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October 23, 2020

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Icon movie review: Here's another scary October flashback

Jaws works so well precisely because of what it doesn’t do: show you the shark

As I considered what to review next, I asked myself the question “what’s a horror movie the family can watch together?”

Turns out, horror doesn’t lend itself to producing those sorts of movies! But in the summer of 1975, a horror/thriller was released that you may have heard of: Jaws.

Jaws is the 7th highest-grossing movie of all-time in the United States when adjusted for inflation. It is the major breakthrough for Steven Spielberg, who continues to be a prominent figure in Hollywood 45 years later, and is the main reason lots of little ones (and I) are still skittish about going in the water. 

Martin Brody is the police chief of Amity Island in Cape Cod, Mass. Formerly the police chief in Martha’s Vineyard, Brody relocates and assumes the top gig at a small shore town dependent on summer tourism to keep them afloat for winter. The week before the big Independence Day celebration, a swimmer goes missing and her remains are later found washed on the shore. The cause? Shark attack.

Brody calls to close the beaches, but Mayor Vaughn, understanding the economic hit Amity will take from such a measure, pushes back. Instead, he organizes a public show out of hunting down the shark immediately. Every Bob, Bill, and Joe with a dinghy and harpoon set sail to catch and kill the shark. They kill a shark, but is it the right one? 

This happens about 45 minutes into the movie, so you can probably guess. Only one man feels confident enough to take down the shark (Captain Quint), and though he’d rather work alone he agrees to take Chief Brody and an oceanographer named Matt Hooper along for the hunt. 

Jaws works so well precisely because of what it doesn’t do: show you the shark. The infamous film-shoot was difficult and went over budget largely because the mechanical shark kept malfunctioning. This forced Spielberg to pivot and use heavy misdirection to imply the presence of the shark: rather than seeing a swimmer bit by a shark, you simply see the shark approach the swimmer and they get dragged under. And when you do see the shark, it’s only in passing or just a small piece of it, enough to imply its size and ferocity but never enough to fully take it in. 

Your mind fills in the blanks, and your mind can scare you a lot better than an engineer can!

Jaws is a perfect film because of the horror, but my favorite parts to revisit are the smaller moments. Brody quietly eating dinner with Hooper and his wife; Brody arguing with the Mayor to close the beaches; and the film’s best scene: Quint recounting his experience on the USS Indianapolis. 

Jaws takes on new resonance in an era where the debates that the characters have (balancing protecting lives with the economic cost of closing the beach) are playing out daily in the COVID-19 news cycle. That makes the film eerily relevant to 2020, but the ride is a lot more fun than the one we’re experiencing now.

Rating: 5/5

-Reviewed by Wilson

Rated PG (would likely be PG-13 in 2020)

Interested in watching this movie tonight? Here’s how:

 Open the HBO Max streaming platform on your streaming service provider (Such as Smart TV, Roku, computer)

 Search for JAWS in the search bar. Select the video.

 Click “Play”

• Open the Amazon streaming platform on your streaming service provider (such as Smart TV, Roku, computer)
• Search for JAWS in the search bar. Select the video.
• Click “Rent Movie” in HD for $3.99

Meet our movie reviewer
“Wilson” is an alias for this reviewer, taken from Wilson the volleyball in CAST AWAY (2000). Wilson has been an avid movie watcher for more than a decade, with hundreds of movies viewed in that time ranging from classics of American cinema to international and independent features. Wilson’s writing is inspired by the film criticism of Roger Ebert.