Jaws (1975)

Steven Spielberg

Roy Schieder - Police Chief Martin Brody
Richard Dreyfuss - Matt Hooper
Robert Shaw - Quint
Lorraine Gary - Ellen Brody
Murray Hamilton - Mayor Larry Vaughn

Genre - Thriller/Horror/Adventure/Drama/Sharks

Running Time - 125 Minutes

If you've noticed the new banner and different background, Summer 2012 on Full Moon Reviews has a theme: shark films. It's time I stepped into the dangerous waters and watch as many shark films as I can before September comes around. While not every film I review this summer will be related to sharks, they will be a major focus. I love shark films, good or bad, so this will be a fun little theme for me for the next two months. Hope you all enjoy the ride.

To begin this summer's theme, it wouldn't be right if I didn't start it with the reason why so many shark movies exist today. The inspiration to films, like DEEP BLUE SEA, the SHARK ATTACK franchise, and all those MEGA SHARK films by The Asylum, is a movie I have been wanting to discuss on this blog for a couple of years now. In fact, this film was my original choice for the 500th review [which ended up being THE WARRIORS instead], but was changed due to timing not being right for it. This film is associated with the summer film season, so it needs to be reviewed during the summer film season. After 37 years, the film still carries a ton of bite and a huge amount of love and fandom - proving it stands the test of time without much doubt. I think it's fitting that this film happens to be my 525th review, because that milestone deserves a film worthy of it. 1975's JAWS is that film. And while Martin Brody made me asking for a bigger boat, this Steven Spielberg classic still manages to sail quite proudly after so many years.

The beach town of Amity, New York is about to celebrate its most popular time of the year - July 4th weekend with locals and tourists coming in to have fun. However, a few days before July 4th, a young woman swimming in the ocean is murdered by a shark attack. Police chief Martin Brody (Roy Schieder) finds the body washed ashore and wants to close the beach. The Mayor of Amity, Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), doesn't agree. Vaughn wants Brody to keep quiet about the shark attacks in order for the festivities to still happen and build money for Amity, worrying that any knowledge will stop the important tourist season.

Brody reluctantly keeps the beach open, but is paranoid about another shark attack. Under his watch, two more attacks occur, which makes the community lose faith in Brody and forces Mayor Vaughn's hand in closing the beach and hunting down the shark. With the help of a rich oceanographer named Matt Hooper (
Richard Dreyfuss) and a rugged boat captain named Quint (Robert Shaw), Brody sets sail into the ocean to hunt down the killer Great White - not realizing that the shark is really hunting them.


JAWS is considered a classic for multiple reasons. It's the first film to ever make over $100 million at the box office. It's the film that coined "summer blockbuster", for better or worse. It's the film that put a young director named Steven Spielberg on the map. It's the film that inspired many other shark, and sea animal related films for the past 37 years. And JAWS is still a classic because it's still that damn good.

JAWS is based on a 1974 Peter Benchley novel by the same name. I have never read the novel, but I hear it's a pretty dull book that Benchley [and co-writer Carl Gottlieb] improved upon in their screenplay for JAWS. I can't give my opinion on the novel, since I've never read it. But I can say that the screenplay for the film adaptation is simply fantastic and strong. It helps that the script is really told in two parts - each part having a different purpose and a different tone and feel.

The first half of JAWS is more of the thriller/horror portion of the film. Here, the shark attacks people, killing three. Police chief Brody knows that the beach is unsafe and warns everyone that will listen about the shark attacks. Yet, no one else seems to take it all that seriously until the situation gets worse. The local government, especially Mayor Vaughn, is in denial about the situation because he doesn't want it affecting tourism during the July 4th weekend - which is their most bankable weekend of the year. Brody's wife feels that he's overreacting and needs to calm down. When a shark is caught [proven to be a tiger shark instead of a Great White], the community automatically believes the threat is over, even when Brody [with Matt Hooper's urging] says they should open it up to see if they caught the right one. In a lot of ways, it plays out like The Boy Who Cried Wolf - where Brody has to struggle to make the community believe him. He doesn't get help when two boys use a fake fin to scare beach goers, the Mayor is persuading beach goers to go into the water so journalists could record footage for the evening news, or a piece of driftwood scares some fishermen who believe are being chased by a shark. We get a lot of character development for Brody during the first half of the film, along with some nice jump scares as well. It definitely has a nod to Alfred Hitchcock's thrillers, in how the narrative builds tension and suspense.

The second half is more of the adventure drama portion of JAWS. It's very much like 1851's Moby Dick - where Brody, Matt Hooper, and Quint are on a boat hunting down the Great White that seems more supernatural than it actually is. Personally, this is the best part of the film, as it allows for some strong character development and creates an extremely tense cat-and-mouse game between the three characters and this vicious shark. For a little more than an hour, the film takes place on a small boat with three people who couldn't be more different. Brody is the flawed working class hero trying to right the wrongs he made on land by helping to catch the menace at sea. Hooper is the rich guy who went to fancy schools and knows all about ocean life, using the opportunity to hunt the shark as a way to study it once it's caught. And Quint is the outsider of Amity - a gruff and rugged boat captain who likes to hunt and is quite eccentric and erratic at times. These three have the usual cliche differences, that cause them to see their current plan differently and creates strife and tension between themselves. But then they get drunk and start revealing their battle scars, which gives them a common foundation for future respect and friendship. We also learn a lot about the characters during this half, making them instantly likeable and sympathetic when not everyone makes it to the end. It also helps that the shark is also a major character itself, popping up unexpectedly and scaring not only the characters, but the audience, as it attacks the boat. This half plays out like a roller-coaster - starts out slow to build suspense and then goes all out by the climax, where the shark becomes a true threat. You totally get sucked in by the narrative.

JAWS also has some great moments that keep it iconic in terms of cinema. The first murder, even today, is one of the most famous scenes in any film. Watching Chrissie gets pulled under and then dragged in the ocean until the shark ends her life sets the tone for the rest of the film. Even today, I still find the scene tragic and sort of creepy, since this sort of thing could definitely happen out of the blue. Another great moment is during the first beach scene, where the little boy dies by the shark. Brody telling everyone to get out of the water has been used over and over again in many shark-related horror films since. And probably the most famous moment from JAWS is actually the first appearance of the shark on screen. Brody just throwing chum into the ocean while his back is turned to the water, as the shark leaps out to attack, scaring Brody. This leads to one of the most classic lines of dialogue in cinema - "We're gonna need a bigger boat." There's a lot of other ones as well, but these three are the most associated with JAWS.

Speaking of dialogue, the script is extremely well written. Each character speaks differently and what they say sounds realistic and believable. You actually believe these characters could exist in our world and what they say would be things you'd expect these characters to say. My favorite bit of dialogue is actually Quint's monologue during a drunken night on the boat. In one of the more quieter scenes, Quint reveals why he's erratic and eccentric, as he was in World War II near the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - upset that the government didn't give his squad intel about what they were planning. It's a truly revealing scene and it's written so damn well. You're totally captivated by what Robert Shaw is saying as Quint, making you understand why he acts the way he does. It explains his previous and later behavior - even when he does stupid things, you still feel for the guy. That's the sign of great screenwriting.

The special effects of JAWS really helped Steven Spielberg direct a much better film than he had planned at first. And by special effects, I mean the problems they had with all the mechanical sharks planned for the film. It's well known that Spielberg had issues with the fake sharks not working the way they should have, forcing changes in how the shark was going to be used visually in the film. I will get into how this effected his direction in the next part of the review. But the shark we do see in the film looks great and realistic, totally making the entire scenario extremely believable. You wouldn't think it moved or acted mechanically at all. And the gore is pretty good as well. We get some blood and even a few chewed up body parts as well. Can't complain at all.

Steven Spielberg, directing his first blockbuster here [although he directed the popular 1971 feature, DUEL], proves here why he's still a force in Hollywood today. Spielberg crafts a psychological thriller here, using the lack of working sharks to his advantage by keeping the shark a complete mystery for more than half of the film before unveiling "Bruce" 81 minutes in. The lack of a visual shark builds a ton of tension and suspense, as the terror is unseen and in the shadows for much of the film's running time. The first person angles really help the audience use their imaginations and wonder what this shark may look like and gives us its perspective. Even when the shark does appear, he doesn't really become all that visible until the last few minutes of the film. Even though Spielberg planned to use the shark in a more visible way at the beginning, the special effects flaw worked in his, and the film's, favor. JAWS proves that "less is more" totally works when it comes the villainous force.

Spielberg also does well in terms of pacing, as the film never feels like its two-hour run-time, feeling much shorter. This is due to the build of tension that Spielberg excels at and the wonderful character development he allows to play out for the audience to bond with the characters. The editing is tight as well [the editing during the first beach scene is just wonderful], and Bill Butler's cinematography is fantastic, as they are a ton of beautiful shots, compositions, and framing that reveal a ton of information without saying much at all. Plus without John William's iconic score for the shark, JAWS wouldn't be as effective as it is. The shark's theme gives it its menacing character - something later horror films would use to create effective villains and moments of their own.

Also, Spielberg did well in getting rid certain side plots from the novel. One of the more controversial ones, Matt Hooper having an affair with Brody's wife, was taken out completely. Keeping this out of the film allows the characters to be more likeable and maintain the focus on where it should be - the terror of the shark and how it effects the people in the community. JAWS launched Spielberg's career, and it's interesting to wonder how it would effected cinema if it was a bomb. Would we get CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND? E.T.? SCHINDLER'S LIST? Luckily we never have to wonder because Spielberg directs the hell out of this movie.

The acting is also fantastic. Roy Schieder, who had received an Oscar nomination for 1971's THE FRENCH CONNECTION prior to JAWS, keeps the film together as Police Chief Martin Brody. He brings this calmness to the film, even during the more intense moments, that gives him a ton of cinematic presence. He gives a lot of humanity to a typical main character, making Brody a regular guy who is flawed and likeable. Richard Dreyfuss is energetic and intelligent as Martin Hooper, bring the voice of the audience. He also brings some of the more comedic moments, which help lighten the mood. This is one of his better performances for sure. Robert Shaw is just fantastic as Quint. Playing opposite of Dreyfuss, Quint steals every scene he's in and brings the awesomeness as a mentally disturbed sailor who is obsessed with hunting down the Great White. His delivery is just brilliant, and he even wrote the monologue I mentioned earlier [the WWII one about the USS Indianapolis being torpedoed and how the survivors in the water were picked off one-by-one by sharks] that is a major highlight of the film. He brings a sense of realness and vulnerability to the role that makes him quickly sympathetic. Shaw deserved an Oscar nomination for this role, yet didn't get a mention. We also have good performances by Murray Hamilton as the flawed Mayor Vaughn, and Lorraine Gary as Ellen Brody - who would return for two sequels. Just a great cast that helped build a classic piece of cinema.


- Chrissie was manhandled around the water by a shark. Obviously our finned friend is not John Travolta because there wasn't any sort of happy ending.

- Brody found Chrissie's body covered in crabs. It's going to be embarrassing for her family to have the entire community of Amity learn what a big promiscuous slut she was.

- Some guys tried to catch the shark by feeding it meat, which it ate but left uncaught. Hmmm, maybe the shark is John Travolta...

- The mother of the dead boy blamed Brody for her son's death, due to his knowledge of previous shark attacks. I'm sure this will make Brody feel guilty and ALL THAT JAZZ.

- Mayor Vaughn, only seeing dollar signs, ignored Brody and Hooper's pleas, keeping the beach open on July 4th. There's nothing more American than getting eaten by a shark, next to getting famous from a sex tape. This Great White and Kim Kardashian are one and the same - and both need to be stopped!

- Brody, Hooper, and Quint hunted down the Great White on a boat called The Orca. This boat was so envious of the shark's attention that it decided to do its own killing two years later.

...Oh, that was an actual orca? Eh, my version's probably better.

- The shark attacked the boat while Brody, Hooper, and Quint were singing. looks like we have our new judge for American Idol...

What can I say that hasn't already been said about JAWS? It's a masterpiece from beginning to end, and has inspired more shark and aquatic monster films than I can count. It's an excellent thriller, with great performances, suspenseful and tense directing, and a strong narrative with stronger characters that the audience will relate with. JAWS is the blueprint on how future summer blockbusters would be filmed, for better or for worse. Still, after 37 years later, this movie still entertains the hell out of me and is still one of the best thrillers out there. Definitely worth swimming in the water for, without a doubt.

4 Howls Outta 4


  1. I LOVE THIS MOVIE!!!! And I love that you love this movie. Awesome.

    1. And I love that you love that I love this movie. *head explodes - SCANNERS style*

  2. Great movie and great review!

    As for Roy Scheider, it took me longer than I'm proud to admit until I realized that his name is 'Scheider', not 'SchNeider'! haha!

    Speaking of Scheider, have you seen the back-to-back Dracula 2000 sequels? I've just seen them, and they're very cool!

    1. Thank you!

      Ha ha. Yeah, there's no 'N' in his last name. I can see how that confused you.

      As for DRACULA 2000 and its sequels - the only one I haven't seen is the third one. But I find the first one to be a guilty pleasure. The second part is pretty good too. I might have to review those soon.

  3. Can't ever go wrong with JAWS. Simply one of the greatest movies of all time, forever.


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