“Martin, it’s all psychological. You yell barracuda, everybody says, ‘Huh? What?’ You yell shark, we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.”
I like to consider myself a woman of culture, one that appreciates good cinema when she sees it, et cetera, which is why I’m embarrassed it took this long for me to give Jaws this high of a score. It’s been the same film each time, and certainly my taste couldn’t have changed that much in the last year, so what exactly did I take issue with before, and why did it take me until now to fully appreciate it as an absolute masterpiece? Well, as tired as I’m sure my readers are of me bringing up politics and the modern social climate when talking about movies, that seems to once again be the answer.
For the one to three of my readers who don’t know, Jaws is about a New England town known for their ocean that starts getting terrorized by a shark, on the Fourth of July weekend when they’re supposed to be at their all time busiest. While the mayor and multiple inhabitants unsafely intend on keeping the beaches open, a police chief played by Roy Schieder, a marine biologist played by Richard Dreyfuss, and an Ishmael type veteran played by Robert Shaw, remain adamant on keeping their beaches safe, be it by closing them or eventually going out and searching for the shark. My point being…you know, in this year 2020, stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
To be clear, and this may set this review apart from some of the others, I think bringing up what’s currently going on is entirely necessary. Not just because it’s a great comparison, but because that’s what put me over the edge and allowed me to finally give it a perfect score. Before this week, the last time I rewatched Jaws was on March first of this year. The disease was already around of course, but the conversation of things opening back up and people being upset about having to wear masks hadn’t really gained traction. Perhaps for that reason, I found the screenplay of Jaws to be good, but not exactly revolutionary. Partly because I hadn’t exactly lived through something like is portrayed in this film, at least not while I could comprehend it. I still don’t know if it feels revolutionary, but it’s definitely spot on, and honestly that’s more than enough for me.
Now, here’s a quick fact that may put some things into perspective. Jaws was Steven Spielberg’s third movie. Certainly the first that really put him on the map, but his third altogether. I bring this up because, based on my experience and my taste, some people never make a movie as good as Jaws in their entirety of their careers. There are very few movies I like better than Jaws, for the record. But it’s not just that every little aspect of this film is fantastic, though that’s certainly part of it. This is also just one of the most influential films of all time, especially considering that it singlehandedly sparked the summer blockbuster movement. Do you love superhero movies? Independence Day or Men in Black? For all of that, you have Steven Spielberg and Jaws to thank.
And see, there’s another great thing about Jaws. To paraphrase a talented music critic by the name of Todd Nathanson, if a movie is marketed as being for everybody, that generally means it’s going to be a movie for nobody. Meaning that if you deliberately market your film to as many people as possible, it’s going to feel clunky and very few people are actually going to enjoy it. And that’s the thing, Jaws is one of those special examples where, from those who simply go to movies to eat popcorn and have fun to snooty critics who are looking for fine cinema, Jaws is going to please everyone, and it has for decades now.
If you’re going into Jaws wanting to watch a cool action flick featuring a shark, you’re going to have a good time. If you’re looking to be scared by a stellar horror movie, you’re also going to have a good time. If you want to watch a movie made by people that have a clear understanding of how filmic language works and that have the ability to portray that onto the screen with astounding accuracy, you’re once again going to be pleased. I’m not even sure if Spielberg went into this film expecting it to appeal to everyone, though of course that should be every filmmaker’s dream. If that was the point, he’s certainly not pretentious about it, which is often an issue. If you go into a movie thinking you’re the most talented person in the world, audiences will be able to tell. But if you’re Steven Spielberg and you’re trying to make Jaws, audiences will be able to tell and they’ll undoubtedly appreciate it a whole lot more.
In short, it’s talent without hubris. It’s the ability to write and direct characters that have beautiful chemistry without pandering to your audience’s taste. It’s the ability to fill your film with red herrings and emotional highs and lows without feeling cheap. It’s the way Spielberg decides to shoot and edit everything that adds to whatever suspense he had already built up with the screenplay. It’s just all raw, unfiltered talent from every member of the cast and crew. It draws you in from the very first second, with that beautiful and terrifying cold open, the one that some have listed as the scariest movie moment, and it follows you around forever no matter who you are, as all movies should.
Jaws can be streamed on HBO Max, HBO Go, HBO Now, DirectTV and Amazon Prime with an HBO Now extension. It can be rented and bought on RedBox, Amazon, Google Play, Apple Video, YouTube, Fandango Now, VUDU, Microsoft Video, and DirectTV. In addition, it can be purchased in all physical formats, and it is currently playing in select theaters.
It is rated PG by the MPAA, for intense scenes, attack-related gore and brief use of marijuana.