AFI #56: Jaws

It’s pretty hard to take Jaws seriously after seeing “Bruce the Shark” at Universal Studios so many times, and nearly 40 years later Bruce does seem rather ridiculous in the film. I mean, the shark essentially hunts down the Orca and crew as if it has a personal vendetta against them, and the scenes in which the shark attempts to crash through the walls of the boat to get Chief Brody are so unrealistic it’s flat out laughable. Captain Quint is a caricature of a salty sailor and all the blood bubbling up to the ocean surface after an attack is ludicrous. The fact that the town elders wouldn’t shut the beach even after three attacks is unbelievable. The shark blowing up at the end is silly. Frankly it’s a dumb film. But I love it!

Jaws may not hold up as a horror flick after all these years, but it is fun as hell to watch. Plus there’s the golden line that turned into what the kids today call a meme — we’re gonna need a bigger boat! When the film came out in 1975 I was 9 years old and since it’s rated PG and it was such a summer smash of course my parents took me to see it. I’m 45 years old now and I still fear the ocean (thanks Spielberg). Seriously, whenever I’m in the ocean I think about sharks, even for just a brief moment. You gotta give the film credit for at least that. Plus, the music is as memorable as any score.

Jaws came out during the heyday of the big disaster film including The Towering Inferno and Earthquake, but while those films were over the top Jaws at least had some character development. In fact, what does hold up about Jaws is the great acting by Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and especially Richard Dreyfuss. All you need for proof that Dreyfuss’s Matt Hooper was a compelling character is to know that it was spoofed by Saturday Night Live (the ultimate compliment). Dreyfuss was never better than during the mid-70s. He stole American Graffiti and then followed that with the very underrated The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, then hit with Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and The Goodbye Girl for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor. Quite a run by any measure.

Unfortunately, the follow ups to Jaws were lousy attempts at cashing in on the first film. Jaws 2, Jaws 3D and Jaws: The Revenge all flamed out. I mean how many killer sharks can there be? I do question whether or not Jaws should be included in the AFI Top 100. It may not have been good film making, but it certainly had a profound effect on society in terms of striking fear in anyone who went swimming in the ocean for years to come. If you believe “impact” has a place in the “best of” ratings than I suppose Jaws belongs.

Next: North by Northwest

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