(director: Steven Spielberg; screenwriters: story by Peter Benchley/Mr. Benchley/Carl Gottlieb; cinematographer: Bill Butler; editor: Verna Fields; music: John Williams; cast: Roy Scheider (Police Chief Martin Brody), Robert Shaw (Quint), Richard Dreyfuss (Natt Hooper), Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody), Murray Hamilton (Mayor Larry Vaughn), Carl Gottlieb (Ben Meadows), Jeffrey Kramer (Deputy Hendricks), Susan Backlinie (Chrissie Watkins), Jeffrey Voorhees (Alex Kintner), Dr. Robert Nevin (Medical Examiner; Runtime: 124; MPAA Rating: PG; producers: David Brown/Richard D. Zanuck; Universal; 1975)
“Achieves a number of cheap thrills at the expense of the mechanical shark.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
Based on the trashy best-selling novel by Peter Benchley, who also provides the screenplay along with Carl Gottlieb and the uncredited authorship by the then 27-year-old director Steven Spielberg. It’s about a man-eating shark (identified as a Great White Shark) going on a feeding frenzy during the Fourth of July weekend off the fictional coastal summer resort town of Amity, Long Island (filmed on Martha’s Vineyard). This indie type of film (operating on a reported $12 million budget, but armed with a sophisticated unrelenting publicity campaign) that had a mostly no name cast, was a surprise money making cow; the first film to rake in over 100 million dollars (grossed more than $260 million at the domestic box office and nearly $475 million worldwide). It went onto spawn three other sequels–all terrible, and at least a dozen other man-facing-beast disaster films. But none were as satisfying as the original, which owes its inspiration to the 1950’s sci-fi films that were endowed with rich characterizations and a lack of sentimentality. What remains from those initial good intentions is the formula for an exploitation film and every summer the mall theaters seem to get another one of these mainstream disaster films to show, all hoping to duplicate the suspense generated by Jaws and its generous B.O. returns. Jaws has become ingrained in the American pop culture scene as a disaster film phenomenon and became the first truly big summer event movie.
Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) is the principled new police chief of Amity Island, who resides there with a loyal wife named Ellen (Lorraine Gray), and two young sons named Michael and Sean. At the start of the summer season, Brody discovers the badly mangled body of vacationer Chrissie Watkins has washed ashore. The medical examiner rules it as a shark attack and Brody acts to close the beach. The unprincipled Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) backs the business interests of the community to keep the beach open at all costs, noting that closing the beach would mean a financial disaster and forces the medical examiner to rewrite his report to make it look like a boating accident caused by a propeller. A week later a youngster named Alex Kintner gets eaten by the shark, and a bounty is placed on the shark’s head that bring amateur shark hunters from all over New England to try and get the reward. One boat load of such fishermen snare a tiger shark, but it’s not the 25-foot killer shark. The mayor turns down the offer of a professional but eccentric, WW11, old salt fisherman named Quint (Robert Shaw), who wants $10,000 to go out alone and get the beast. All the newspaper publicity brings Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), a dedicated marine biologist and shark specialist to Amity Island. When more shark sightings are noted, Quint is hired. He goes out on his boat named the Orca, and takes Matt and Martin with him. They meet up with the shark, a mechanical one, and play out a Captain Ahab fantasy but with hardly the literary strengths of Melville’s “Moby Dick” novel. Instead the film achieves a number of cheap thrills at the expense of the mechanical shark, while John Williams’ corny score works on cue to rile the audience up that it’s time to act scared and scream. It also comes with a dark monologue delivered by Robert Shaw that is taken from a John Milius scripted speech about the ‘Indianapolis’ being torpedoed by the Japanese during WW11 and the few survivors had to fight off attacking sharks to save themselves. The story is used to point out why battle-scarred fisherman Quint is so obsessed with sharks.
REVIEWED ON 7/4/2005 GRADE: B