Universal has re-released Jaws (the film, not the shark) at the IMAX, marking the first time there has been a great shark movie in cinemas since 1975.
The film that spawned a genre, invented the modern blockbuster and made an entire generation afraid of sharks, Jaws feels as fresh today as 50 years ago – not least because the Mayor (Murray Hamilton) became a lockdown meme, perfectly embodying politicians willing to risk human life for the sake of the economy. Boris Johnson reportedly compared himself to Mayor Vaughn in private, having publicly called him “the real hero of Jaws.” Vaughn is still the Mayor in Jaws 2 by the way. It turns out regular shark attacks are quite an effective way to keep turnout low.
Greed is just one aspect of what the shark means to the various characters: for Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) it represents his guilt over the death of a boy his son’s age; for Quint (Robert Shaw) a reminder of the horrors he endured and delivered at Hiroshima (much like Godzilla some 20 years prior); for Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) a kind of intellectual emasculation, a chance to prove his toughness despite his class. And at the risk of ignoring the elephant shark in the room, it is an indiscriminate killing machine at a council-sanctioned baby buffet.
Steven Spielberg’s genius lies in taking a premise as simple as “man vs. shark” and blowing it up to reveal so much depth and such awesome scale, his technique, ambition and attention to detail surviving the most challenging conditions. None of its fabled production trouble is apparent on screen (even in IMAX) – and though the malfunctioning “Bruce” animatronic forced the director to imply the shark via underwater POV shots and John Williams’ music, one suspects he would have built that same suspense whether Bruce was functional, floundering or Forsyth.
Like Hitchcock he displays a killer instinct that throws Jaws‘ 12A certificate (PG until recently) into sharp relief, with a level of blood, decapitation and dismemberment that today’s studios shy away from in 15-rated (and some 18) horror flicks. It is hard to square this director with the one who made Tintin and Bridge of Spies, but Jaws gets him off the hook. The young Spielberg delivers entertainment by the barrel, countless iconic moments and tension you can cut with a fish knife, combining disaster, horror and action cinema to produce the great white of adventure movies.
Major studios, independent filmmakers and (mostly) the Syfy channel keep trying to make it again, but when it comes to shark attack films nobody gets close to Jaws.