Thursday, 4 April 2013
Hope everyone's having a good Easter!
I watched Jaws yesterday for the first time since I was little, and not just because the scene where Brody drinks wine from a pint glass is perfect pre-NaSTA viewing. It's often regarded as a classic, but my thoughts on it this time branched off an adage Mark Kermode has been repeating - he says that Jaws is not a film about a shark.
It’s very much about a shark.
Less so in the first half. This contains the most interesting bits of the film, which, not by coincidence, are the bits where we don’t see the shark. There's so much going on, all brought to the fore by people's reactions to the shark attacks, and all upping the stakes for Police Chief Brody. We've got tensions within the community, Brody's need to protect his family, his fear of water, the mayor insisting on keeping dangerous beaches open, the social divide between Quint and Hooper. Here, the scenes of the beach being terrorised by the shark are rendered suspenseful and terrifying by the fact that we don’t actually see it – what we do see are its effects, its point of view, and what we hear is John Williams’ masterful theme. We know it's there, the characters who refuse to believe it frustrate us, and we fear for the doomed tourists.
The first half of the film really does deserve to be called a classic.
In comparison, the second half of the film, despite having some wonderfully directed action sequences, is bland – most of the interpersonal conflicts have been resolved and it’s just three men getting on quite well out at sea while fighting a shark. The social issues from earlier are subordinated to the fight between men and shark. This is where Jaws is indeed, sorry Mr. Kermode, a film about a shark, and it really isn’t as good.
I was disappointed that Brody coming to terms with his fear of water ended with the boat being flooded from shark attack – it never really felt like he was willingly conquering the fear, making that personal sacrifice. Indeed, having forgotten how the film ends, I was expecting the action to return to the beach, his family to once again be in danger, and for him to have to choose to go into the water to save them, but he never really had to make such a choice and the family seem to have been forgotten about, so his journey doesn’t really feel finished.
That’s not going to make me watch the sequels…
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