Hard to believe it but we are celebrating the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s JAWS. A film that not only terrified and thrilled me but fascinated and inspired me as well. I saw it for the first time when I was a kid on VHS. Even as a kid there was something about the film that drew you into it. I don’t mean just the naked girl who gets killed in the very beginning either. The build into the story and the sense of how much this shark tears apart this community and the leading up to the, in some ways, modern Moby Dick sea hunt.
JAWS shows the master work of a young director who showed that he was a talent to go in line with the greats before him. A lot has been written about the way the film works because how rarely we see the shark since it kept malfunctioning during production. Personally, I don’t think this would have made too much of a difference. Slightly controversial? Perhaps. I think if the shark had worked as planned Steven Spielberg would not have overused it but still used it as exactly as needed. Whether the shark worked or not he knew creatively how to use it. In this case it was barely working so he went a different way. That is a sign of a real creative genius. Well, one sign. Another one is knowing when a director needs to let go of their tricks and let something play out.
What is one of my personal favorite scenes ever is when the character of Quint (Robert Shaw) tells the story of the Indianapolis. Up to this point Quint is bordering the line between character and caricature. This scene changes that and everything we need to know about who he is and why he is the way he is answered. Spielberg knew to just step back and let his actors take care of it. The coverage is simple but the impact is tremendous. This is what makes a talented director become one of the best and the scene is just perfect.
JAWS is without a doubt one of my own personal favorite films. As terrified as I was of the shark in the film it actually created my immense fascination with the species. As a filmmaker I am constantly inspired by the film to this very day. The film transcends just being a film about a shark. It is as perfect as a film can be.
JAWS is a stunning piece of work and one that I am always proud to say is one of my favorites. I write this with the film on my TV and wearing a JAWS t-shirt with a smile on my face.