For those who haven't yet been swimming with bow-legged women, Jaws centres on the small New England coastal town of Amity (a bit like Minehead really). Because of its lovely beaches and even lovelier skinny dippers Amity is a big hit in the summer months, so when a large great white shark takes up residence and starts chomping on tourists, it's time to take action. Sent off to kick some elasmobranch ass are police chief and reluctant aquaphobe Brody (Roy Scheider), rich and feisty shark-scientist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and the crustiest sea-captain since a certain Ahab,
It's pretty hard for me to review a film like Jaws, in the same way that it's hard to ask me to give an objective opinion on busty redheads my wife. Fuck it, let's try it anyway. The problem is that whenever anyone asks what movie I deem to be perfect - if any - my answer is always Jaws. So for me, finally seeing the film in the cinema was a religious experience for me. But why? Note: there'll probably be some spoilers in here.
I guess it's because Jaws has a strong underlying theme to it that it doesn't wave in your face in the same way, to compare Spielberg, Jurassic Park does. Jaws is about conquering fear, and is about Martin Brody's journey - and thus the audience via his surrogate character. Brody is the everyman. He's still settling into a new world, a completely different one that he's used to (if quieter), and when this obstacle comes into his life and upsets his attempt at a new equilibrium, he's understandably unsettled.
It doesn't help that he has the illusion of control. He may be the police authority in the town, but his ideas are overruled by Mayor Vaughn, who makes stupid decisions and then hides behind Brody when they go wrong. But when he finally makes a decision after his son is the one put in danger, he's still the odd one out. Hooper is an expert in sharks with all the fancy equipment and knowledge to know how to react, and Quint is a guy who has fought and won battles against great whites in the past, to the point where his shack is wallpapered with shark jaws.
This is on top of the fact that he's scared of the water. But he doesn't go through the film jumping hoops without a care in the world, he has to make several well-intentioned mistakes before he can man up and kill whitey. By the time he does make the shark kersplode, to quote Tangina Barrons (or at least Ace Ventura imitating her), he has exorcised the demon and conquered his fear, summed out by the neat 'I used to hate the water,' 'I can't imagine why,' exchange at the end.
Not that Brody is the only one with motivation or even a character arc. The great thing about the characters in the film is that they all seem to be reacting to very realistic things, be it from external agitators or themselves. Hooper has a duality to him, where he obviously loves sharks and is fascinated by this incredible creature, but at the same time is all too aware that the shark is an efficient killer who is acting out the territoriality theory he believes in.
Quint's motivation is subsequently revealed during possibly the best scene in the film, his speech about his experience on the USS Indianapolis. Not only is it absolutely chilling but it also serves the story where it reveals an element of vengeance underneath the gruff game fisherman character that is more emergent when the shark proves itself to be uncatchable. Then you have the mayor, a slimy cat who is worried more about the town making as much money from the tourists as possible than the rising bodycount.
That's without mentioning all the other things. A fine ensemble cast, brilliant photography, virtuoso editing, John Williams genius music and Spielberg's uncanny knack for white-knuckle moments. Universal's restoration is beautiful, and the film looks stunning, still like film but with a wonderful clarity. I noticed myself picking a lot of details out I'd never noticed on home video, like the "karate'd" picket fences, the "Vaughn Realty" sign on the mayor's car, and even a guy's testicles. It's an absolute revelation.
The one downside which isn't really a downside in cinemas is that it uses the new remixed 7.1 digital soundtrack. To be honest, most people won't notice and only a few niggly things stood out to me, but the film still sounds amazing. The sound in the film has always been great, especially the dialogue mixing in that overlapping way that makes it sound really naturalistic. The score is very well balanced and the correct effects are amplified to the point where I certainly jumped a few times (and I've watched this movie to death).
In a nutshell, go watch this film, even if you've seen it before. We don't always get the chance to see older films here in Blighty, so the chance to see Jaws on a big screen with a great restored picture and no 3D rubbish should be jumped at. Just don't go swimming afterwards.