“Jaws” debuted 40 years ago this month, and I was lucky enough that my local theater featured an anniversary screening. Needless to say, the film totally holds up. While I don’t have a smorgasbord of 40 observations about the movie, I can serve up a dozen tasty morsels:
1. Some people might recognize Bad Hat Harry Productions as the studio of Bryan Singer, the director of “X-Men” who is of the “Jaws” generation. “That’s some bad hat, Harry!” is a line Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) says about an ugly swim cap worn by a beachgoer.
2. “Jaws” presents sharks with an air of mystery similar to how “Jurassic Park” presents dinosaurs. Brody reads a book that says scientists don’t even know how old sharks can get. They can live for thousands of years, for all Brody knows. And Brody’s wife thinks their son will be fine sitting in a boat until she comes across a drawing of a shark attacking a boat. “Michael, did you hear your father? Out of the boat now. Now!”
3. Is there a better jump-scare in movie history than when the dead man’s face pops out of the bottom of the boat during Hooper’s (Richard Dreyfuss) underwater investigation? Having not seen the movie in a while, I flinched at the scene, as did my moviegoing buddy Steve.
4. “Jaws” is thought of as a director’s film, and indeed it’s a helluva breakthrough for Steven Spielberg, but the script by Carl Gottlieb and “Jaws” novelist Peter Benchley is likewise outstanding. For one thing, it’s hard to find a plot hole in the movie, unlike with – for example – Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park.” I don’t know if real shark-hunters use the method of attaching barrels to the beast to track its position, but it seems reasonable, and the logistics of the hunt always make sense. “How It Should Have Ended” can only come up with the concept of Quint (Robert Shaw) using poison bait to kill the shark. But would that have worked? Hooper explained that sharks are basically garbage cans – they eat everything. And Hooper does indeed try to poison the shark but drops the poison-tipped spear.
5. In addition to the plotting, the dialog is great. Brody, Hooper and Quint all pop off the screen, making the third act enjoyable just for their banter and allowing a viewer to put up with mediocre (by today’s standards) shark effects. Another great line reader is Murray Hamilton as Mayor Vaughn. My favorites are: “I’m not going to stand here and see that thing cut open and see that little Kintner boy spill out all over the dock!” and “Now I want those little paint-happy bastards caught, and hung up by their Buster Browns!”
6. Brody says a variation on “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” in “Jaws” one more time than Samuel L. Jackson says “Hold on to your butts” in “Jurassic Park” (three to two). Rather than it being a snarky catchphrase, it illustrates Brody’s safety-first approach to the hunt, contrasting with Hooper’s scientific fascination and Quint’s shark obsession.
7. I usually agree with the storytelling theory of “Show, don’t tell.” Still, “Jaws” features a notable exception. I don’t think shark-attack footage would’ve enhanced Quint’s USS Indianapolis monologue; our imagination makes it work better. “So, eleven hundred men went in the water, three hundred and sixteen men come out, the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.” Damn.
8. Brody’s “Smile, you sonofabitch” is immediately followed by the explosion of the compressed-air tank. I wonder if this inspired all those movie trailers that drown out a swear word with an explosion. Like “Yippee, kay-yay, motherf(BOOM!)” Or was that a thing even before 1975?
9. The shark drastically changes size over the course of the film. Estimated at 25 feet long and 3 tons by Quint, the shark nonetheless sneaks up on an unsuspecting boater in a pond connected to the ocean. No matter how stealthy a swimmer this Great White is, there should be big waves to indicate its travels. Come to think of it, “Jurassic World’s” I-rex seems to change size based on the needs of the scene, too.
10. The end credits are so much shorter than the end credits of today’s films. This is partly because old movies didn’t credit everyone who worked on the film. But even considering that, “Jaws” used a much smaller crew than you’ll find on today’s blockbusters.
11. For the past 40 years, there has been off-and-on fearmongering about how home video will wipe out theatrical moviegoing. But “Jaws,” considered by many to be the kickstarter of the four-decades-and-counting “blockbuster era,” may have boosted both forms of movie viewing. On one hand, it demands to be seen in the theater due to its spectacle and the way it benefits from an engaged crowd. On the other hand, it’s so good that people add it to their home-video libraries. I notice the 30th anniversary DVD can be had for cheap, so I’m going to do just that.
12. Although Benchley and Spielberg had their fill after one book and movie, “Jaws” inspired three film sequels over the next 12 years. I remember “Jaws 2” being entertaining, and indeed it is rated a respectable 5.7 on IMBD, although well behind the original’s 8.1. But “Jaws 3” rates a pitiful 3.5 and “Jaws: The Revenge” an anemic 2.8. I don’t think I’ve watched either of those, and apparently it’s no big loss. The three sequels can be found in an affordable DVD three-pack, so I might just have to pick it up out of morbid curiosity.