The ominous two note score. The chief of police who is scared of water. The Ahab like shark hunter, Quint. The movie credited with being the first summer blockbuster and paving the way for such releases as Star Wars to become summer hits. Does this 35 year-old film deserve to be on a list of films you should see before you die?
Should this film be considered a classic? Yes. “Jaws” is pretty close to the perfect action/suspense movie. The movie continues to hold appeal to generations of movie watchers and has aged remarkably well in my view. The reason why this film is so successful is that it slowly builds tension all the way through the film. The real mastery at work in this film is how the main characters ever so slowly find themselves in greater peril. In the first half of the movie all the main cast stays relatively safe on the land and we only see the shark attacks from a distance and on characters we have no connection to. The tension in the first half of the movie is largely created by the insane city politicians insisting their beaches remain open despite the attacks and our wondering how many people will have to die before they come around.
The second half of the movie amps up the tension because the main characters go from the safety of land into the shark’s territory. Spielberg masterfully built the tension even though we rarely ever see the shark. This movie could have easily devolved into a clichéd monster movie, but since the focus largely stays on the people in peril and not on the shark it makes the appearances of the shark far more dramatic and frightening. This is great storytelling because the filmmakers got us to invest in the characters so that when they are put in perilous situations we genuinely care about what happens to them. Spielberg has long been known as a great action director, but this movie is as close to Hitchcockian level suspense that I believe he has ever come and makes it a worthy addition to this list of movies.
Would I own this film? You better believe it. “Jaws” has great replayability. It’s one of those movies that I always stop and watch whenever I see it on TV. The great cast and the incredible mix of suspense and action make this an easy choice to put on the shelf. I believe that since this film still stands up so well after 35 years that it will continue to be a favorite of movie lovers for many more years to come.