Its difficult to believe that this movie is celebrating its 30th anniversary. Thirty years ago a young film maker released a movie that has done what few films have been able to accomplish, it changed movie making forever. Jaws was one of the first truly intelligent thrillers. The film hit you not only in a visceral way but it played upon your mind. I can say this from the twenty-twenty perspective of hindsight. In 1975 there were people literally afraid to go in the water at the beach. That year my new bride and myself took a vacation on Cape Cod. We staid in a nice little ocean front community where Jaws was held over in the one theater and people went to the movies rather than a usual evening swim. There were also signs in the many seafood restaurants that boasted Eat Fish Get Even! Yes, this film about three men hunting a killer shark has moved from beyond a film to a genuine part of our culture. We all know the story by now. A huge great white shark comes to a small beachside town and starts to chow down on the residents. From the first scene where Chrissie Watkins (Susan Backline) is skinny-dipping and suddenly is pulled down, the tension is masterful played like a concert piano. Three men set out to destroy the shark; The Chief of Police Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), the local shark fisher Quint (the late Robert Shaw) and the shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dryfuss). Their interaction is incredible well written and still stands the test of time. Quint is very much the ID. He is almost pure instinct, pure action and passion for his work. Brody is the Ego, a man that was sure of himself. A family man who moved to this quiet town to escape New York City and find a better place to raise his family. Then there is the Superego, Hooper. He lives with reason, intellect and science to guide him. The best scenes in the film are when the three of them are on the little boat waiting for the shark. These very different personalities are forced to cooperate in order to survive. This is what sets this film apart from the typical thriller. The characters are very human, acceptable to the audience as real people and not the usual cardboard cutouts most slice and dice thrillers portray.
What can be said aboput the acting in Jaws that has not been said before? This movie made the American Film Institutes top 100 films of all time for a reason. The acting is not only the best of any thriller but is just plain old among the best in any film. All three of the main actors are consummate professionals. They slip into their roles like an old jacket. When you watch little moments like when Ellen Brody finds her husband obsessing over the second shark attack and asks if he wants to get drunk and fool around. Its the human moments like this that produce fully three-dimensional characters and for this you need actors like Schielder, Dryfuss and Shaw.
This film was the vehicle that really launched the career of director Steven Spielberg. Before this he had mostly directed television but this proved to the studios that Speilberg could produce as a director. Produce not only a blockbuster money maker but also a film of substance. I think what truly shows how talented Spielberg is as a film maker is the fact that the mechanical shark (affectionately called Bruce) rarely was functional. Spielberg had many more scenes planned with the shark in them. Since the shark had so much down time Spielberg decided to shoot around the shark . this produced far more tension that seeing the shark could ever have achieved. You heard the now famous music, the shadowy figure seen from just below the water and you knew the shark was terror incarnate. Spielberg showed that Hitchcock was correct that terror is more in the mind than the eye. Spielberg successfully maintains the tension and interest in the story, constantly moving forward like the shark itself.
This anniversary release on DVD is a must have for any movie lover. The disc comes in both Dolby 5.1 and DTS. Both soundtracks are excellent especially when you consider the original soundtrack was mono. The rear effects shine most in the underwater scenes where you hear the shark coming from behind. In many of the topside scenes the rear speakers and sub woofer are often under used. The climatic destruction of the boat is far better than ever with the full surround. The anamorphic 2.35:1 video is the best 70s transfer I have ever seen. It was obviously made from a vaulted source. There is no dust, artifacts or streaks at all. In fact it is cleaner than many newer films. Get this one and think about it the next time you go to the beach.