I’m going to be playing catch up on this #100 Movies tag over the next few weeks as during October my partner and I took it upon ourselves to watch a horror movie for every night of the month (okay one was a TV movie split over two discs so we only actually watched 30 movies in October). Some of these movies were on my “100 Must-See Movies” poster and thus will receive a write-up, Jaws was on that list.
Much has been made of Jaws over the decades since it was originally released, what with it pretty much launching the career of one Steven Spielberg, and the attention and praise its received since its release in 1974 is more than warranted. Okay, the shark looks awful today, but it’s still easy to get lost in the moment and feel the dread that Brody, Quint and Hooper feel when out at sea hunting for the infamous shark.
There are three things that Jaws is very famous for, we’ve already mentioned the shark.
By modern standards, it is very, very rubbery looking. But at the time this was groundbreaking. Of course, Spielberg would go on to make a very similar movie advancing a lot of this technology nearly 20 years later when he released Jurassic Park. Spielberg is quoted as saying that he wanted the shark to be the star and at the time it most certainly was. But now? I’m not so sure, personally I found a lot of Quint’s scenes would offer up the level of tension I’d assume the shark was supposed to be providing, especially any dialogue between himself and Hooper, which isn’t really surprising when you take into account that the two actors took an immediate disliking to each other on set.
There’s one scene in particular, late at night, the three men have all been drinking, making jokes, but there’s a sense of tension in the air. The conversation turns to Quint’s time in the US Navy and him being aboard the USS Indianapolis and the shark attacks the crew suffered. As his story unfolds you can see the atmosphere inside the boat change, as tense as things had been prior, things are ramped up even further with Brody and Hooper looking genuinely terrified of Quint at this point.
The other big thing Jaws is famed for is its soundtrack. Duh-Dun Duh-Dun Duh-Dun-Dun-Dun-Dun Dun-Dun. Famously scored by John Williams (who would then score many many huge films, most famously George Lucas’ Star Wars), the aim was to create something akin to human respiration whilst bringing tension to the view, your heartbeat raises as you hear the famous notes and you begin to expect the worse. It’s since become the go-to piece of music when anyone wants to act like they’re sneaking up on someone as a joke. It’s not just that theme that is key to the tone of Jaws though and once again its Quint that’s the focal point. We frequently hear him sing an old British Naval song “Spanish Ladies”
Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain. For we’ve received orders for to sail back to Boston. And so nevermore shall we see you again.
He sings this at various points in the film, and its almost our first introduction to the character, who’s perceived to be drunk (he probably was, its likely Robert Shaw, who played Quint, was drunk himself), but it almost always sounds threatening, we’re given the impression that the character is on the brink of sanity and, I feel anyway, that whenever he’s heard singing this, he’s literally on the precipice of turning on the rest of the cast.
The last thing it’s infamous for is Brody’s line to Quint after seeing the shark for the first time
You’re gonna need a bigger boat.
Though I don’t really have much to say on that, it is what it is.
If Jaws were filmed today, I know it would be a very, very different movie. The temptation to show the shark at any given opportunity would be far too high and I don’t think the characters would be given the chance to shine like they are. I know Spielberg wanted the shark to be the star, and it is, but the threat of the shark doesn’t carry the characters, its the tension between them that does far more than just fill the gaps between shark attacks. This is apparent during the aforementioned USS Indianapolis tale. I think if this was a modern movie, we’d cut away and be shown what happened, instead the panic and fear that Quint felt at that time begins to show through and being stuck in such a confined space, out at sea, in shark-infested waters, with that character is when the film really shows its teeth as a horror film. The monsters just there to get bums on seats.