Jaws is 40 years old. Just 600 words on why it still demands rewatch after rewatch? Mickey Noonan’s gonna need a bigger boat.
You can’t take your eyes off the screen. In fact, you can barely breathe as an electrifying Robert Shaw takes time out of being batshit and singing about Spanish ladies to reveal to Brody (Roy Scheider) and Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) the chilling – true – tale of the USS Indianapolis, torpedoed while returning from its mission to deliver the Hiroshima bomb. “Eleven hundred men went into the water, 316 men came out and the sharks took the rest.” I must have seen that scene more than 100 times and it still gives me goosebumps.
As a child of the 70s, I watched Jaws a lot on the telly. And like every other kid of my era, I nursed a terrible fear that a Great White would emerge from the plughole and eat me in the bath. Or breach the toilet water and eat me arse first. Or grow legs*, climb the stairs and eat me in my bed. Though not entirely sure how it was going to happen, I was certain mini-Noonan scoffed by shark was on the cards. It’s the reason I didn’t properly learn to swim until I was 10.
About 20 years later, a friend recommended Easy Riders, Raging Bulls, Peter Biskind’s blistering romp through 60s and 70s Hollywood, and my obsession with Jaws began anew. I loved the stories behind it because, frankly, it’s a wonder the film ever got made: the filmmakers, blindly taken with Peter Benchley’s novel, simply had no idea what they were letting themselves in for. Filming started, as Dreyfuss recalls, “without a script, without a cast and without a shark” – and it barely improved as time went on.
The mechanical shark, nicknamed “Bruce”, was a duff that sank the first time it was put in water; Robert Shaw spent his time drunk, cantankerous and being flown out to avoid the taxman, and he and Dreyfuss hated each other on sight. Yet these problems are what make the movie great: that knife-edge tension between Hooper and Quint is palpable; reams of shit shark footage on the cutting room floor meant Spielberg used the camera as shark, giving us those long, glorious moments gliding through the ocean to John Williams’ iconic score.
Now seen as the original summer blockbuster, Steven Spielberg’s 1975 cult thriller has a definite indie vibe. At its heart, it’s a tale about outsiders: the sea-fearing chief of police of an island he isn’t from; the posh boy shark expert who’s best friends with his fancy toys; the gnarled, snappy shark-hunter who’s best friends with his booze, and the shark, a rogue killing machine finding dinner where the eating’s good and the mayor’s a prick in a series of hilarious jackets.
The big four – Brody, Hooper, Shaw and shark – come together for that last act, taking up nearly half the film and set entirely on the water, and it becomes some sort of boys’ own fishing trip. They may be chasing a beast that’s snarfed several Amity inhabitants, but John Williams’ jaunty tunes and the burgeoning camaraderie add a sense of joyous adventure.
Then there’s the dialogue, bursting with quips and deft strokes of character. There’s not an ounce of fat on it: it’s as killer as our fishy anti-hero. But it’s the three Rs that keep me coming back again and again: Roy Scheider; Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw. And man, that speech.
*this eventually manifested itself in the 1998 TV film Creature, and was terrible on about 108 different levels.4280 Views
Aged five, Mickey Noonan shoved an apple pip up her nose to see what happened. Older, wiser but sadly without a nose-tree, Standard Issue's editor remains curious about the world. Likes running, jumping and static trapeze.