riveting direction combined with sympathetic lead performances, and that classic two-note theme from John Williams’ edgy score.
The first true summer blockbuster, Jaws (followed by Star Wars) helped shift Hollywood’s center of gravity away from the jaded, sophisticated cinema of the Easy Rider generation toward the high-adventure thrills of movies like Superman and Raiders of the Lost Ark.
Not that Jaws, with its cynical depiction of the hamstringing of a decent but somewhat pliant landlubber chief of police by a rationalizing mayor and weaselly locals more concerned with tourist dollars than public safety, is a naively heroic tale of derring‑do on the high seas. A true film of the 1970s, all its characters have feet of clay, even the protagonists: Chief Brody (Roy Schneider); Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), an intellectual rich kid and marine biologist who knows what they’re up against; Quint (Robert Shaw), a burly caricature of an old salt with an Ahab-sized grudge against great white sharks.
Yet Jaws boldly puts these flawed characters to a test as dire as any faced by the granite-jawed supermen of earlier decades, and challenges them to perform as heroically or die. (Just think how different the film would be had the Schneider role gone to Charlton Heston, who was actually considered for the role.)
Constant technical problems with the production’s five mechanical sharks (real shark footage is also used) famously wound up driving one of the film’s greatest strengths as the shark proved more terrifying when unseen.
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