Monday, November 30, 2020

Movies XIII - Jaws

The movie that began the summer blockbuster genre, Jaws stands out above all the big budget, big explosion, movies that came in it's wake. This is great storytelling with compelling characters.

The movie came out in 1975. It was playing at the surf theater in Ocean City, Maryland that summer and there were lines. I saw it one evening with my girlfriend and and couple of her friends. It wasn't terrifying so much as ominous. It builds slowly, hints of what's coming in the first couple of attacks, and always the iconic music to foreshadow the lurking danger.

The shark isn't shown for most of the movie and when it finally is shown, it's obviously a rubber shark. There's no CGI yet. I know now that there were lots of issues with the shark that lead to some of the scene choices. 

I like this movie, the three guys going out on a small fishing boat, the interactions, the slow search with time for conversations, singing, even a story told about the U.S.S. Indianapolis. The audience gets invested. When it all comes down at the end, the boat is sinking, the shark hunter Quint is dead, and our every man hero, police chief Brody, has to save the town and himself. With a Garand.

We went to the beach that night after we left the theater and went in, but it wasn't for long, we felt like bait.


ProudHillbilly said...

The last sentence of your first paragraph. Exactly.

libertyman said...

I read the Benchley's book before the movie, and it was a good read. He put a lot of effort into shark conservation after his success with Jaws, I believe.

The movie was as you described ominous. I will have to watch it again as it has been cleaned up digitally ,as I understand. My nephews are big fans, though they were just little kids when it was in the theaters.

And yes, the Garand saved the day. A reminder to get one if you don't already have at least one.

chris said...

The Indianapolis speech was written by John Milius who was a classmate of Speilberg at USC film school. He's a bit of a legend in his own right.

Toirdhealbheach Beucail said...

Borepatch, the Shark became an exhibit on the Universal Studio Tour in Southern California. We went to see it when I was 12 or 13. There was a startle factor (they set it up that way of course) when the shark "pops" out of the water - but not nearly as impressive as it looked on the screen.

That said, it did create the genre of "man dabbling with ocean or ocean creatures, ocean creatures eat man". I do find a strange fascination in movies where sharks get the people these days.

Aesop said...

One of the first non-Disney real movies I was taken to see.

Spielberg was my hero, because the first moment the shark pokes out of the water behind Chief Brody slinging chum ("You're gonna need a bigger boat...") it scared my mom (and 99% of everyone in the theater) in a pants-wetting fashion.

You only get that kind of reaction when the audience is fully invested in your flick.

Universal only made the movie because some nitwit believed the SFX sales brochure, from some clown who'd told them they had this great new shark gadget (which failed to work, epicly.)

They only hired Spielberg because he'd made his rep getting things shot on time or early, and under-budget, on progressively bigger projects.

So without the gottverdammt mechanical shark, he was forced to focus on character and plot development, relying on such shabby mediocre actors as Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider, and Robert Shaw (tongue firmly in cheek there), and squeezing out a summer movie made while filming after Labor Day in frigid waters off Martha's Vineyard etc., because they couldn't shoot it during the actual summer tourist season.

Despite a million obstacles, he and the cast and crew overcame them all to make a noteworthy flick.

Spielberg also understood the concept of tickle-their-ribs/grab-them-by-the-throat, to a "T", and beats you over the head with it, because it works.
Drunk guy can't get undressed, passes out on beach after faceplant/hot girl gets eaten.
Dumbasses fall into water/shark shows up and takes their bait.
Landlubbers crash into each other in harbor/old salt gets eaten.
Three amigos drink to each other's leg/shark rams boat to pieces.
And so on.

Luck and magic is what happens when opportunity runs headfirst into preparedness and craft. That's how a $7M production budget begets at $471M gross. (Mind you, that's when $7M was considered to be a lot of money to make a flick. No, really.)

And by the climactic scene, Spielberg and the entire crew were salivating at the prospect of blowing the damned mechanical disaster shark to bits.
The only line missing after the penultimate moment and subsequent explosion was "You think you used enough dynamite there, Butch?"

The finished product so wildly exceeded expectations, Uni resurrected the dead contraption for three far more craptastic sequels, until they'd milked the concept to death, with a series of increasing awful follow-up directors.

Roy said...

"...And yes, the Garand saved the day."

Well, that and a high-pressure air cylinder in the shark's jaw.

ASM826 said...

The air cylinder was a dramatic prop. I would not feel undergunned with a Garand against a shark on the surface.

Will said...

IIRC, Mythbusters TV show tested whether a SCUBA tank would explode when shot by a rifle. Their conclusion was no, it won't. I'm not sure if they even had it penetrate. I think they tested both steel and aluminum tanks. The AL tank was surprisingly thick.