Dun dun. Dun Dun.
Dun dun. Dun dun. Dun dun.
Ok, you get it.
Owning perhaps the most recognizable riff of music to come from a a scary movie alongside Halloween’s synth and Friday the 13th’s shushing, Jaws was a landmark piece of cinema that forever changed the state of cinema. Practically birthing the concept of a summer blockbuster, Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of a bestselling novel became the highest grossing film ever at the time and made the concept of taking a refreshing dip in the ocean scarier than it may have any right to be. The concept terrified me as a kid, and a little bit of that terror seems to have stuck with me into adulthood.
There’s a lot of debate and discrepancy over whether or not this film can be considered a “horror” movie. While it can be argued this film dwells closer to the “thriller” or even “action” genres, I still think the impact it had on pop culture is borderline terrifying, doing so much with so little thanks to expert directing, smart use of camerawork, a spine-tingling score and a masterful manipulation of dread using a shark that barely has any screentime.
Jaws follows a sheriff afraid of the water, a marine biologist and a swashbuckling sailor attempting to hunt down a hungry great white shark that is plaguing a town’s beaches. A straightforward premise that gave birth to dozens of other wannabe shark movies, but one made all the more enjoyable to watch thanks to the talented actors working here. Roy Scheider portrays chief Martin Brody, a man trying to do right in a town that only cares for its summer tourism. He’s easy to get behind and serves as a suitable straight-man for the audience to connect to. Richard Dreyfuss plays Matt Hooper, a marine biologist that sticks out like sore thumb in this small town and is perhaps the only one who understands how serious of a situation the town has. Finally, Robert Shaw plays Quint, a professional shark hunter that makes his mission to kill the great white almost personal after his own run-ins with sharks. He’s superstitious, stubborn and ready to kill the shark with his own two hands. This ragtag group of hunters put on a good show as their styles and ideologies continue to clash.
But let’s talk about the character everyone comes to see: the shark. Although never given a name during the film, the animatronic was affectionately named Bruce by the film crew. The terror of this beast comes not from what it looks like, but when you know its there but you cant see it. The sharks POV shots under the water, gazing up at the legs of unsuspecting swimmers, instills more than enough dread without flashing a fin. When we do see the shark, it’s all the more impactful and can catch us off guard when we’ve gotten comfortable. The climax really showcases the shark in all its bloody, toothy glory, which does demystify the beast a bit. For the time I’m sure it was terrifying, but rewatching now when animatronics and special effects have come a long way, it can be a bit silly. While this may diminish the scariness, the entertainment value still remains fairly high.
Personally, I found the first half of the film to be the most enjoyable. The town tries to figure out what’s going on while the number of people getting eaten begins to increase. Those in charge attempt to downplay and discourage the chief’s attempts to rightfully instill fear in the townsfolk. Watching this conflict of a few good men trying to do the right thing against the monetarily-charged wishes of the town’s leaders was the most engaging part of the story for me. When Brody, Hooper and Quint finally set out on the boat to take the fight to the shark, we finally get to see the humans fight back against this innocent, hungry shark. While you get more action in the second half, it can get a bit repetitive at times as the conflict gets a bit simpler. The climax, however, is quite a ride with several tense moments and some of the bloodiest scenes found in the film. The film essentially shifts from a thriller to an action movie by the second half, but Bruce proves himself to be an effective slasher villain despite the relatively small body count.
Jaws remains one of the pioneers in my opinion for the “daylight horror” genre. Alongside other classics such as The Wicker Man and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, these movies proved you can have your story set in broad daylight and still be tense, scary and disturbing. It takes incredible talent to not rely on the cover of complete darkness to scare audiences, but as you can probably guess, this film left quite an impact on several generations.
I know now that sharks don’t really operate like they do in this film, but I will always see the ocean as an unpredictable, mysterious beast that I’m hesitant to trifle with. If someone can make a similar film like this but with jellyfish, I’ll probably never go in the ocean again.
Bloody Shark Bite
A common cocktail found by the beach, the shark bite is a delicious cocktail made with both light and spiced rum. Lemon and lime juice help to give it a sour, citrusy flavor the pairs well next to the two rum. Throw in a splash of blue curaçao, and you’ve got a drink that looks like the foreboding ocean itself. Finish it off with a few drops of grenadine, and you’ll have drink that looks like ol’ Bruce just had a tasty snack in.
- 1/2 shot of spiced rum
- 1/2 shot of light rum
- 1/4 shot blue curacao
- 1/2 shot lemon juice
- 1/2 shot lime juice
- Add all ingredients except the grenadine to a shaker with ice and shake.
- Strain into an old fashioned glass or a small stemless wine glass over ice.
- Drip the grenadine over the top of the drink to simulate the look of blood.