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Jaws Movie Review

brody spielberg beach film

1975 – Steven Spielberg –

Peter Benchley's best-selling novel was the basis for Jaws, the movie that put Steven Spielberg in the big leagues and generated the all-time biggest box office. While the audience waits for their first good look at the killer shark that has “staked a claim” in the beach waters off a New England resort island, the film succeeds in creating life-like characters in a real setting. The treat of Jaws is that it delivers more than just the chills of a horror film. Jaws the family drama (as opposed to Jaws, the man-eating shark movie) is concerned with police chief Brody (Roy Scheider), his fear of the water, and his hope that moving his wife and two boys to the island from New York will better their lives (“In Amity, one man can make a difference”). After the mother (Lee Fierro) of the Kintner boy (Jeffrey Voorhees) accuses Brody of causing her son's death, Spielberg and the scriptwriters include a moment at the dinner table when Brody's younger son lovingly mimics his dad's movements, when Brody finally notices what the audience has seen, he hugs his son, a great example of how movies can develop character wordlessly. The overlapping dialogue that fills most of the first half of the film adds energy to every scene. Its real sound gives a flavor of the hustle-bustle of the tourist season and pinpoints the anger generated by the different vested interests. It is no surprise that one of the film's Oscars was for achievement in sound. Jaws' commerce vs. safety plot, involving the mayor and the question of when to close the beaches, is also great fun in the clash of personalities, though it is less subtle than the story about Brody. By the time the heroes take to sea and the shark appears, with his own theme song, courtesy of Spielberg stalwart John Williams, an impressive drama has already been established on a number of levels.

Verna Fields' Oscar-winning editing may rival the special effects in their impact. The first beach scene creates intense emotions simply through the expert joining of images. Brody sits on the crowded beach anxiously watching the swimmers and fearing a shark attack. The ordinariness of the beach sounds increases the sense of danger. We see shots of Brody scanning the waters mixed with various shots of beach activity, and amid all the holiday festivities we can always sense Brody's nervous feelings. (Many of the cuts unobtrusively occur as a person passes by the camera and blots out the view.) A girl squeals in fun as her boyfriend raises her on his shoulders in the water, and the reaction shot of Brody's intense face rising into the frame mirrors the audience's own panic. A vivid moment, Hitchcockian in its intensity and tease, which Spielberg milks for its full dramatic value. When the attack finally comes, Spielberg employs the same zoom-in, track-back effect that Hitchcock used to suggest James Stewart's disorientation in Vertigo. The power of the editing to create emotions entirely through visual means has rarely been illustrated as well.

Filmed at Martha's Vineyard, Jaws used three hydraulic sharks. Originally, Sterling Hayden was to play Quint and both Jeff Bridges and Timothy Bottoms were considered for Hooper. Three lesser sequels were released, none directed by Spielberg.

Cast: Roy Scheider (Martin Brody), Robert Shaw (Quint), Richard Dreyfuss (Matt Hooper), Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody), Murray Hamilton (Mayor Larry Vaughan), Jeffrey Kramer (Hendricks), Jonathan Filley (Cassidy), Chris Rebello (Michael Brody), Jay Mello (Sean Brody), Lee Fierro (Mrs. Kintner), Jeffrey Voorhees (Alex Kintner), Craig Kingsbury (Ben Gardner), Susan Backlinie (Chrissie Watkins), Peter Benchley (reporter on the beach), Carl Gottlieb (newspaper publisher) Screenwriter: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb Cinematographer: Bill Butler Composer: John Williams Producer: David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck for Universal MPAA Rating: PG Running Time: 124 minutes Format: VHS, LV Awards: Academy Awards 1975: Editing, Sound, Original Score (John Williams); Nominations: Picture; Golden Globes 1975: Score (John Williams); People's Choice Awards 1976: Film Budget: $12M Box Office: $260M.

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