Sunday, July 15, 2012

Classic Film: Jaws

I don't know who decided it should be the Summer of Spielberg, but they have my thanks.

After going to see E.T. at AFI two weeks ago, last weekend my best friend let me know that my local theater was showing Jaws. Apparently over the rest of the summer they'll be showing several more of his films (I'm leaving to see Jurassic Park in an hour or so).

The interesting thing about Jaws though was realize that I'd never actually sat down and seen the film from start to finish. I had assumed that even if I hadn't watched it all at once, I had at least seen the whole thing in pieces. But as the movie progressed and there were so many parts I was unfamiliar with I realized that wasn't true.

Now, I knew almost everything that happens. I had seen the ending a million times, and a lot of the more iconic scenes too. Between seven years of film school, watching a million specials about Spielberg, and just generally being alive and in love with movies I'd seen clips of all the major scenes. But there were things there to be discovered in the quiet moments, and that was a real joy for me. I knew all the big shark attacks, sure. But I hadn't realized how layered and interesting the characters were. I hadn't been able to appreciate just how good a job Roy Scheider did as Chief Martin Brody. I hadn't realized how fascinating Quint really was. I didn't really know about the tension between Quint and Hooper.

The great thing about Jaws is that I don't think it's particularly dated at all. The fashion is, but the effects actually largely stand the test of time. Which is famously due to the fact that the effects didn't work at the time and they had to improvise. Filmmaking is problem solving, and solving this problem created a film classic that may never be matched, and that audiences today can appreciate just as much as they did then.

This isn't just a creature feature, even though it is the ancestor of all of those giant shark movies on SyFy. It has real characters, depth, story, and structure. It's actually fascinating to read about how the film was made because it starts to feel like the entire thing was an accident. The script being rewritten on set, the weather changing their plans, the shark not working, etc. All of the great decisions and things that make the movie work weren't the first instinct of anybody who was there.

Which just goes to show that if you have time in pre-production to reconsider things, and not fall in love with stuff before you're sure it will work, then you can make a better film, but I digress.

The other great thing about Jaws for film buffs is that while you're watching it, you'll probably start to wonder about the shoot, how they did one scene or another. Well, there's more than enough information out there about the first blockbuster, from how it was made to how it changed film marketing forever. I've added about five books to my to read list already.

Universal is releasing a Blu-Ray version this summer. I think it's well worth picking up, especially because there's a documentary feature included called "The Shark Is Still Working" that sounds excellent. If you're like me and you think you've seen Jaws, it's worth making sure you've sat down and watched it start to finish.

If you've seen it, then watch it again. You won't regret it.