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'Jaws' review: Steven Spielberg's shark classic returns to UK cinemas

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Released on Friday, Jun 15 2012


Hailed as the film that gave birth to the modern-day blockbuster, Steven Spielberg's Jaws made a villain out of the great white shark and scared a generation out of the water back in 1975.

Its blend of nautical terror, family drama and fine performances - notably from leading trio Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss - cemented it as an instant classic and a box office sensation. A B-movie done with style and panache, it also spawned countless knock-offs (Piranha, Lake Placid, Deep Blue Sea to name three) and catapulted Spielberg onto the A-list.

For those yet to experience Jaws on the big screen, Universal is giving the film a limited re-release in UK cinemas from today (June 15) ahead of its Blu-ray bow on September 3. More than 35 years on, it's still essential viewing. The rapid acceleration of computer technology may have brought about mass scale CGI-rammed spectacles, but there's something raw, relatable and terrifying about Jaws.

The setting is almost quaint by today's blockbuster standards. Instead of a far away fantasy realm or a city protected by superheroes, Jaws takes place in the beachside town of Amity during a blazing hot summer where tourists are out in force.

Steven Spielberg's Movies: 'Jaws'
However, the film's opening moments foreshadow the trauma that's to come as Chrissie Watkins's (Susan Backlinie) sandy frolic ends with her falling prey to the great white. Holidayers get picked off one-by-one, and it's left to sheriff Martin Brody (Scheider), hunter Quint (Shaw) and marine scientist Hooper (Dreyfuss) to head out into the ocean and finish off the beast.

Sure, the shark looks rickety by today's cutting-edge VFX standards, but Spielberg expertly conceals the monster, bringing him into frame sparingly to create impact jolts. This was partly due to the malfunctioning mechanical fish (named Bruce after Spielberg's lawyer), yet it worked in the film's favour. John Williams now-iconic score amped up the suspense and, on occasion, was used as a cunning misdirect. However, that alternating two-note motif still signals a shift to the edge of your seat.

Jaws is rammed full of so many great cinematic moments it's hard to pick a favourite. Here, Spielberg's instinct for creating crowd-pleasing sequences were perhaps as sharp as they've ever been. From gory shark attacks and jumpy shocks (the severed head still gets us every time) to the quieter character-driven scenes (Brody's son mimicking his every move at the dinner table), the film hits every note perfectly.

Credit should go to the cast for investing the monster movie premise with such believability. Scheider's everyman appeal as cop Brody means you're punching the air in delight when he utters "smile, you son of a bitch", while the fidgety, energetic presence of Dreyfuss lends the movie a softly comic edge.

It's salty sea dog Quint who's perhaps the highlight, though, never more so than when he's recounting the trauma of sharks picking off survivors of the USS Indianapolis. His eventual demise in the jaws of the great white is one of cinema's great death scenes.

There's smarts to match the visceral thrills, too. Alongside the echoes of Moby Dick in the man versus nature struggle, there are canny observations about authority and commercial greed. Besides the shark, the film's only villain is Mayor Vaughn, who refuses to acknowledge the threat of the fish and keeps the beaches open to hoover up summer season dollars. Untrustworthy politicians are as resonant now as they were back in the Watergate-era of Jaws's initial release.

Quite simply, Jaws is a masterclass in blockbuster entertainment - a tense, exciting thriller that redefined contemporary cinema. They don't make them like this anymore.

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