The music is perhaps the most famous element of Jaws, preceding just about every other noteworthy aspect of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 monster classic (the theatrical poster art is also quite stunning). Composed by the legendary John Williams, the incredibly simple, thundering tune is instantly recognizable and completely unforgettable. Then there’s the shark itself, with notorious difficulties that forced many of the scenes to go without a creature at all, accidentally yet brilliantly adding to the suspense, and allowing the big reveal to be that much more effective. Jaws is also credited as being the first summer blockbuster, becoming the highest grossing film of all time shortly after its theatrical release, greatly impacting the way movies would be distributed during the summer months, and setting the bar for horror movies and thrillers alike.The sleepy town of Amity Island is ramping up for a profitable 4th of July celebration when a young woman’s body is washed up on shore, badly mutilated and crawling with crabs. Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) hypothesizes a shark attack which would warrant the closing of the beach, but the greedy town officials, led by Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) convince him it’s a tragic boating accident. When a second victim, a little boy, is gobbled up in shallow waters, the town panics. A $3000 bounty is put on the shark, which draws out grizzly Sam Quint (Robert Shaw), a fisherman with particular skills, who offers up his shark-catching services for $10,000. While the town stews over his bid, other boaters catch a tiger shark (a man-eater and rare to find in the area) that calms the people but doesn’t convince oceanic researcher Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), called in to confirm the cause of the original death.
Even after Hooper and Brody discover a third body, a mangled boat, and a large tooth that clearly belongs to a Great White shark, the mayor won’t listen. Shutting down the beach on a major holiday isn’t an option, since the town depends heavily on the profits of tourists; a fourth attack does the trick, however, persuading everyone that hiring Quint is the best option. The gray-haired hunter is mostly drunk and insane, but a more than qualified fisherman; the police chief and the scientist accompany him on the open water to make sure the job is completed quickly and accurately. From here, it’s a waiting game – the three men bicker, trade stories, play cards, compare scars, and throw bait into the murky depths, leading to one of the most famous of all movie moments: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” exclaims Brody after the twenty-five foot fish rears its monstrous head.
The last half of Jaws is filmed entirely on (and under) the water with no one but Scheider, Shaw and Dreyfuss (and the shark). The tension is chillingly high, with the three actors carrying the weight of believability, aided by the pounding theme music. The plot all but disappears, giving way to a desperate fight for survival on a sinking boat with an unlikely but acceptably exciting conclusion. The body count is low, the blood loss is high, the ideas are genuinely terrifying and adventurous, the score is phenomenal, and the direction is clever enough to be studied in film school. Jaws is frequently considered one of the greatest movies of all time, placing high on many Top 100 lists, including those for horror, thrillers, action films, and even those for villains and music. It also won three Academy Awards, garnered several sequels, and is the first of Spielberg’s most acclaimed works, leading to a directing career that boasts Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan and Munich.- Mike Massie