June Butler catches Jaws – 3D on a bigger screen.

Directed by Steven Spielberg, Jaws is a 1975 thriller film about a great white shark hunting along the shoreline of Amity, which was, according to the writer of the book Peter Benchley, a (fictional) island off the coast of New York. Benchley’s aim of setting the scene in a small-town dependent on tourism, was to suggest that such an event could occur literally anywhere.   .

The animal is hinted at early on – a young woman goes swimming at night and disappears. There is a question mark over what happened to her until her savaged body is recovered. Her demise is passed off as an unlucky collision with a boat propeller but Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), a jaded New Yorker, is not so sure. He wants to cordon off the beach and close it to visitors pending further investigation. However, Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) is insistent that the area remain open for business. The first major influx of tourists is due on July fourth, and Mayor Vaughn has serious concerns about loss of revenue in an area reliant solely on tourism. 

There are two entirely different stories within this one film. The pace and style of the first tale is quick, frenetic, and chaotic. Roughly halfway through, Jaws becomes a distorted brotherhood when Chief Brody and Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), join a modern-day pirate by the name of Quint (Robert Shaw), on his boat named Orca, and attempt to hunt the predator down. Both halves have their part to play in clever scene setting. In the early stages, the actors talk over each other, and no one listens. Whether it be the voice of reason (Brody), or that of avarice (Mayor Vaughn), or of preppy-monied young Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfus nailed it), all roads lead in this case to fear. Fear of mothers for their children. Fear of penury if no tourists visit. Fear of the bogeyman shark. The hesitation between warring parties who do not want to make any kind of decision lest they find themselves on the losing side. Human life suddenly becomes frail and small when confronted by mob-rule. The only time during these early scenes where anyone really heeds what is being said, is when Quint makes his offer at the town meeting to hunt the shark down for a fee. Naturally, there would be no story if wisdom prevailed, and Quint was taken up on his suggestion. When amateur sailors and unskilled fishermen ignore the expert (Quint), by deciding to avail of the reward offered for capturing the beast, it soon becomes evident that they are no match for the creature. It is interesting nonetheless, how quickly and easily humankind will knowingly walk to their doom. Capitalism is a great factor in prompting people to take chances with their lives. 

While rapid-paced early scenes of mayhem and panic set the tone, later scenes on the Orca provide stability between the two components of the film. It is a necessary and welcome balance – without camaraderie developing between Brody/Hooper and Quint, there would be no real purpose. No process of learning from mistakes made. No union of opinion. No actualisation would occur. Hooper and Quint clash early on – understandably given Quint’s no-nonsense approach versus Hooper’s status as a trust-fund baby. Brody is the outlier – unsure of which side to take yet realises that capturing the shark will need cooperation and teamwork. The ultimate outcome of Jaws is as much about social experimentation and solidarity as it is about capturing the creature itself. Virtue and goodness combined can countermand even the most nihilistic tropes of nature.  

Robert Shaw as Quint played a key role in the outcome – he was the person everyone loved to hate yet without Quint, Jaws would have remained rudderless and devoid of a cohesive plot. Quint sutured both first and second parts of the film and allowed it to progress seamlessly. Of particular poignancy (and some fine acting), Quint’s tale of the torpedoed Indianapolis sinking, is right up there with Terry Malloy’s (Marlon Brando), (Dir: Elia Kazan, On The Waterfront, 1954), raging outburst “I coulda been a contender”. It is simply an astonishing piece of acting. 

Brody’s “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” will go down in history as the acme of underestimation. 

The 3D element of Jaws came into its own when early sightings of the shark roused hysteria and terror – all that could be seen, were vague shadows and the odd dorsal fin but combine that with special effects, and it becomes a surround of visual perfection. Seeing Point of View shots with 3D really upped the scare factor. Being able to watch it on the big screen was like celebrating the Fourth of July. Just not on Amity Island if Chief Brody happens to be working. 

Jaws – 3D is in cinemas from 2nd September 2022.


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