A big scolding happened in response to yesterday’s Jaws riff. You’d have thought from the comments that I trashed it. I didn’t. I said that Steven Spielberg‘s 1975 blockbuster is “a decent-enough thing,” and it is. I’ve seen it maybe six or seven times. But like almost all Spielberg films “it has no undercurrents so it hasn’t aged all that well,” I said. And I was bitchslapped all around the room.
I’m not calling Jaws a problem film. It obviously isn’t and never has been. But it’s the movie equivalent of a lightweight beach read. Engrossing, highly accessible, fun to follow, entertaining. It’s like a great dinner — zesty, well prepared, exhilarating in a sense — but like all great dishes it fades upon reflection. And it may not even be that. It’s actually more like a great dessert. Made with confidence bordering on swagger (young Spielberg was as good as it got in this realm) and summer-movie attitude, but all you remember at the end of the day are the bits, the tricks, the cherry and the whipped cream.
Add up all the parts and you’re left with a collection of parts. There’s no real muscle tissue, no wholeness, no gravitas, no “things that are not said” and no metaphor other than “uh-oh, life can be occasionally scary or threatening because of the existence of predators…wooooh.” It has several great bits (the severed leg, the fake-looking dead guy’s head, the chumming and the Bruce pop-out, “you’re gonna need a bigger boat”) and that one great moment when Robert Shaw‘s Quint talks about being in the sea with the survivors of the sunken U.S.S. Indianapolis.
It’s just a summer movie that made a lot of money and played a seminal role in the ruining of the great era of Hollywood achievement that began in the late ’60s and ended in the early ’80s. (It took a while.) If you want to buy the Jaws Bluray to have and hold, fine. If it still works for you, fine. I just don’t hold with calling it a great or even an especially sturdy film. It’s merely an effective one.
I never believed the opening scene. I’ve always been impressed by it, but only as a movie bit. I never believed that a shark would pull a naked girl back and forth across the water’s surface so she can shriek and scream for our delectation. (I suspect that shark death is probably much worse and a good deal less cinematic than this.) Again — I’m not putting it down. I’m just saying that like almost everything Spielberg does, it’s jizz whizz.
I always thought that Murray Hamilton‘s mayor character was a little too lazy, exuding a tedious form of small-town corruption. There’s a scene in which he complains to his friends that no one is swimming, and he goads an older couple (both of whom are aware of the young girl’s recent shark death) into wading in. I didn’t believe that for a second.
The scene in which Roy Scheider‘s Chief Brody is keeping an eye on the swimmers is one of the best scenes. And like I said yesterday, the surreal visual effect (track back & zoom in or whatever) is superb — I’lll give Spielberg that.
The woman who lays into Brody for knowing about a shark threat and not closing the beaches is supposed to be the mother of the twelve-year old kid who was eaten by the shark. But she’s dressed like a Midwestern schoolmarm out of a John Ford film, and appears to be in her ’50s.
The scene in which the two guys standing on a pier are dragged out to sea when the pier is pulled from its moorings by the shark — another entertaining scene that is essentially cheap, teasing and absurd.
Ditto the ability of Bruce the shark to pull Quint’s yellow barrels under the surface of the water and to chomp through the cable lines. It’s all to support an idea than Bruce isn’t a shark — he’s a reasoning, calculating, diabolical super-leviathan who’s out to murder and devour with relish because that’s the stuff that the popcorn munchers eat up and talk to their friends about. Again — amusing movie bullshit.
I could go on and on and on and on.
I’m not sure that any Spielberg films have aged very well. He’s the most successful hack who ever came down the pike. I’m almost afraid to look at E.T. and Schindler’s List for fear they they, too, might seem like less.