When people think of what was the film that kickstarted the summer blockbusters we've had for more than forty years, they think of Steven Spielberg's Jaws. Based on the novel of the same name by Peter Benchley (who also co-wrote the movie), the film suffered numerous production problems, mostly due to the fact that some of it was shot on water, and the shark was a pain to work with. Thankfully, the ends justify the means, because not only did the movie score with critics and audiences but it earned so much box office moolah that it became the first ever summer blockbuster, forever changing Hollywood and Spielberg's career. However, does it still hold up after so many years?
In all honesty, the story itself is kind of silly, as it centers around a giant man-eating great white shark that attacks beachgoers on Amity Island, prompting the police chief Martin Brody to hunt it with the help of a marine biologist Matt Hooper, and a professional shark hunter Quint. It doesn't help that the movie doesn't really depict sharks realistically and more like mindless killing machines that randomly attack humans out of instinct and horror. However, what elevates the story to better heights are the great dialogue, the splendid cast of characters, and the brilliant uses of thrills and music.
The dialogue feels very natural to the kind of film this is intended to be, as the conversations come off as convincing and even intimidating. While it is obvious that they should get rid of the shark due to the horrible sins it committed, you also wonder how the characters feel in regards to said events, and each character motivation is built up with splendid lines delivered with raw emotions, high determination, and even some humorous banter. I doubt "You're gonna need a bigger boat" will ever be forgotten by the public it's that suspenseful of a line.
Adding into that, the characters make this film all the more worth while. Chief Brody may be frightened, but he's also heavily concerned for the safety of the Amity Island residences, and his moments of bravery bring out the tough guy we wish to be on such a daring adventure. Hooper can be a curmudgeon, but he's highly intelligent as a marine biologist and his banter between the cocky and tough albeit hysterical Quint are simply hilarious. The mayor Larry Vaughn himself really is hard to deal with given how determined he is to keep the beaches afloat, but even he has concerns over when the shark will come next at some point. The other characters like Brody's wife Ellen and kids, Deputy Hendricks, and Chrissie Watkins fit their bill well enough to progress the plot and to keep the characters motivated. Add in splendid acting from the likes of Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gary and more, and you've got a cast of characters worth rooting for.
Lastly, the suspense and tension in the film are what make it all the more timeless. During production, they could barely get the shark to work, so Spielberg chose to have the shark appear sparingly up until the end and use props and camera motions to suggest the shark was there to heighten the thrills. This was a brilliant move on his part, as it helps put the audience at the end of their seats wondering what will become of anyone swimming, aided by an appropriately stunning score by John Williams. The very idea of something dangerous trying to eat you in the ocean is horrifying enough, and I can imagine why this movie would give people phobias of going in the water. Granted, the shark does look more fake the more you look at it, but they still succeeded in making it threatening without showing too much of it.
Steven Spielberg became a household name thanks to this movie, and it more than ever deserves its high recognition. From gripping suspense, to solid dialogue, to memorable characters and a soundtrack still remembered to this day, I think Jaws holds up today just as much as back then. It just goes to show that you can execute a silly idea into a gripping, fun and exciting thrill ride of a feature if you know how to bring it to life. So whenever you can, pick up a copy of Jaws and have a blast with it...just don't shoot a movie on water like Spielberg did.