Director: Steven Spielberg
Runtime: 124 minutes
Cast: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, et al…
Plot (taken from IMDb: When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and a grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.
Jaws opens with a couple of teens swimming at night, full of love, excitement and just a little bit of alcohol. It’s a beautifully haunting opening scene, with mesmerising cinematography backed up with a brilliantly realised score that builds tension. The shark attack is brutal, but intercepted with images of the man who didn’t end up in the sea lying on the shore front – he has no idea what’s going on.
The opening scene is one of the most effective in all of film history – it lets us know exactly what this film is about – shark attacks, without actually showing us the shark. This kind of opening shot has since become standard in horror filmmaking, and this is true of Jaws on most levels.
Some may find Jaws predictable and clichéd, but this is for good reason – Jaws created a lot of the tropes and clichés seen in horrors and thrillers since. I certainly didn’t find Jaws predictable or clichéd – I found it awe-inspiring, up to a point. Indeed, Jaws is impeccably designed and a joy to watch with famous-for-a-reason cinematography and sound – including the incredible soundtrack.
Jaws effortlessly builds tension by slowly ramping up the stakes in each gruesome incident shark attack, while the plot unwinds and lets us know more and more how the shark attacks are a huge problem. Even the characters are great fun, each with their own part to play in the plot; Spielberg really knows how to get the best out of his actors.
Despite all of this glowing praise, at times I wasn’t totally enamoured by the film. The final act in particular drags on – dampening the overall impact to some extent. Up to that point, the atmosphere is on a knife-edge, but once it slows down, the tension holds up. If some of the final act was left out of the film Jaws would be perfect.
Jaws is a stupendous thriller that started the shark movie trend that is still ongoing. Thanks to its age and status, some may find it clichéd, but it did start all the clichés. It’s an effortlessly beautiful movie that is a downright horror classic. One of Spielberg’s best.