Monday, 30 August 2010

Martin, it's all psychological. You yell 'barracuda', everybody says 'Huh? What?' You yell 'shark', we've got a panic on our hands...

No 5 - Jaws
Director - Steven Spielberg

I recently went to see the marvellously stupid Piranha 3D (well worth a trip to the cinema, even if you will be shafted by 3D ticket prices for a film that is barely 3D) and I thought that there was only one film that you can really watch after a pretty stupid Jaws homage.

That film is Jaws.

I think, sometimes, I overlook Spielberg and forget that he is an amazing director. He just becomes one of these names, one of the 'brand' directors and you forget that his films are massive, fabulous and really very influential. Sometimes in less than obvious ways.
You also forget just how much violence (and nudity) Spielberg seems to be able to squeeze into his films without the ratings going up - and how many genuine scares there are (Ben Gardner's boat being the big classic example). But yet there are two aspects to this film which will remain Spielberg's triumphs (even though one of them isn't really his).
Firstly the dolly zoom. Yes it had been done by many other people before, but mainly to show vertigo (distances seeming longer) - Spielberg's shot focuses on Brody and thereafter became a massively influential camera flourish.
However, Jaws' real success story comes from the most glorious piece of minimalism. John Williams' beautiful theme. A wonderful lesson in how to layer in a truly horrific level of ominous dread. And remember, that is is mostly down to that 2 note central construct. Derr Dum. It is just chilling.

So we come to the film... and despite how it may have been advertised, this is not a film about a Shark terrorising a town. There are only a couple of short scenes in which the shark attacks, and even those scenes are mostly implied. Besides the occasional fleeting shot, we don't really see the shark until 80 minutes into the film. What we have are three men on a boat together who are out to catch a shark.
The film is as much about their male bonding (mainly through scar comparison) as it is about the shark. And the team dynamic works really well - with Hooper, the Shark expert, analytical and scientific; Quint, the Shark hunter, bat shit insane; and Brody, the city cop, practical and focused but scared of the sea. AND I AM SORRY, BUT... you wouldn't become the sheriff of a small island who's primary source of income is the beach if you were terrified of the sea. It makes no sense, and Brody's excuse of 'It's only an island if you look at it from the water' is frankly weak.

So after an introduction which sets the scene for an hour and then a lot of male bonding and firing harpoons with barrels attached we stumble into the film's final 15 minutes which is where the shit goes down.
It is also where we get the wonderful crossover - for when Hooper is put into the diving cage we are graced with footage of an actual shark. You can tell. It moves so much more naturally than the rigid beast of a shark which is used for the rest of the film. However the problems with the mechanical shark are well documented and it doesn't stop the film being amazing.

It is one of the perfect examples of the pulpy monster genre. Jaws (or whatever the shark's name is) is a fabulous 'villain', because Sharks are fucking creepy looking beasts.

1 comment:

doug said...

You're right; it's not much of a movie without the boat scenes. My favorite part is Quint's monologue about the USS Indianapolis. The incident was such a black mark on the Navy that it was very little known for a long time afterwards. (The ship had delivered the first A-bomb to its departure point and was headed toward the Phillipines when it was torpedoed and sunk in shark-infested waters; no search was begun until after it was late for its destination). Given his background, Quint looks not so much insane but more like he just doesn't give a shit- he's living on borrowed time, anyway...