Picture this, a quiet night with a young lady you met on the beach. A bonfire, a friend playing guitar and butchering songs you love, a few adult beverages to be had, it’s 1975, the #metoo movement hasn’t been created, so it’s okay to hit on the girl, and she decides it is an excellent time to go for a swim. Your raging hormones, the six Falstaff’s of courage, and maybe a little weed, make you immediately agree. She takes off, you stumble after her, as you race to the beach. Unfortunately, or maybe fortunately for you, you’re a pussy lightweight, so while stripping out of your bell-bottoms, you stumble, and pass out on the beach, and the nubile young lady jumps into the waves, and swims out past the breakers with Everclear.
Okay, I made up the part about Everclear, but the rest was the beginning of the greatest horror movie of all time, Jaws. And believe you me, when she got attacked, the town of Amity noticed. Because it’s mid June, the summer season is about to start, and if there’s a shark patrolling the waters eating people, it’s going to put a crimp in their plans.
Chief Brody is the voice of reason, and wants to shut down some beaches until they know its safe. Mayor Vaughn needs a big payday. The movie doesn’t explain why, but the book explains how the Mayor is in deep with the mob and some real estate dealings, and if people aren’t renting houses for the summer, he’s going to wish he was swimming in the ocean.
So against better judgment, they keep the beaches open, and a little kid and his raft get snacked on. At this point, the book and the movie go in different directions for a bit, though they do end up at the same place. What we have here though is a solid base for the greatest horror movie of all time. The only real difference, the antagonist isn’t a supernatural human/demon/alien, but is a cold blooded killer, with a prehistoric brain, that is wired to eat, procreate, and swim.
Great Whites are one of the oldest creatures on the earth. They are God’s perfect killing machine. Dead eyes, can smell blood from a mile away, can swim up to 50 mph’s, and have an ocean to hide in. The only positive there is, if you have to hunt one, is that its hunger overrides everything, and if you get a 25 footer like you do in the movie, it’s going to have to eat a LOT.
The largest Great White is said to be 37 feet long. This was in the 1930’s, so the measurements are suspect. I’m not saying there wasn’t one that big, but modern records are closer to 30 feet, so there might have been some chicanery there. Regardless, 7 feet of killing machine really doesn’t matter. The thought of being on a medium sized boat, and a 30 foot eating machine being in the area is absolutely terrifying, at least to me.
So back to the movie, this is where the drama starts. As a caring human being, you can’t possibly expect them to keep a beach open, which is the stance Chief Brody takes. He has a wife and two kids, he’s a humanitarian.
On the other hand, the whole town survives each year from gearing up for a few months of the summer crowd. Most the businesses and people make their living off of a few months of tourism, and Chief Brody, and elected official, is trying to take that away from them, by closing the beaches.
Matt Hooper is brought in, and expert, and really is on the fence. He agrees that the odds of the shark sticking around and keep feeding is pretty slim, but he also explains the nature of the beast so to speak. So not only is he making an argument that is different from Brody’s, there is an added tension not in the movie, but in the book, that has to do with Brody’s wife. She dated his brother years ago, and is now going through a life dilemma, and in the book it involves him, and in the movie, it’s pretty much ignored.
Then there is Quint. Robert Shaw plays the old fisherman, who is rough around the edges, and that is putting it lightly. In fact, the movie actually makes Quint a bit more likable than the book does. In the book, he is an all or nothing guy, who’s not afraid to ignore laws to get results, and holds up the town for, at the time, a huge amount of cash.
In the movie, he’s a hardened man, great fisherman, and alcoholic. The scene that he talks about the USS Indianapolis is a classic, and many movies have paid homage to it, hilariously by Kevin Smith in “Chasing Amy”
I am guessing most of you have seen the movie, because it is played ad nauseam on television. There are countless references to it on many entertainment platforms. Every time I hear “I think we need a bigger boat”, I think of Jaws. It is one of the few movies I can overlook the inaccuracies, and still enjoy it immensely.
That is why it is the perfect horror movie. I know, it isn’t generally considered that, but bear with me.
The antagonist is rarely on the screen until the very end. Luckily for Spielberg, mechanical issues with his shark made him have to rethink how he was portraying the story. Since he had no shark, he had to present it to people so their mind did the work, and it did that flawlessly. You saw flashes here and there, but until the end, you really only have tension, and attacks that were cleverly filmed, but didn’t reveal the Great White.
You had tension between characters. Brody didn’t like Hooper. Mrs. Brody was going through a life crisis. Brody is the bad guy because he’s taking their living away. The Mayor is a bad guy because he’s putting people’s lives at risk, but the townsfolk were sort of fine with that, because their lives depended on it. Nobody liked the shark, and everybody felt dirty making a deal with Quint, though they respected his ability.
That is a lot going on, made for a tension filled plot, and by the time they got on Quint’s boat (Hooper and Brody), it was almost a relief to get on the sea, where you didn’t have to deal with most of the other bullshit.
And the ending wasn’t anticlimactic. It was amazing, and kept 2/3’s true to the book. And to be honest, the 1/3 was geared towards a sequel that didn’t pan out, and instead you got the semi watchable sequel, not like 3D and 4, which were pure garbage. This ending was amazing. I never get tired of seeing it, and though I have seen the ending probably 50 times, I am on the edge of my seat, and never get tired of it. It’s a 2 hour 4 minute movie that seems like a half hour has went by.
But it is the best horror movie ever for a simple reason. It can happen. It has happened. Between 1956 and 2016, there were 2785 reported shark attacks, 439 of them fatal. The White Tip was the shark that more than likely dined on the Indianapolis, with the Bull, Tiger, and Great White responsible for many of the closer to shore attacks.
I love the ocean. I love looking at documentaries about all the creatures that live in it. I am envious of the divers who go in it, and discover the world first hand. My hat is off to the surfers who ride waves, the people who sail it, and the divers who swim it.
I’m terrified of it. One of my life goals is to go deep sea fishing, but there is a big part of me that is pretty sure it isn’t going to happen. I remember the Orca. I saw Quint die. Logical Jay knows the odds of me getting eaten by a shark while on a boat is astronomical. Logical Jay knows that me swimming in the ocean, that at worst I have a 1:16000 chance of being attacked, which for all the scratch offs I have had losers on, tells me it isn’t going to happen…but the thought is there.
I’m not afraid to walk in cemeteries after dark. I’m not afraid of old houses. I’m pretty sure aliens exist, but if they were going to attack us, we’d die instantly so it won’t matter. People don’t come back as zombies, you get bit by a wolf, you get rabies if you live, vampires don’t exist (though creepy people do drink blood), mummies don’t come to life after 2000 years, and as much as I would like to find a Gill Man, we aren’t…sigh.
Sharks exist. Towns like Amity exist. People like the mayor exist. Oceanographers like Hooper exist. This can happen.
I’m glad I’m in Illinois, because the biggest Muskie on record is still 10” smaller than me, and 133 pounds less. I’ll take my chances swimming in a lake.