"None of man's fantasies of evil can compare to the reality of Jaws."
That was the line that opened one of the TV commercials for JAWS in 1975. It was the movie everyone was talking about. There are famous movies, legendary movies and great movies. And then there are those historic movies. Not movies about history, but movies that made history. Gone With the Wind, Citizen Kane, King Kong (33), Star Wars, the Ten Commandments, The Godfather, The Exorcist, Easy Rider, and of course JAWS.
At a time when many believed it would be endless years before the 100 million dollar mark was breached, when movies were aimed at general audiences, when realism was beginning to dominate and the R-Rating was allowing Hollywood to shatter taboos, a young Stephen Spielberg unleashed what many consider to be the greatest horror film of all time on an almost ill-prepared movie going audience.
Much has been written about the movie. And next to Citizen Kane, few other movies have become as
And yet, when it hit theaters in the summer of 1975: movie magic. Hollywood realized there was a whole new way to package and market films. The Summer Blockbuster, whose bastard children are still alive today, was born. Spielberg became a superstar. John William's iconic score went down as one of the greatest ever composed for a film. One of the greatest monologues in movie history. Martha's Vineyard officially became a major tourist spot. And in the summer of 1975, revenues for the beach industry took a sharp plunge.
And why not? Even then it was recognized as better than your average horror thriller, garnering an Academy Award nomination (losing to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest). And though some criticized the lack of character development among some of the cast (though usually not the principle characters), today it looks like a Shakespearean drama by comparison.
Spielberg's insistence on filming on the high seas rather than a studio tank paid off, and the atmosphere and
Still, by the time the shark appears, it's lack of continual appearances keeps it menacing until the end. The tension and stress of the movie keeps the audience alive, and just like other great films of the past - anything by Harryhausen, the original King Kong - most are able to mentally transfer the images and remember that this isn't really a shark, but it's a character in the movie. Just like Shaw wasn't really a fisherman, or Dreyfuss a scientist, so the mechanical shark was an actor. And what an actor it was. Though modern CGI creatures have the benefit of unlimited access to any scholarship about any topic, and of course the limitless bounds of CGI graphics, few have ever sustained the menace or the horror that 'Bruce' the shark managed off the coasts of Amity all those years ago.
I pondered that and pressed on. According to them, today many (not all, but many) characters are not overly sympathetic. Bad guys are supposed to be bad and get what they have coming. Good guys are good guys, usually because they represent PC values. Characters aren't real. They're like types. They are either supposed to get what they have coming, or not. And even though the gore and violence is more, it isn't the same. They just couldn't but their finger on what made this 1975 movie so intense.
And yet, they've encountered that more than once. Not that they don't enjoy movies and TV shows today,
Maybe it's not fair to compare what many (or at least pre-internet many) consider one of the greatest movies of all time to the entire package today. After all, there was more than one pile of lousy, superficial junk movies in 1975. But for now, three men went into the water, two came out alive, and the reaction of my boys gave me something to ponder as I think of our culture, our society, and the world which we have given them as our oldest's graduation approaches.