“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“It’s only an island of you look at it from the water.”
I think some movies are perfect. That doesn’t necessarily mean I love them or think that they’re up there with the all time greats. It means that I think they set out to be a certain kind of movie, and they execute that perfectly. The actors perfectly perform the dialogue, which perfectly matches the tone, which is created by perfect direction. ‘Perfect’ in all of these instances is relative to the movie itself, not movies in general. Jaws is a movie that’s not only perfect, it’s also a movie that I love and think is up there with the all time greats.
After a midnight skinny dip goes awry and a mutilated women’s body is found washed up on the beach, island holiday town Sherriff, Brody (Roy Scheider) tries to close the beaches to the public. The only problem is, it’s the first days of summer, which is when pretty much every business in the island makes its money for the year. The threat of losing tourist dollars is worse than the threat of whatever might be in the water. Until a young boy is taken and killed by something under the surface, in the middle of the day, in front of a beach full of witnesses.
The beaches are finally closed and a bounty is put on the head of what is now assumed to be a killer shark. A grizzled old sea dog (Robert Shaw as Quint) tries to warn them that the monster they’re after is too dangerous for amateurs with dollar signs in their eyes to go after, but no one takes him seriously. At the same time, Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) arrives on the island. A scientist and shark expert, he shares Quint’s views, and soon has Brody, Quint and Hooper realise they’re the only three taking this threat seriously enough to have any chance of actually stopping it.
Here’s what I love about Jaws and one of the main reasons why I think it’s a perfect movie. There was a time in my early teens when I had taped this movie off the telly and watched several times a week for several months. Sure, I’ve only seen it a few times in the 15 odd years since that binge, but that’s more enough to engrain a movie in anyone’s brain. Even with that engraination, the second half of Jaws lacks none of the tension, anxiety and gut wrenching suspense that grabbed me back then.
I know what’s gonna happen, I know how it will happen, I know where every decision will lead. Yet, Steven Speilberg frames his action, and the core trio of Dreyfuss, Scheider and Shaw bring it to life in such away, that knowing all of those things does not matter in the least. Well executed suspense isn’t just about twists and shocks. It’s about knowing that something is inevitable, but you still try to convince yourself that somehow, this time, it might be different.
Best Picture (nominated, lost to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest)
Best Original Score