Jaws (1975) – Review by Andrea Carnevali

Jaws ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

When a killer shark unleashes chaos on a beach community off Cape Cod, it’s up to a local sheriff, a marine biologist, and an old seafarer to hunt the beast down. Chiswick Cinema is screening Jaws on Tuesday 11 June for the Film Club at 8pm, with Q&A afterwards, and they are showing it again at 5pm on Sunday 16 June.

Five decades after its release in 1975, Jaws is still the benchmark not just for monster movies, horror, blockbusters, but cinema and film-making itself.

It is well documented that this is the film that, for better or worse, created the idea of a ‘blockbuster’ and changed the face of modern cinema forever. Never before had a film been so hyped up, so publicised, so talked about than Jaws was in 1975.

It was impossible not to be aware of the film. Ironically, even the tales of the disastrous production, with a budget spiralling out of control, shooting days growing out of proportion, a shark that never worked and a boat crew that sunk into the ocean all helped keep the film alive in the media and the public consciousness (something similar would happen more than two decades later for Titanic).

When it finally opened (in around 450 theatres simultaneously, something unheard of at the time), stories of long queues going around several blocks became part of the story too. And as the reviews, unanimously positive, started to pour in, the numbers at the box office hit the jackpot and eventually propelled the film into the number one spot in film history.

So many other films have tried to repeat the same formula and, as history proved, so many have failed. And yet on the surface Jaws looks so simple: a ferocious shark terrorizes the beaches of your average sea town in America and the new sheriff in town sets out to kill him.

The truth is that there is so much more than that.

The film takes its time in crafting well-rounded characters and depicting a lived-in town, all of which adds extra depth, layers and a surprising feeling of realism to the horror unfolding, turning Jaws into a psychological thriller, beyond the simple monster trope and making the audience emotionally connect with the characters within the story.

The shark might be up there on the poster and possibly what everyone remembers about the film, but when you break down it, there is actually very little of the big fish (and not just because the shark wasn’t working).

This is not so much a plot-driven film but more of a character driven one: it’s more about Chief Brody conquering his fears, than it is about a shark eating people…  which is probably why the film still holds up so well.

And around all that, you’ve also got the allegories about failed politics and institutions and the infinite details of family life, which brings it all to life even more.

At the same time, Spielberg’s skill in building suspense and tension, through clever storytelling and cinematic techniques (some more subtle than others) is a marvel to behold.

There isn’t a single minute in this film that isn’t worth studying, if you are a film-maker, a film student… or a simple film fan: the blocking of the actors and those long takes which help us to get closer to the characters and their emotions.

The use of large screen, with the camera always at sea level to keep us always close to (the unseen) danger.

The perfectly crafted frame, in which not a single inch is wasted, with dozens of details spread across the screen, left, right, in the foreground and at the back. And yet we never miss any of them.

Through to the use of colours and camera movements, Spielberg always lets us know where we are or what we should focus on.

Even in the midst of mayhem and action, out in the open ocean (the decision to film at sea might have been what drove the budget to crazy figures, but it really pays off) we always know what’s going on and we are never confused.

Courtesy, of course, of the Oscar-winning spectacular cutting. Editor Verna Fields’s control of the pacing of the film is perfect: she knows exactly when to cut slow, when to pause and when to be fast and inject more energy: the cutting around the quiet before the horror and the jump scares is perfectly judged and the action at sea never a single frame out of tune.

And then, we have those underwater point of view shots (many of them, contrary to legends were actually planned ahead of the shark not working on location), accompanied by the now famous score by John Williams, building and building on two simple notes, which would become some of the most iconic two-notes ever heard. So simple, so raw, so tribal and yet so effective.

I’ll be showing this film on Tuesday 11 June at the Chiswick Cinema and I might have to restrain myself before my passion for this film goes to my head, but the pure perfection of craft of Jaws makes me more excited than ever.

This is certainly one the best films of the last five decades and one of the most rewatchable.

I hope as many of you can join the fun.

Book tickets for Andrea’s film club screening: chiswickcinema.co.uk

Andrea Carnevali is a Bafta winning film maker who lives in Chiswick, and a co-creator of the Chiswick In Film festival.

See all Andrea’s film reviews here: Film reviews by Andrea Carnevali

Chiswick In Film festival: Chiswick In Film festival 2023

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

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