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Jaws

June 7, 2007

The cop Brody is shoveling a mixture of fish parts and blood into the ocean, hoping to attract the great white shark. And suddenly the shark appears out of nowhere, snapping, before it disappears back into the water. As the shark circles around the boat, Brody along with his mates Quint and Hooper watches it in fascination. Brody mutters “You are gonna need a bigger boat”.

All the 3 people on boat are stunned, and so was the audience, including myself, when I first saw Jaws on the big screen way back as a kid. Spielberg’s 1975 blockbuster Jaws was a landmark in many ways. Majority of the “creature vs man” movies had been B movie stuff, with a host of unknown actors, half dressed females screaming at top of their lungs, cardboard characters, clunky dialogue, and no script at all, barring a few like Alfred Hitchcock’s Birds . Jaws was one of the few A list movies in this genre and it also catapulted Spielberg from a talented director to one of Hollywood’s hotshots, as he followed this up with other big hits like Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, ET .

Based on Peter Benchley’s novel, Jaws is set against the backdrop of a beachside resort town, Amity Island . The movie starts off with a group of youngsters enjoying a beach party, one of the persons, a young woman, named Chrissie Watkins , runs into the sea for a swim. She becomes the victim of a shark attack, we just see her head bobbing up and down, and her terrified screams. The Police Chief Martin Brody(Roy Scheider) finds her mangled remains on shore, and after the autopsy confirms it’s a shark attack, he wants to close the beaches. The town mayor is however against it, as he fears this would affect the tourist income, on which the town survives. He covers it up stating that the victim was killed by a boat propeller and with all evidence against him Brody is helpless.

The shark next attacks and kills a young boy named Alex Kinter , and his distraught mother offers a 3000$ bounty to any one who kills the shark. Predictably this sparks off a shark hunt, with every amateur wanting his share. A professional fisherman and shark hunter Quint( Robert Shaw) offers his services, but is rejected because of the high price. In the meantime a large tiger shark is caught by some of the novice fishermen, who claim that the killer has been caught. Matt Hooper( Richard Dreyfuss) a marine biologist is however not convinced at all. He wants to examine the stomach of the shark, but the mayor rejects it, as he does not want a public spectacle to be made. Hooper and Brody now team up and manage to find another victim of the shark attack. The mayor however is adamant, in keeping the beaches open.

On the 4th of July weekend celebrations, when the people are enjoying themselves, a false alarm is triggered, and while panic floods the beach, the shark enters another estuary, kills another man, and one of Brody’s son nearly becomes a victim. Brody now forces the mayor to close the beaches. The hunt for the shark starts off with Brody, Quint and Hooper on a fishing vessel called the Orca . How these 3 men hunt the shark, and what happens, is best left to be seen.

What primarily works for Jaws, apart from the edge of the seat action sequences is the character development. The 3 main characters are well developed, and each of them has a motivation. Quint , a professional shark hunter, quite resembles Capt Ahab of Moby Dick . Like Ahab obsessed about the great whale, Quint’s only mission is to capture the shark. So obsessed he is with the shark, that when Brody and Hooper , are repairing the engine damaged by the shark, he cuts off all contact with the Coast Guard, to prevent Brody from radioing for help .And tragically like Ahab he becomes a victim of his own obsession.

Brody is the cop who has to battle the town’s Mayor as well the shark. His main aim is to protect the people, but very often he ends up the target of their ire. Like in the scene where the mother of Alex Kinter , slaps him for his failure to protect her son. As also where he finds himself helpless against the Mayor’s bullying and manipulation.
Hooper the third member of the trio, is somewhat the lesser character, but he is a key member of the hunt, as he knows about sharks and their mode of attack.
And for all action lovers, there is enough edge of the seat stuff, guaranteed to keep you on tenterhooks:

  • The shark attacking Hooper in an underwater cage.

  • The first appearance of the shark and the stunned reaction of the crew.

  • Quint’s death scene, quite horrifying

  • Brody creating a false alarm on beach and the panic.
The tension is also heightened by Spielberg’s favorite composer John William’s unforgettable music score. He basically comes up with an alternating two notes pattern, and the music, just makes your heart skip a beat. I remember seeing this movie as a kid for the first time, in a theater with stereophonic sound and 70mm, and my when this music, was played in full blast, the audience were just scared out of their wits.
Robert Shaw as the obsessed fisherman Quint gets the meatiest part and steals the show. Be it his drunken monologue or the final death scene, he comes out with an outstanding performance.
Roy Scheider is effective as the cop, who has to battle the Mayor, the townsfolk as well as Quint’s obsession. And he wonderfully comes up with an underplayed performance.
Richard Dreyfuss as the scientist does a fairly good job. He would however play the lead in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind. But he remained more of an indie actor, appearing in movies like Coming Home and Mr.Holland’s Opus .
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