Reviewed by: Chris

"Jaws is a well-made, nuanced, gamble of a film that paid off handsomely and assured Spielberg's future." | Photo: Universal Studios

Do you love the water?

Given director Steven Spielberg's predilection for calling his more sensational films 'fast-food movies', anyone approaching Jaws for the first time might feel an extra reason for combining horror and camp humour in their advance assessment. There is always a fairground attraction element in revisiting old scary movies. Jumping out of our seats is combined with a know-all feeling that the special effects are somewhat dated. But as there is much more to Jaws than a rather unrealistic model shark, it still has plenty of power to thrill.

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The basic story is simple enough. A killer shark threatens a popular beach resort and people are slow to believe it for fear of lost revenue. Spielberg notches up the emotional tension with a range of equally iconic characters, deft camera work and an ominous score by John Williams. The memorable leitmotif - low thumping staccato notes like a heart pounding too quickly - announces the approach of the shark so effectively that the sound scares us half to death even before any visual sighting.

The three main characters, Roy Scheider as Police Chief Martin Brody, Richard Dreyfuss as rational scientist Matt Hooper, and Robert Shaw's grizzled man-of-the-sea Quint, offer three very different personalities with different emotional trigger points. The deft editing produces constant mood switching that keeps us on the edge of our seats for all of them, plus some puppy dogs and a young-and-beautiful surf set to pull in anyone not moved by the more high-minded heroes. A severed arm is discovered on the beach in a warm community context. Our nerdy policeman is visibly upset.

These superb performances are supported by inventive camerawork. Look out for the moment when Dreyfuss, getting a shoulder-rub from his wife, witnesses a shark attack on the beach. The camera tracks forward while zooming back so Dreyfuss' image stays constant but the perspective changes suddenly - it's as if the background closes behind him. This disorientating effect (famously used by Hitchcock in Vertigo) prepares us with stomach-churning anticipation for a glimpse of the shark.

Together with The Exorcist and Star Wars, Jaws heralded the advent of the modern blockbuster. Released on multiple screens without the usual word-of-mouth advertising, going to see them became a cultural necessity. Jaws is a well-made, nuanced, gamble of a film that paid off handsomely and assured Spielberg's future. The era it heralded also, unfortunately, opened the floodgates for much less worthy films.

Many years on, Jaws still has the power to thrill - and perhaps to make you think twice when going skinny-dipping.

Reviewed on: 23 Dec 2006
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Jaws packshot
A small seaside community dependent on tourism is terrorised by a great white shark with a hunger for human flesh.
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Director: Steven Spielberg

Writer: Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, based on the novel by Peter Benchley.

Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Carl Gottlieb

Year: 1975

Runtime: 124 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: USA

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