Friday, March 4, 2011

It's Not Shark Week, It's Just Shark Day

Today’s film is one of the best horror films of, if not ever, then at least the last 35 years (and, let’s faces it, with the amount of remakes that get pumped out these days, 35 years IS forever). And, while it wasn’t his first film, was the first superhit for Steven Speilberg. In fact, it was such a hit that it pretty much altered the way that big films were released (ushering in the concept of the Summer Blockbuster, which is pretty much a staple of the film year, at least in the US). Today’s film is Jaws.

This isn’t a film that I need to go too deep into, because everyone at least knows it, if not having seen it multiple times themselves. But for those 3 people (legitimately 3 people) who don’t know what the film is about: a shark attacks Amity during the 4th of July weekend, and, against the wishes of Chief Brody (Seaquest DSV’s Roy Scheider), the beach remains open – leading to more shark attacks. So, it is up to Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss to stop it.

And, because I feel like it; this will be a Things I Do/Don’t Like style review.

Things I Do Like About Jaws

First and foremost, this is one of those movies that subscribes to one of my favourite things to do in horror – DON’T SHOW THE DAMN KILLER UNTIL THE END. Yes, we all know it’s a shark, but not actually showing the beast in full until the last 20 minutes of the film does so much to ratchet up the tension. It’s something that I wish a lot of horror films these days would subscribe to.

Bruce the Shark. Sure, anyone who knows the slightest bit of trivia about this movie, knows that there was all sorts of technical issues with the shark/s that were made for this film (in fact, it’s these issues that caused the whole “don’t show the shark til the end” aspects that made the movie even more awesome). But, when you actually see the shark, it is one menacing motherfucker.

The score. John Williams is one of the best composers of the modern era (I have long subscribed to the fact that all of today’s best film and TV composers will eventually be looked at in the same light as we look at the classical composers of yesteryear), and, while the Jaws theme owes more than a passing debt to Anotonin Dvorak’s The New World – I don’t think that there is more than a handful of people who would not instantly think “oh crap – shark!!” when they hear that particular tune.

The performances. For as much as I talk down about Speilberg and how I find a lot of his output very family friendly and milquetoast, the guy really does know how to tell a story and get great performances from his casts. I honestly can’t think of a film of his in which I have seen someone give less than 100% (that could be because of the cache his name has carried for many years, I doubt I will ever personally know), and that always adds to the believability of his films.

Quint. In a film filled with damn good performances, Robert Shaw stands out. Every time he’s on screen, you are drawn to him – like a magnet made of Michael Caine. The scar comparison scene on the Orca is a classic example of this, and, according to the rumours, is based on a true story that Shaw himself was involved in.

Things I Don’t Like About Jaws

Quint. OK, OK, I can hear you from here “but, Shane – didn’t you just say that he’s a great character and he’s totally integral to the plot, and every time Robert Shaw is on screen, he owns the scene”, and none of this I can, or will, argue with, because it’s true – all you have to do is tilt your head slightly up to see. He really is a great character and Robert Shaw really does own every scene he’s in. But that is the problem – he just steamrolls over Scheider and Dreyfuss to the point that they are basically redshirts (figuratively and, in one case, literally).

So, once again, it’s a film that I find a hell of a lot more to like than not. What can I say, I make it a habit not to own films that I don’t like.

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