It's early August 1998. Steven Spielberg has been in the news a lot
recently. Thankfully, a man was just sentenced to a hefty jail term for
stalking the director. His recent release of 'Saving Private Ryan' is
the most harrowing war picture to come along in years and ranks up there
with the director's best work and five of Spielberg's films (more than
any other director) recently made the American Film Institute's list of
the top 100 movies of all time in the first century of film
(1896-1996). They are, in order from lowest to highest on the list,
'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', #64, 'Raiders of the Lost Ark',
#60, 'Jaws' #48, 'E.T., The Extra Terrestrial', #25 and rightfully so,
as a Spielberg film and a great film in general, 'Schindler's List' in
the top 10 at #9. I would probably shift that list around a little
because I don't think E.T., is Spielberg's second best film, 'Jaws' is.
Both 'Jaws' and 'Schindler's List' are in my top 10 films of all time
with 'Schindler's List' finishing ahead of the famous shark movie.
Plain and simple, 'Jaws' was the movie that got me interested in film.
Like a roller coaster ride with shrieks and movements of excitement from
the theatre audience, for me it is the definition of what's called 'the
audience picture'. 'Jaws' has one of those talked about and memorable
opening scenes where the young girl, jumps into the ocean at dusk and
goes swimming in the nude and is consumed as a meal. The poster for
'Jaws' is also one of the most famous as we see the shark swimming up to
the surface to eat his dinner as the young female swimmer passes by and
'Jaws' was the first movie to earn at least 100 million dollars at the
box office and it eventually earned 260 million domestically and 470
million worldwide. Not to shabby considering the price of a movie
ticket 23 years ago.
'Jaws' also earned three Oscars on four nominations for sound, original
music score by John Williams which is one of the recognizable motion
picture scores in film history with its towering and haunting passages
and an Oscar for what is probably the film's most important contribution
which is the sensational, revolutionary and overall brilliant film
editing by Verna Fields. The fourth nomination 'Jaws' received was for
best picture and it lost out to 'One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest' and
was also up against 'Dog Day Afternoon', 'Barry Lyndon' and 'Nashville'.
Plagued with production problems and a budget that went from four
million to ten million dollars, Steven Spielberg did not receive an
Oscar nomination as best director but he should have for making a film
work in the final cut that many predicted would fail miserably.
For those of you that have seen 'Jaws' (if you haven't, see the wide
screen version), you'll probably agree that many of the films best
scenes have nothing to do with seeing the shark. Conversations in and
around and about the menace that's swimming off the shores of Amityville
Long Island, NY are the main topic of many scenes in this brilliant film
that are funny, turbulent, moving, surprising and the film gave rise to
increasing the adventure, horror and action genres. The film was
actually shot at Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts during the summer of
The term 'old salt' has never been better visualized on film than in the
character of Quint, played by Robert Shaw who died of a heart attack in
1978, three years after 'Jaws' came out. Shaw was a brilliant actor.
His interpretation of the movie villain was diversified in many films
and among them are the Russian assassin in the second James Bond film,
'From Russia With Love' in 1963. The film for which he received his one
and only Oscar nomination which was for Best Supporting Actor in 1966
for 'A Man For All Seasons' for his portrait of King Henry VIII of
England and his turn as the ruthless depression era gangster in 'The
Sting' in 1973 are probably some of the most most under rated bad guys
in movie history.
In 'Jaws', Shaw's portrayal of the fisherman Quint grabs your attention
quickly. At a meeting of the town's political council, disagreements
break out and with everyone shouting and exchanging words of chaos,
Quint restores order to the room by scratching his nails on a blackboard
and tells the mayor (Murray Hamilton), the police chief Martin Brody
(Roy Scheider) and everyone else that he will catch and kill the shark
in question for a sum of $10,000. The town takes it under advisement
and Quint is seen mostly in the film's last hour as the shark hunt gets
serious. The giant great white shark has already killed two people and
in addition from offered help by Quint, Brody gets help from a shark
expert named Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), who, along with Quint but
toned down a lot more, is much of the film's comic relief while he also
brings reason and common sense in the pursuit of nature.
'Jaws', along with '12 Angry Men' and 'The Treasure of the Sierra
Madre', illustrates extremely well, men interacting with one another as
Brody, Quint and Hooper are portrayed as truly human characters,
constantly at odds with each other on the boat but who, in one memorable
scene involving dinner, display their humanity and Quint's long but
fascinating talk about life on the U.S.S. Indianapolis during World War
II is the film's best package of dialogue which reportedly was written
by Shaw himself.
I always thought that the great visionary mind of Steven Spielberg had
intended audiences to see very little of the shark in the film's first
hour but Spielberg says that that wasn't the plan at all because the
remote controlled shark simply didn't work when called upon.
Screenwriters Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb wrote a truly great
academic script based on Benchley's novel, passing over the opportunity
to make 'Jaws' an exploitation picture by creating great characters,
believable situations and an insight into what was at the time, a truly
Copyright © 1998 Walter Frith