This month on Movies Worth Rewatching, Ben and I decided to do a spotlight on one of our favorite filmmakers, Steven Spielberg. This week I’ll be talking about the first summer blockbuster, and one of my favorite movies, Jaws (1975, Universal Studios).
One of my shortcomings at behaving like a “normal” person is having an incredibly small tolerance for suspense and horror in film. With no shame, I admit to being a 100% full-blooded weeny. Although Jaws is correctly placed in the thriller genre, everything about the marketing of the film clearly said “stay away” to my inner-wimp. So, because of my self-created fear of Jaws, I actually sat down and watched the film much later in life than most people I know.
Near the end of my high school years, and throughout most of college, I worked at Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida. During my time at Universal, I managed to meet my beautiful wife, as well as the vast majority of the best friends I’ll probably ever have (true story). My friends and I all worked second-shift retail jobs that didn’t let us out until 11pm or later. After the long hours of folding shirts and restocking novelty shot glasses, we spent most nights hanging out together eating bar food and watching movies until the early morning hours. Somewhere in one of those after-work hangouts, I was first forced to watch Jaws by one of my smarter-than-me friends. Although it did have its fair share of suspense and horror, the great character performances and well placed laughs in Jaws managed to pacify my preconceived fear. It was love at first sight.
So how does it hold up 37 years after its release (and about 10 years after my first viewing)?
Jaws is just as frightening, charming and downright enjoyable today as it was the first time I saw it! The story of small town police chief Martin Brody’s struggle against local politics and nature’s “evolutionary masterpiece” is as captivating as ever. This film features an absolutely incredible cast whose great performances still shine after all these years, with special mention of Robert Shaw for his scene-stealing portrayal of the ill-fated Captain Quint (my favorite character) and Richard Dreyfuss as the lovable Matt Hooper. The effects still awe and shock with tremendous scope, especially considering their practical creation, with only a few eye-catching or dated moments coming through today. The score, which is as famous as the movie, shines as one of the best works of THE best film composer of all time, John Williams. It’s no wonder at all that Jaws became the template for the big budget summer blockbuster.
My favorite thing about watching Jaws now, above all else, is watching the early Steven Spielberg-isms that appear throughout the film. Small character moments like a stressed Chief Brody finding escape through his son’s loving impersonation of his father. Symbolic shot choices like that of the Orca sailing off to save the day being framed inside of the removed jaws of a shark. His fear-drenched reaction shots, his story pacing, his sparsely interwoven jokes to ease the tension just enough, all of Spielberg’s regular film devices that have made him one of the most successful directors of all time can be found in their infancy while viewing Jaws. Watching the work of a then younger and greener Steven Spielberg brings me an even deeper appreciation for the great storyteller that he has become in the present.
It’s easy to say Jaws is one of my favorite movies of all time. With multiple screenings every year at my house, it’s one of my go-to movies when I’m looking to be entertained. Although I’m still a certified movie wuss when it involves suspense and horror, select “scary” movies like Jaws have made their way into my heart and my movie collection (just don’t ask me to watch any more please, my heart can’t handle it). My college friends from Universal Studios and I are still really close as well. Heck, over half of my groomsmen at my wedding formally worked with me at Universal Studios. Looking back now, I can’t help but think our time together hanging out late at night while watching movies like Jaws as being an integral foundation to our long lasting friendships. For me, the joy of rewatching Jaws blurs between enjoying it for its inherent quality and the nostalgia of the early years of my fondest friendships.
Jaws is currently available on DVD and is soon to be released on Blu-ray on August 14. I highly recommend you check it out for yourself, either for the first or the 101st time.
by Mel Dale