Throwback Thursday: Jaws Is Here—Time to Get Out of the Water

Throwback Thursday examines films from the past, “classic” films that might not be in the current cultural zeitgeist but can still be important, interesting, fun, or all of the above.

Summer is right around the corner and with it, I’m sure, are trips to the beaches of Minnesota. While we don’t have to worry about giant sharks attacking us, there is still a fear of the unknown that accompanies our lake swimming. A lot of that fear has to do with the impact Steven Spielberg’s 1975 film Jaws had on popular culture.

Theatrical poster of the movie Jaws

Even the theatrical poster is iconic

Even if you’ve never seen the movie, you know the musical strains of the Jaws theme. In fact, if you’ve ever been in the water with friends you’ve probably inevitably sung or hummed it under your breath. It’s a simple alternating pattern of two notes, but is so effective at building suspense and danger. Thank John Williams for that.

So much has been written about this film—essays, books, documentaries, etc.—from the problems with the mechanical shark which caused Spielberg to hide parts of it (wonderously amping up the suspense), to the start of the summer blockbuster (you can blame Jaws for Michael Bay), to the incorrect facts about sharks that so many people believe to be true. If you haven’t seen it, you should, and if you have, then you probably agree with everything positive said about the film. Seriously, stop reading right now and stream the film on your computer, then come back. All praise is justified. There’s a reason it’s a classic.

The movie is a clinic on how to build believable characters that you root for, even if they’re fallible. You can understand why Roy Scheider’s Chief Brody originally agrees to discount his own beliefs about a shark attack to protect his job and the tourism that the island desperately needs. Or Richard Dreyfuss finding a crucial piece of evidence then dropping it because he gets startled. Even the grizzled Quint (played with scenery-chewing deliciousness by Robert Shaw) who seems almost larger than life is still grounded enough to want to follow and believe he will bring the shark in.

Screenshot of Martin Brody, played by Roy Scheider, on a fishing boat

Brody has just seen something.

There are moments of casual humanity, which most modern films miss, that add so much to the mood of the film. One such scene is Brody coming home to dinner after a bad day and has a moment with his son. He and his son make faces at each other and his son cheers him up as only a kid can. Scenes like that wouldn’t be included into a film today, but it adds so much realistic color to his character. It’s a heartfelt moment that isn’t presented as the be-all and end-all moment because it’s not. It’s a moment (out of many) that just gives Brody layers, helps him keep going, and helps us relate to him. The film is peppered throughout with them, all adding up to loving the whole film much more.

Screenshot of Martin Brody talking to his son

Sharing a moment.

The ocean itself is also a character—mysterious and possibly deadly, which brings us back to the unknown. In some parts of open water you can see all the way to the bottom, but there comes a certain point in the water where you can’t see the bottom anymore, and you may never learn what is in those parts until you find out for yourself. That’s the terror the film plays on. It’s why I have friends who refuse to swim in open waters. Even if they can’t articulate it well, I’m pretty sure it’s because of the fear of that unknown. What’s lurking in that dark water? Truthfully? In Minnesota, it’s probably weeds or a random crappie. But ya never know.

Duh, duh. Duh, duh, Duh, duh.

Beachgoers running out of the water

It’s all fun and games until someone pees in the ocean.

This film can be found on both Blu-ray and DVD. It is currently available via Netflix, but streaming offerings change frequently, so keep an eye out. Feel free to discuss further in the comments below; just keep it respectful.

If you think there’s a film Throwback Thursday should cover in the future, please let me know in the comments.

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