11/25/08

R076 Jaws

(1975, Horror/Adventure, color)

Riffers:

Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett and Kevin Murphy

Why does our species have to be so delicious?

Rating: ***

In a Nutshell:


Three men head out to sea to hunt a killer shark.

Summary:

Mechanical shark not to scale.A drunken young man follows a libertine young woman from a beach party to the surf. While she strips naked and plunges in, he falls down drunk at the shoreline. A shark eats her.

The young man wakes the next morning and gets Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) to help him look for her. They find crab-covered leftovers of her washed up on the beach. The coroner labels it as a shark attack at first, but city officials step in and get him to change the cause of death to “boat accident” before Brody can close the beaches. It’s a summer town, you see. Closed beaches mean no tourists, and no tourists mean no income for the locals.

Of course it really is a shark, which catches and eats a local boy the next day. The boy’s bereaved mother offers a three thousand dollar reward for the shark, which draws would-be shark hunters from miles around. In the midst of the shark-hunting chaos, a shark expert from the Oceanographic Institute arrives to offer his expertise. This is Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss). He examines the young lady’s remains and re-labels it as a shark attack. The autopsy is interrupted by the news that the shark has been caught and killed.

These three are a boat accident waiting to happen.Down at the dock, Hooper measures the shark’s jaw and determines that it isn’t big enough to be the same shark that ate the young woman. His request to cut open the shark goes unheeded, as the mayor is desperate to label the shark incident resolved and salvage the tourist season. Brody takes Hooper back later that night; they cut the shark open to find no people (or pieces thereof) inside. Looking for the shark out in a boat at night, they come across yet a third victim with a huge bite-shaped hole in the side of his fishing boat. Hooper finds and loses a massive shark tooth.

Without the telltale tooth, the mayor refuses to believe them, forcing the beaches to reopen on the Fourth of July. People tentatively dip into the water. A fin appears and everyone runs, but it’s just a pair of kids with scuba equipment and a cardboard fin. While everyone’s sighing with relief, the real shark swims up the shallows of the estuary and eats a man in a rowboat.

With the mayor finally convinced, Brody hires a colorful seaman named Quint (Robert Shaw) to take him and Hooper out shark hunting. Hooper and Quint spend a lot of time playing pointless games of one-upmanship while the rest of the film chronicles their encounters, brushes, near misses and final showdown with the enormous shark. The shark ends up sinking the boat and eating Quint before Brody can feed it one of Hooper’s explosive oxygen tanks. Brody detonates the tank—along with the shark’s head—with a well-placed rifle shot. Hooper and Brody make a small raft out of barrels and start paddling back to shore.

Thoughts:

They're going to need a bigger boat.I listed this movie’s genre as a mixture of horror and adventure, but Jaws is actually two separate films: one horror and one adventure. Thankfully, they’re both good. The horror half is suitably frightening and the adventure half is suitably exciting, so the disparity in tone doesn’t matter that much. Each film even has its own separate mascot, in the form of an over-the-top supporting character. The horror scenes have the gaudily dressed Murray Hamilton (whose enormous credit inspires the comment, “King of all names!”) as Mayor Vaughn, whose dogged and insistent denial of his community’s shark problem stretches the early film’s credibility.

The adventure scenes stretch credibility even more with the unbelievably salty seadog Quint, who dresses like a homeless person and talks like a cartoon pirate. He’s got a loner/survivalist thing going on that makes him break the radio when they very much need it to call for help, and he deliberately destroys his own boat’s engines while pursuing their quarry. I’m not clear on his reasoning, here. Does he want to get them all killed? Sure doesn’t look like it when the shark chomps him down at the end. Maybe he knows he’s in an adventure movie and that a day-saving deus ex machina is more or less inevitable. That being the case, you’d think he’d know that the deus ex machina doesn’t usually kick in until they’ve killed off the most unlikeable character. Maybe he’s under the delusion that he’s more likable than Hooper.

The commentary starts off with Mike, Bill and Kevin discussing whether or not the shark’s attacks can be considered personal. (They conclude that the attacks are not specified as personal until Jaws 4, and thus all attacks in prior films are not.) As the opening scenes introduce our sleepy island hamlet, Bill comments, “Putting ‘Amity’ in your town’s name is like putting out a personal ad for more evil.” When the shark appears to start the final confrontation, Mike says, “I’m here on behalf of sharks everywhere to complain about Jabberjaw!” while Kevin speculates that “this is all leading up to the climactic scene where they get Jaws up on water skis and jump him over Fonzie.” The commentary is funny enough—about average for Mike and company—but certain films are too absorbing for something average, and Jaws seems to fall into that category. My attention sometimes wavered between the comments and the action, but I had a good time both places, so it’s definitely worth seeing.

Oh, and stick around at the end to hear Kevin (with backup vocals by Virginia Corbett) croon a shark-flavored love ballad that lasts until well after the closing credits have finished.