Cast: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Murray Hamilton and Lorraine Gray
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb
After forty-seven years of returning to the big screen, the original, and perhaps most iconic blockbuster takes its place amongst the cinema listings once again, with a 4K restoration which promises to bring the enigmatically large molars of its title into greater definition and grandeur than ever. Of course, this is a film remembered for its terrifying Great White more than anything else, but if time has proven one thing, it’s that the exceptional writing and compelling characters which brings this tale of man versus shark to the front of the billing time and time again.
Speaking of characters, we’ll start with the residents of the idyllic Amity Island – our primary setting for half of the film. Chief Brody is a strong, well-tanned protagonist who seems all set to lead the battle against the threat upon his precinct, save for the fact that he’s constantly too tentative to go near the water, pulling on garishly yellow life preservers, and being shown to appear un-authoritative in the face of his more senior officials. Spielberg and fellow writers Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb carve out a contradictory character who the audience find a level of relatability towards, and use this empathy to create a great leader who must overcome his fears to defeat the greatest threat he faces – himself and his towns’ pleasant residents becoming fish fodder.
The mayor of the town, Larry Vaughn, is perhaps the greatest intentional threat to Amity’s population. A shark can’t help its nature, but Vaughn actively indulges the greed of a booming tourist industry, which comes only at the small cost of potentially dozens of his local residents. Smartly dressed and self-knowingly grinning throughout most of his scenes, Spielberg frames this stereotype of a figure constantly at the edge of great bodies of water – the open ocean, local ponds or graffitied signs advertising the area – but of course, never seen delving into them. A man who knows he has a shark problem on his hands would never be the first to brace the biting depths, no matter the encouragement he gives to those around him.
Shark aficionado and resident out-of-towner Matt Hooper plays a perfect opposition to the weather-beaten, weary and wisened features of enduring local fishermen Quint, who promises to find the shark for three thousand, but catch him, and kill him, for ten. Though the pair may seem as far apart in character as man-eating shark’s mouth is from its tail, the development of the narrative allows for a determined kinship to grow between the two, as they unite alongside Chief Brody to bring the shark to damning justice.
‘Jaws’ isn’t great simply because of its characters. It’s endlessly quotable, intelligently and beautifully captured, and also features a Great White swallowing up helpless small-town locals. It’s rare that a blockbuster brings so many elements to life in such a vivid manner, and would set a benchmark for the calibre of filmmaking that would come to be delivered from Spielberg over the course of a number of decades. But if there’s one story of his that I find myself returning to over and over again, it’s a story of three troubled men, hoping to find some peace in the death of a wild animal.