Classic movie: ‘Jaws’

What better movie to watch around the Fourth of July than “Jaws?”

Much of the movie’s plot – which, for a film made in 1975, feels fresh today – revolves around one panicked town’s reaction to the possibility a rogue shark will ruin tourism on the Fourth of July holiday.

And there’s no better summer movie than “Jaws,” Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel.

Lots has been said about the impact of the movie and how it shaped our perceptions of summer movies, box office numbers and the very meaning of the word blockbuster. No more about those topics needs to be said here.

So some observations about the movie in general:

Two for one: I love how Spielberg mixes two movie genres – the horror film and the high seas adventure – so effectively. I’m not sure such an effective blending occurred again until James Cameron’s “Aliens” took the horror movie feel of the original “Alien” and combined it with a down-and-dirty war movie.

Revenge of the nerds: At the end, the schlubby scientist Hooper and the afraid-to-go-into-the-water police chief Brody survive. The two guys with glasses. The two guys with the backstories that can’t compete with Quint, the shark hunter.

The shark still looks good: Spielberg had so much trouble with his mechanical shark that he hid it, refraining from showing it through much of the movie, so he legend goes. But the shark – Bruce as he was called on the set – looks really pretty good. And the sparing use of the shark ratchets up the suspense. Really, would numerous scenes of the shark cruising along on top of the water have been as cool and suspenseful as the bobbing plastic barrels? Nope.

Robert Shaw should have starred in all the movies. Shaw, the scruffy and steely-eyed shark hunter Quint, made a series of pretty good movies but none could compete with “Jaws.” He died of a heart attack at age 51 in 1978, only three years after “Jaws” was released. How much fun would it have been to have Shaw around, making movies, for the past few decades?

Spielberg and company improved on the book: Benchley’s novel is a great summer read but the movie improves greatly on the plot and characters. The best example? Spielberg eschews the illicit affair between scientist Hooper and the police chief’s wife. What a totally false note said affair was.

It’s the very model of the modern blockbuster. Everything about the movie was duplicated and repeated, either solely or in combination, in summer hits for the next three decades. The spot-on editing (here by Verna Fields). The John Williams score. And, yes, the string of inferior sequels.

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