JAWS (1975) is my all time favorite film. It has been my favorite ever since I first watched it at age 5 on my way to the beach. Yes, you read that right; my first exposure to not only my favorite film, but cinema itself, was on a car ride to the beach with my family. I’ll get more into that a little later. I’ve been wanting to write a long essay about my love for this film for years, and now I’m finally doing it. Now I’ll be talking about some spoilers, so if you haven’t seen the film I couldn’t recommend it more.
This “creator of the blockbuster” was released on June 20, 1975 and it forever changed cinema. The film that made Steven Spielberg into a household name grossed a total of $470,000,000 at the worldwide box office. It was the first film to gross more than $100,000,000. As a film that went through production hell and was thrown into theaters with low expectations, it has now become a classic. JAWS is the film that coined the term “blockbuster” due to the lines of people lining around the block just to see this film. All of this information shouldn’t be new to anyone, since JAWS has become a classic and a figure in pop culture.
As previously stated, I saw JAWS on my way to the beach when I was 5 years old. My parents brought an old TV with a VCR connected into it on our ride. They sandwiched it between their seats so my brother and I could watch movies during the 10 hour trip. I can’t tell you why my parents thought a horror movie about a shark eating people would be smart to show their young children on our way to the beach, but nevertheless, we watched it. I remember being thrilled by the film while also being terrified. How could I not be scared? I’d say I was too young to watch it, and I definitely didn’t swim in the ocean that year. Either way, the film still left a huge impact on me. While I have a bad memory, that trip was an experience that I will never forget. Ever since, I watched the film over and over, and it’s become my all time favorite. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve seen it. It was my introduction to the art of cinema, and it’s been my favorite work of art since.
In my opinion, every aspect of the film is pitch perfect. It’s no surprise that I would call this film a masterpiece, but I truly believe that it’s a perfect film. Going over every aspect would take forever, so I’d like to go over a few of them instead.
The story of JAWS is quite impressive, especially knowing that there were multiple writers. There were many drafts and rewrites that easily could’ve been disastrous. However, they weren’t, and the story is just so well done. The script, which I have read in its entirety, is something worthy of studying. Now, I read the novel by Peter Benchley a long time ago, and I remember thinking it was well written, but the story was messy and the characters were just horrible people. I’m glad they decided to fix the characters and tighten up the story. I absolutely love the story of a small town being terrorized by a shark, and the community is more worried about their economy over the lives of people. It’s a story that will never age. The corruption of the mayor and some of the town’s folk is something we see to this very day. The shark isn’t the main villain; it's the greedy town’s folk. The problems feel real. It’s a story that the audience can relate to. It also helps the main heroes showcase their morals and develop them. After that storyline, the film focuses on the shark and the hunt, with only three characters on a boat for half of the film. If we don’t care about the characters, then half of the film is unwatchable. However, that’s not the case here. The second half of the film is just three guys on a boat hunting down a shark, and it’s absolutely thrilling.
The characters in JAWS are some of the best in film history. The strong writing is a key factor, but it’s the acting that brings them to life. We’ll get more into the acting in a bit, but for now, we’ll talk about the characters. Every character in JAWS is well developed and believable. Each character is the reason why this film works so well. It amazes me how a film about a killer shark has some of the best and memorable characters that really outshine the monster. This is not only a monster movie, but also a film about characters dealing with a killer shark. The first half of the film brilliantly developed the three main heroes just enough to make us care for them, so we can cheer them on for the second half of the film. I also love how a majority of the side characters were just people living in Martha’s Vineyard. For non actors and regular civilians, they do a really great job. Today’s monster movies don’t care at all for the human characters and focus more on the monsters. There’s nothing wrong with focusing on the spectacle, but why not at least try to care for the humans? JAWS is the prime example of handling human characters in a monster film.
Roy Scheider, who plays Chief Martin Brody in the film, is one of the most underrated actors in cinematic history. I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing his character. He’s so believable as the everyday man just trying to protect his community. Right off the bat, we see that he does the right thing by shutting down the beaches. His morals are put to a test when the politicians demand they keep the beaches open. We see it all in his face. Scheider’s performance is simple, yet powerful. Near the middle of the film when the shark attacks his son, he springs into action. I love the scene where he confronts Mayor Vaughn and finally takes control of the situation. Throughout the rest of the film, the audience becomes Brody as we follow his adventure out to sea. Brody is a fish out of water (ba dum tiss) as is the audience. He follows along two experts as they hunt down the killer shark. I love how after numerous attempts from Quint and Hooper, it’s Brody who takes down the shark. The true underdog saves the day. Throughout the whole film, we follow this morally right, everyday man to the very end where he blows up the shark while saying the badass line, “Smile you son of a bitch.” What a character! It’s also amazing that Scheider improvised the famous line, “You’re going to need a bigger boat.” RIP Roy Scheider.
Richard Dreyfuss as Matt Hooper is another great performance. Out of the three leads, he’s probably not as popular as the hero Brody, and the eccentric Quint. I’ve always loved Hooper. Dreyfuss is very good in the role. He’s so believable. He’s the character that gives most of the exposition about the shark, and he reads the lines so perfectly. He really sounds like a scientist who is just stating facts. I also love his introduction. Right off the bat, we see he’s intelligent and a smart ass. His character adds another dynamic to the trio in the second half of the film. We need that type of character to clash with Quint in order to make the film more interesting. Their rivalry as the old school fisherman and the young scientist add so much tension to the already high stakes story. Some of my favorite scenes are the one’s where Hooper is underwater. I couldn’t imagine this movie without Richard Dreyfuss as Hooper.
Robert Shaw as Quint. Need I say more? He is by far the best character in this film. Shaw’s performance as Quint is my all time favorite. He exhibits some of the best acting I’ve ever seen. He embodies the character so perfectly. What fascinates me is the fact that he was the third or fourth choice for the role. After Spielberg’s first choices turned down the role, it was producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown that suggested Shaw after working with him on The Sting (1973), which is another favorite film of mine. Shaw was brought on late into production with no pay since he owed the IRS money, and he still gave it his all. In the book, “JAWS” by Peter Benchley, Quint was a Captain Ahab rip-off. He was a bland character. In the film, all of Quint’s eccentric behaviors and little quips were improvised by Shaw. From the songs he sang, to the weird snappy quotes, they were all from Shaw. His introduction is one of my favorite moments of the film. The way he scratches his nails on the chalkboard to grab everyone’s attention, to the way the camera slowly zooms into him as he gives his monologue; It’s all brilliant. Shaw commands the screen every time he’s shown. He is quite literally a scene stealer. I can tell that Shaw had a blast playing Quint, which makes it even better. The best scene in the whole film is the USS Indianapolis scene. Shaw’s performance is haunting. The way he tells the horrific true story always puts chills down my spine. Shaw even wrote his own version of the monologue once he got the script. You can feel his emotions leap off the screen. He’s hiding so much behind his eyes. In my opinion, it was the greatest monologue in cinema history. That alone should’ve won him an Oscar (not going to get into that because this will turn into a rant). I know I’m probably missing a lot, but I don’t want to make this any longer than it already is. Robert Shaw as Quint. What a performance, what a character. RIP Robert Shaw.
Steven Spielberg once described himself during the making of this film as courageous, but stupid. He was only 27 when he made this film but he was full of ambition. This is the film that made him into a household name. I believe this is his best film, and it’s my favorite of his. He certainly was courageous with wanting to make this film, especially knowing that it was his idea to film it on the actual ocean. It easily could’ve been in a water tank on a studio lot, but he wanted to challenge himself instead, and it paid off. The behind the scenes story of this film could be a movie of its own. They went through absolute hell making this, with the shark always breaking down, going over budget, and going past the shooting deadline. Spielberg was in constant fear of being fired by the studio. They almost lost the film when the Orca sank with the camera and film on it. Everything that could’ve gone wrong happened. Yet through all of that struggle and torture, the film turned out to be a huge success and became one of the greatest films ever made. Spielberg stuck to his vision, and it paid off huge. Some mistakes ended up working in his favor. My favorite example is the shark not working. Since Bruce the mechanical shark wasn’t working, Spielberg had to think of ways to show the shark without using it. He accomplished that by using barrels, a dock, the camera, and the infamous score. Because of that, the film was more scary. Spielberg said the audience’s mind would come up with something more terrifying than seeing the shark. It’s brilliant. Not only that, but this film is well shot. There are so many perfect shots in the film. My favorite has to be when the Orca is off to sea and the shot shows shark jaws framed around the orca, foreshadowing their journey ahead.
Speaking of Spielberg, this is the first of his films where he blends film genres beautifully. JAWS is many different genres spliced together. It’s a drama, horror, and adventure film. Now usually, a film with different tones and genres can be a mess and not work well. In this case, Spielberg manages to blend all of these throughout the film and it works. We get bits of them as the film progresses and it feels tonally right. Spielberg is a true genius.
Let’s not forget about John Williams' score. Again, need I say more? It’s become more iconic than the film itself. The main theme is so famous that you can hum it to anyone and they’ll know what it’s from. That’s impressive. The score is my favorite aspect of the film. Not just the main theme, but every piece of music in the film fits every scene perfectly, and I mean perfectly. I get goose bumps every time the music plays. The score is my all time favorite film score. The score is so good that Spielberg himself said the music is responsible for 50% of the film’s success, and he’s right. I watched a video on YouTube once about a scene playing without the music, and it wasn’t nearly as effective. Once they added the music, the scene got increasingly intense, and it’s insane. Just like the blending of genres in the film, the score matches that well. Whenever there’s a scene of horror, the score is scary. Whenever there’s a scene of adventure, the score is adventurous. It’s also the same with the dramatic scenes. I could go on and on and on about the score, but to save time, I’ll state again that the score is perfect and it fits the film perfectly. Williams won the Oscar for the score, and he so deserved it. I think it’s his best work.
The ending of JAWS is one of my favorites. In the book, the story ends with the shark drowning. It was not very satisfying. Spielberg’s ending went out with a bang (ba dum tiss). He wanted the audience to cheer. My dad was lucky enough to see this in theaters back in 1975. He said people cheered like hell when Brody killed the shark. What an ending! Even the end credits brings a smile to my face. That music is just perfect.
JAWS is an important film for me. Like previously mentioned, I’ve seen this so many times; on VHS, DVD, Blu-ray, in theaters three times, and even at a Drive-In. It’s more than just a shark movie. It’s more than a blockbuster. It’s the film that got me into the art of filmmaking. It showed me the art form that I will forever love and cherish. Every time I watch it, I fall more in love with the film and the art of filmmaking. There will never be another film that will top my love for JAWS.