Friday, June 18, 2010

Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975): A Momentary Appreciation on its 35th Anniversary

June 20th, 2010 marks the 35th anniversary of the release of the movie JAWS. This post is part of Radiation-Scarred Review's 2010 SHARKATHALON, which celebrates this milestone with blog posts around the web.

There are moments in Jaws that simply leave me speechless. Quiet moments. Odd moments. In-between moments. Touches here and there that add color and depth and shade and wit to the potentially exploitative proceedings. These are not the crash-bang of Ben Gardner's head popping out of the hole the great white shark tore in the hull of his fishing boat; not the brilliant USS Indianapolis speech; not the improvised "You're gonna need a bigger boat" line (often misquoted as "We're gonna need a bigger boat"); not Chrissie's guttural cries of pain and terror as she's thrashed about as a midnight snack. No, terrific and bone-chilling and immortal as those moments may be, it's not what makes obsessives out of moviegoers. Obsessives like me find little nooks and crannies throughout a movie into which they pour their passion and awe. This is one of them.

Quint is harpooning barrels into the great white shark, which then leads the Orca on a wild chase across the sea. As John Williams's score switches from ominous to adventurous, we get a few shots of Brody watching all the action (and also carefully strapping his gunbelt to his waist).

The last one is key, in which we see that for just a second or two Brody's forgotten what he's at sea to do: to kill a monstrous shark. In fact, just a minute before he was screaming at Quint, "You're certifiable!" That "miracle of evolution" is, lest we forget, shaped like a bullet; it practically leaves the Orca in its wake. Brody is now impressed, thrilled by the hunt of this "fast fish," marveling at it as it careens through the sea at high speed. This shot lasts all of a second, but we feel a vicarious moment of joy and humanity as a tiny smile appears on Brody's face. He's enjoying himself.

A moment like this doesn't need to be in the film, but it's here and it's part of what separates Jaws from all of its countless imitators.


Anonymous said...

I couldn't agree with you more, Will. Brody's smile there is exactly as you describe it. The music is so in synch with that shot, too.

It's precisely the kind of detail I think Spielberg brought to the table. We know Hooper has that sense of wonderment about the shark, but to let some of it rub off on Brody is a really well-conceived idea. And, since it's so brief as you pointed out, it's not shoved down our throat.

Yep, Spielberg had so much depth to his filmmaking back then. I still think he does, I just mean the fact that he was already such a mature director is still mind-boggling.

Will Errickson said...

Thanks! It might be my favorite single moment in the film, which is really saying something. Scheider really pulls it off and Verna Fields's editing is perfectly tight. As for Spielberg, I mean, what can you say? Well, I think like Scorsese, like Coppola, he continues on, but goddamn none of them will ever make better movies than they did then. Which is fine with me!

'77 - '80 Collector said...

"Obsessives like me find little nooks and crannies throughout a movie into which they pour their passion and awe."

Absolutely. This is why I can watch certain movies (like Jaws) over and over again. It's not because I've forgotten the plot or what actors are in it - its because of the small things that seem insignificant that I love returning to.

Just discovered your second blog btw. Took me a while but love it!

Will Errickson said...

Hey, thanks Collector! I don't update this film blog as often as I'd like as Horror Fiction takes up much more of time, but there are still plenty of great '70s movies to explore...