Adam Schoales’s review:
I've seen Jaws before. I saw it when I was probably about eleven or twelve years old, sitting in my livingroom with my parents, on TVO's "Saturday Night at the Movies". My mother was very concerned that I would be too afraid. My dad was confident that if I could sit through Hitchcock's Psycho I'd be absolutely fine.
That was over 10 years ago. It still got me today. And what's even more impressive is that this is a film that is almost 40 years old. Forty. And it still holds up with the best modern day thrillers.
Spielberg is at the top of his game here. If Kubrick is the master of dramatic art films, Spielberg is certainly the master of the Blockbuster (and it's important to note that this was one of the original films that gave birth to the term). He is able to craft films that are not only entertaining box-office successes, but also films that are full of emotions and heart.
I wouldn't go so far as to say that Jaws is a perfect film (I find the second half on the boat to go on for just a little too long) but it is damn near close.
The writing is spectacular, and holds up even today. The dialogue never seems dated, or trite. And Spielberg masterfully executes the words on the page. The film is chock full of suspense and tension, the kind films don't have any more. Imagine this: the film has only one true "jump-scare" (a crash cut with a loud sound effect/music sting that causes the audience to literally jump out of their seats) which you certainly cannot say for any modern day horror. Most of the film is a slow burn that keeps ratcheting up the tension until finally you burst (no pun intended).
The cast also couldn't be better. Roy Scheider remains, in my humble opinion, one of the great under-rated actors of the 70s. I cannot think of a single film he's in that I do not adore, and that I do not adore him in. Richard Dreyfuss exudes charm and humour. He is young and fresh faced and from the moment he first arrives on screen he instantly becomes your favourite character. Even Robert Shaw, who plays a somewhat unlikable gruff (with one of the greatest on-screen introductions in the history of cinema) grows on you. And like him or not, his performance is spot on.
And then there's the technical side. Each element in perfect harmony to craft this expert thriller. The special effects in this film still look fantastic even by todays standards, especially when you consider that everything is done practically (on several occasions I thought to myself, "How on earth did they do that?"). Despite the initial technical flaws with Bruce the shark Spielberg's genius resulted in a far more menacing off-screen presence than any animatronic shark could hope to provide. And despite the fact that in those scenes where we do have a full view of the shark he may look a bit rubbery I cannot help but think that were the film made today the CGI shark would look no more convincing, and if anything would probably be much worse.
Of course part of the key to keeping the tension is the editing which, despite the aforementioned lengthiness of the final act, is for the most part tightly paced and keeps the tension on a constant rise. Again, even by todays standards it feels right, and certainly doesn't feel like a film that's nearly 40 years old.
And then there's the music, in what could arguably be called John William's finest work (if you consider the true purpose that music serves for a film). Were it not for his shark theme (dahhh dun...) the off-screen shark would never have the same impact that it has. Williams masterful score in tandem with Spielbergs masterful direction results in some of the most memorable sequences in the history of film.
All in all I have nothing but praise for the film. Despite the fact that it was intended as nothing more than summer blockbuster fare, this is a blockbuster with heart and soul. And when I consider all the summer blockbusters I've seen this year I can safely say, "they don't make 'em like this anymore".
The film is still playing here in Toronto on the big screen for a few more weeks. Do yourself a favour and go. Skip today's summer blockbuster fare and see something 10x better than any of them could ever hope to be.
NOTES ON THE RESTORATION: Beautiful, absolutely beautiful. I will be sure to pick up this blu-ray the day it comes out. Though I must say there were a few shots (some wide shots of the boat, and a few wider shots inside the boat as well) that looked soft, fuzzy, and out of focus. Perhaps those sections of the negative were severely damaged? Perhaps they had to use another source? Perhaps they were actually simply shot slightly out of focus by accident? I'm not really sure. Regardless, that alone isn't enough for me to not recommend this new transfer with the highest of regards. Jaws looks and sounds better than ever.