The First Summer Blockbuster: “Jaws” (1975) starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, & Richard Dreyfuss

This is the first movie to gross $100M and become known as a “Summer blockbuster.” Though it went over-budget and over-schedule, it left a big impression on pop culture (and launched the career of director Steven Speilberg). I learned that Speilberg, actor Richard Dreyfuss, and composer John Williams were only 26 y.o. when working on Jaws. This was Dreyfuss’ second movie after American Graffiti (directed by Speilberg’s friend, George Lucas). Dreyfuss was already getting a rep as a bit of a “diva” (and he had turned down his role twice). He and British actor Robert Shaw had a combative relationship on set.

I’d never paid much attention to this movie when it was on TV; I watched it fully this past weekend. Aside from the mechanical shark close-ups, I thought it was pretty good! The (iconic) theme is hard to forget; at first, Speilberg thought Williams was joking re: using it. The movie actually has two acts- first we see the shark attacks and how the small-town reacts, then we have the three men facing off against the Great White shark. There are colorful extras (who were locals), fine character moments (unlike most big-budget action movies we see today), and a nice build-up of tension. There is a lot of handheld camera work done on the water.

On Amity Island, Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) is a fish out of water- no pun intended. He’s a former NYPD cop, new to the job of police chief, and a family man (w/ a loving wife and two adorable young sons). His wife, Ellen (Lorraine Gary), even jokes that he doesn’t sound like the locals. Brody doesn’t like the water, preferring to sit on the beach. In the big city, he didn’t think he was making a difference. After the teen girl is found on the beach w/ her body mangled, Brody wants to close the beach. The mayor, city council, and local business people are very concerned re: the economy. Yup, this has resonance today (when a few governors want to open their states during the coronavirus pandemic)! Brody feels like he’s not being heard; he’s concerned re: his family. He and his younger son share a sweet moment at the dinner table when the boy mimics his father.

After the young boy is killed, locals realize the gravity of the situation, and (suddenly) fishermen flock to the island to hunt down the shark for a hefty reward. A young scientist, Matt Hooper (Dreyfuss w/ a fluffy beard), from the Oceanic Institute arrives to assist Brody. I thought it was interesting how Hooper was uncomfortable seeing the body at the morgue. Later on, he comes to the Brody’s house, bringing along two bottles of wine. Hooper comments that he didn’t know whether they’d like white or red wine. These are among the little touches that add to the film. It’s fun to watch Dreyfuss, who has humor, high energy, and touches of arrogance w/ his intelligence.

As the eccentric fisherman, Quint, Shaw has some meaty scenes (one of which reveals why he’s so invested in finding the shark). Unlike Brody and Hooper (who are a bit nerdy), Quint is more of the typical “macho man” we expect in action films. Quint’s tale of the USS Indianapolis was conceived by playwright Howard Sackler, lengthened by screenwriter John Milius (another friend of the director), and rewritten by Shaw. The famous line- “We’re gonna need a bigger boat”- was improvised by Scheider. The movie is quite different (and many argue- better) than the novel by Peter Benchley.

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