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Fear still abounds in ‘Jaws’

Marty Schroeder | Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The bane of beach towns everywhere, “Jaws” hit screens in 1975 and set a new paradigm for American cinema. People fled beaches in droves and packed into theaters to see this thriller from Steven Spielberg. As part of the “PAC 100”, it will invade the DPAC Saturday.

This film revolves around the small beach community of Amity Island and the new police chief, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider). After a girl is mysteriously slaughtered during a late night swim, the entire town is in a furor. The mayor, thinking of revenue derived from summer tourists, goes against the advice of the police chief and keeps the beaches open after this brutal death. After a few more incidents, Brody, the Oceanographic Institute shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and the burly, boorish captain of the Orca known only as Quint (Robert Shaw) set out to slay the beast terrorizing the island.

The acting in “Jaws” is solid, but not great. However, the three men on the boat form an easily sympathized camaraderie. In a notable scene, they share stories about their scars. The captain tells an old war story involving sharks which generates a hatred for the Great White in question. If, while beholding this film, one finds no hatred, he surely would find fear. Like many before, viewers may not be able to go to a beach ever again.

On the technical end of the film, cinematographer Bill Butler provides beautiful shots. The choice of camera angles adds an ambiance of disquiet that, although subtle, provides the proper framework through which to tell this story. A now famous retrograde zoom provides the perfect example of characterization through the camera that set the standard for this particular type of camera work.

Aside from the traditional parts of film, the special effects were like nothing that had ever been seen before. The animatronic shark, affectionately dubbed “Bruce” by the crew, effectively provided an element of terror. Although it may look dated today, “Bruce” has withstood the test of time. Provided belief is suspended on the part of the audience, this shark still creates a “beach-phobia” amongst moviegoers.

Before 1975, the summer blockbuster was not the prime focus of studio executives. Because of “Jaws” they now think of nothing else. The popularity of this film in the summer of ’75 proved that if a studio has one breakout hit, it could stay in business. Now, studios will focus on a few films they think will be hits and yield an enormous sum in profits. They could lose money on every film that they release throughout the year but as long as they have that one blockbuster, they will stay in the black. Whether you love or hate the man, Spielberg changed the industry with this classic.

This technical skill displayed in this film along with its influence on the American film industry marks this film as a standard in what American movies would become. The special effects look ahead to the seminal effects of “Star Wars” that would take the world by storm in 1977. If one likes beaches, this may not be the film for you. However, since this is merely cinema and based on no factual shark attacks, terrified enjoyment is in order for some summer fun in the theater.