Look, you've seen Jaws. We know you've seen Jaws. If you haven't, then you should have. Go watch it now. Jaws is a 1975 horror movie about an enormous great white shark terrorizing a northeastern ocean town. It freakin' rules. Check out the trailer below, and then read our review. We'd warn you about spoilers, but we already told you to watch the whole movie, so . . . whoops.
Jake: Any horror fan can trace their love of the genre back to an influential film or figure in their lives. For me, those things converge with Jaws. I can pretty confidently say that I like horror movies because my mom likes horror movies. If you were to ask her what her favorite movie of all time is, she would very likely answer “Jaws” (it’s either that or “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”). So this review goes out to you, mom… you Spielberg maniac, you.
Jack: You dedicating this review to your mom makes me uncomfortable given our liberal use of the term “motherfucker.” Oh well, I'll just have to heroically press on like I always do. Jaws is the 1975 classic horror movie about a giant motherfucking (see, Jake?) shark terrorizing a fictional town that's pretty much just Martha’s Vineyard.
Jake: It is Martha’s Vineyard, they just call it Amity Island for what I assume are budgetary reasons. Same goddamn place, though. Anyway, the movie wastes almost no time before getting into it. In the first of its many iconic scenes, some drunk-ass teens go for a swim at the beach. The girl is successful in making it to the water. She frolics down to the shore, tits bouncing all over the place, and hops in the drink. The dude is not as successful. He’s apparently the most hammered anyone has ever been because he stumbles down to the seashore and falls over while trying to disrobe. He then proceeds to pass right the fuck out on the beach and is deaf to the girls calls as she is almost immediately flung around like a damn fur seal by some unknown (yet known because of the title) evil of the abyss.
Jack: It's also really jarring how little blood there is with her being dragged around all over the place. This next point might just show the way sensibilities have changed over the decades, but it's also quite strange how un-ambiguous the shark attack is. The mayor is trying to convince Roy Scheider, who plays the chief of police, Martin Brody, that it wasn’t a shark attack but was a propeller attack or something so they don’t have to close the beaches for summer tourist dollars.
Jake: Yep. You see, the whole thing is allegorical. Capitalism is the real monster… Scheider is great, though. His back and forth with the ridiculously over-the-top mayor in his anchor print blazers is a pretty great juxtaposition with the severity of a shark attacking people in the water. Brody is simultaneously dealing with the most mundane complaints and small town problems, and finding disembodied hands on the beach. In some respects, it doesn’t really help with the pacing, but I kind of enjoy that it’s there.
Jack: Now I have a lot to say about this mayor. First, and this is the most egregious thing, that mayor is decidedly not played by Brian Doyle Murray. What the fuck? Why would you ever make that casting decision? It’s tremendously incorrect. In any case, this segment does firmly establish Brody as the hero as he’s valiantly trying to close the beaches because sharks. For some reason, not-Brian-Doyle-Murray stands in staunch opposition to closing the beaches. Look, I get it if you want tourists to come, but this guy seems to actively want people in the water, like not just using the hotels, but actively in the water. It’s bizarre.
Jake: And that takes us to the inevitable next shark attack(s). Everyone’s down at the beach with their stupid-ass Macintosh wheel-of-death print umbrellas and suckin’ back on some Del’s Lemonade because New England, and you know something’s going to go down. First, we are treated to the obligatory dog death, which checks-in at 17:38 of the film. It’s actually pretty effective because it’s used as a tension builder. You don’t see anything on screen, you just see the stick the dog was fetching floating around and you know he got eaten. It was the most effective tension builder since the story of The Beast. Only difference is Brody doesn’t have the mustache game of Squigman Paladoris. And that it was the opposite of the beast because the dog got eaten in this scenario. Fuck you.
Jake: At this point in the film we begin to get some action on behalf of the townsfolk, as they finally decide they probably need to address this shark business given the body count… Wait. You aren’t going to argue this is a slasher, are you Jack?
Jack: Alright guy. Calm your business right down. First off, The Strangers is a slasher. I grow more and more convinced of it with the waxing moon. Second off, no, I do not think that Jaws is a slasher. Although the first girl to get killed is a young attractive lady engaged in some morally questionable beach stripping. Alright Jake, you sold me. Jaws is a slasher.
Jake: Nope, not getting into that. We’re introduced in proper to the amazing character of Cap’n Quint (played by Robert Shaw) through one of the single most recognizable character introduction scenes in film. He gives the town the option of utilizing his unique set of skills to catch the shark, but wants $10,000 for the job. The mayor is displeased and refuses to let Brody hire him.
Jake: And more importantly, we begin to see their amazing chemistry on screen.They are so good together. A lot of this is credit to the writing, but god damn they both knocked their roles out of the park. Brody is a good character as well, and that I feel he gets overshadowed is testament to how strong this movie’s game is.
Jack: That’s a really good point, because it’s not like Scheider does a bad job by any means, but hot damn Quint and Hooper are captivating. The way Quint starts raggin’ on Hooper right from the get go is so good. Quint, a clear alcoholic, has a ramshackle shed by the sea in which he lives. Brody and Hooper go there to convince Quint to lead their hunt for the “porker” (as Quint apparently refers to great whites for some unexplained reason). Right off the bat, Quint is essentially calling Hooper a lilly-livered college-boy who won’t be able to keep up on the boat.
Jake: He could have used those exact words and it wouldn’t have felt off by any means. In the meantime, a bunch of drunk-ass New Englanders, as one would expect, mobilize and head out to catch the shark. One of the groups actually comes back with an impressive catch. They got a 10 foot tiger shark, which is really rare for the area and is one of the most aggressive shark types out there. Everyone celebrates the catch and douche blazer mayor guy deems the beaches as open for business.
Jack: But Hooper knows what’s going on. He knows that the bitch-ass tiger shark didn’t eat those people. He goes over to Brody’s house for dinner, and he and Brody promptly get real drunk. Proper drunk. Brody is pouring himself full pint glasses of wine, and the two of them decide to investigate whether the tiger shark is actually the predator, and sneak into the shark-morgue and cut it open. There’s no kids in there, so . . . whoops. They then go out onto Hooper’s big-ass boat. Oh also Hooper is like super-rich. They come upon an abandoned skiff that Brody recognizes as old-man-whoever’s boat, and Hooper goes down to investigate it. Hooper finds an enormous great white shark’s tooth embedded in the hull of the boat. Then we get the first real jump scare of the movie as old-man-whoever’s corpse floats silently out of the boat. Actually, it’s really the only real jump scare of the movie.
Jake: Yeah that part was interesting. It’s the only jumpscare that felt like what we now think of as a jumpscare. And I didn’t particularly like it. The flourish of strings when the corpse is seen is a bit out of place in this film for some reason.
Jack: Yeah, and they don’t really do it again for the whole movie. There are other surprising things that happen, but they’re much more subtle and are not accompanied by the musical stings. In any case, they now have enough proof for themselves to believe the tiger shark was not to blame, but that butterfingers Hooper dropped the shark’s tooth during the jump scare, so they’ve got no proof for the mayor, who still refuses to close the beaches.
Jake: Flash forward to the 4th of July and Mayor Vaughn is back to his old tricks. He’s actually pretty aggressive about how much he not only wants people to be at the beach, but to swim like Jack mentioned earlier. To drive his point home he accosts an old man for sunbathing instead of getting in the water. He’s all business, this guy, and he will have people in the goddamned water on the 4th of July because freedom, godammit.
Jack: Soon enough, loads of people are in the water. There’s all sorts of generic beach-merriment. But then twist! We see a shark. And then second twist! It was a bunch of dickhead kids pulling a prank with a cardboard fin or something. Hilarious. The scene where the kids get pulled out of the water by a bunch of coast guard ships with harpoon guns and rifles is actually pretty funny, but you then immediately realize that the shark is still out there doing #justsharkthings.
Jake: The real shark does #justsharkthings by entering the estuary near the beach for some reason, presumably because aside from being a godless killing machine it is also chicanerous. I’m actually pretty impressed by how able this thing is to enter the extreme shallows given that the shark is the size of Manhattan.
Jack: The thing is, Brody’s son and his friends are also out in the estuary playing on their sailboat because Brody Thought it would be safer than swimming with the rest of the tourist hoards. on.Wah wah. Irony is a bitch, ain’t it Brody?
Jake: We first get a good glimpse of the shark in this scene as it is filmed from above as it glides below the surface and takes down a guy after it capsizes his dinghy... There is an art to the reveal of a monster in a creature-feature, and this movie is the example of how to handle it appropriately. At first we only get clues through the attacks. Then we see its tooth. Then we see the wake created by its dorsal fin. Then we see its head and my god is it effective.
Jack: Now fully convinced of the great-white-ness of the shark, the mayor finally authorizes Brody to contract with Quint to go out and kill the damned thing. Brody, Quint, and Hooper all start to board Quint’s boat, the Orca. We’re again treated to Quint being a top-notch dick. He treats us to what might be my favorite line of the movie. He looks at the shark cage that Hooper is bringing, looks at Hooper, and says “Cage goes in the water, you go in the water, shark goes in the water. Our shark.”
Jake: Well first off buddy, they could've used you there. You and your goddamned scuba prowess as demonstrated by the video below. Once we get out on the ocean, the real movie starts. That may sound like a slight, but it’s not intended as one. If the first ⅔ of the movie stood alone, I still think this would have been a popular and highly regarded film, but the bread and butter of Jaws is the final bit as we remove all the chaff and follow Quint, Hooper and Brody on their voyage to kill the shark.
Jack: Well not to brag, but I did take swim classes down at the YMCA when I was a kid . . . But set right off they do. Hooper is steering the boat, Quint is manning the fishing pole, and Brody is chumming the water with a ladle or something. My favorite scene of the movie happens around this point. Quint is giving Hooper shit as usual, and while staring him in the eye, he opens and just fucking crushes a Narragansett. He then crushes the can in his hand. Not one to be upstaged, Hooper finishes the paper dixie cup of water he’s drinking, and crushes that in his hand. It’s so good. Quint is the hardened badass, but it shows Hooper is self-aware and pointing out that it really actually doesn’t mean that much. And then Brody sees it. This is sort of a jump scare too, but unlike the last one, there’s no musical stinger, no nothing. Brody just backs quietly up and tells Quint that they’re “gonna need a bigger boat.” How much more can you say about that classic of a line?
Jake: Yeah, and if they grow ‘em to 25 feet out there in the ocean, then I have no problem believing the ocean trench theory of the Cloverfield monster’s origin. The ocean is a scary place, my friend. Somehow it doesn’t deter our heroes, as they promptly get to harpooning a motherfucker.
Jack: They manage to work together to get a barrel on a harpoon lodged in the porker’s head. Quint says that’ll tire it out as it can’t keep fighting to keep the barrell underwater, but the shark seems to have no problem diving and staying down. Our heroes retire to the cabin where they proceed to get drunk and swap scar stories (as would all responsible adults).
Jake: This scene is my favorite. There is something so fitting and effective about the drunken one-upmanship in comparing scar stories on the ocean. I find the setting benefits from it as well. It’s not until nightfall when the guys retire to the cabin and sit around that the sheer sense of scale comes through for me. They are out there, completely alone on a small boat in the middle of the ocean. And they know there is a shark that is at least as long as their vessel and with an appetite for man out there close to them in the inky abyss. No thanks.
Jack: I can fault you for many things Jake, but this being your favorite scene is not one of them. By this point, I’d really come around on Hooper too. He went from some science ninny to a self-aware badass who can handle shit out on the boat.
Jake: Definitely. I think my favorite part about their interacting is how it escalates so quickly. They go from making fun of each other's stories in a light-hearted conversation to Quint going into a long monologue of a bone chilling tale. He explains that in his Navy days he was on a vessel that delivers the Hiroshima bomb to where it was loaded on a plane. They were then shipwrecked in shark infested waters and were stranded in the ocean for several days as 700+ (by my math) of his shipmates were picked off. 700. Fuck that. Then, as he finishes up his story, the ship is attacked.
Jack: It’s still dark as the ship gets attacked, so we get a really intense scene of the men scrambling to do whatever they can to mitigate the damage. It’s frenetic and they somehow make it long enough to see another day and try their hand at taking the shark down again.
Jake: And boy do they try. As the afternoon wanes, they get another shot at loading the shark down with more barrels (like 5 of em), and Quint pumps several more harpoons into the thing in a chaotic scene as he hangs off the end of the ship’s pulpit. This is probably my favorite sequence of cinematography in a film that is loaded to the gills with good shots. The shot at the end of the sequence as Quint rests on the end of the pulpit at dusk is brilliant.
Jack: We didn’t really get into it, but at this point the ship has been immobilized and they attempt to limp back to the shore at a snail’s pace. What? It’s not like we promised this would be some sort of comprehensive guide to horror, maybe organized alphabetically or something. . . oh shit. In any case, it’s time for the hail mary approach. Hooper gets in the cage in the water with their shark also in the water, and tries to stick the shark with some kind of sea-spear full of strychnine. As Quint alluded to earlier, this does not work. The shark smashes the cage almost instantly. Hooper does manage to escape by going down to the seabed with his scuba gear. The shark turns back to the boat.
Jake: With the ship totally broken from that fat fuck of a shark flinging itself onboard, it begins to sink and Quint is caught on the slippery deck. He falls over and slides right on into the mouth of the great white. And it rips him to shreds. It’s actually pretty violent. Especially for a movie from the 70’s. Now alone, Brody is forced to climb up the masts to buy himself time before he’s swimming, making him a sitting duck. In a bit of ingenuity he finds an extra scuba tank in the wreckage. He manages to fling it into the shark’s mouth as it makes a pass at him, and follows up by shooting the tank at the last possible moment before the ship is totally submerged.
Jack: It’s so fucking cool. Although it should be noted that it’s also complete bullshit. Compressed air does not explode like that when shot. The Mythbusters did it and everything. But who cares, because it’s awesome. Hooper surfaces, and both he and Brody grab on to some wreckage to start swimming back to shore. Brody says “You know, I used to hate the water . . .” And Hooper responds “I can’t imagine why.” Then it cuts to black as the two slowly make their way back to shore. Great ending.
Jake: Yeah, it was awesome in its lack of unnecessary exposition. Only improvement could have been a kick-ass song to finish it.
For 1, think of how you would rate Kobayashi’s career as of the 2010 Nathan’s Famous Hot Dog Eating Contest
For 10, think of how Steve Irwin would rate his excitement level to be around sharks:
Jack: 8 - Maybe this would be a little lower if I had seen it in the era, but I kind of doubt it. It’s so simple and good. Doesn’t do too much. There’s a shark. It’s a big shark. An epic battle ensues. What more could you want?
Jake: 9 - For pretty much the same reasons as Jack. I’m not sure what I would give a 10 for this category, but this is damn close for me. The story is very simple yet timeless and it’s extremely layered/the characters are very well realized.
WORLD-BUILDING / IMMERSION:
Jack: 4 - The mayor not being Brian Doyle Murray really takes me out. Super not believable. But in seriousness there’s a lot of overacting and crazy stuff happening before the shark really starts attacking. That stuff pulls me out.
Jake: 6 - The immersion factor once they are on the Orca is super high, but most of the movie is not on the Orca, and there are a few small pacing/character issues during that majority of the movie. You are very aware of the movie-ness of Jaws for most of it.It’s aged pretty well, but some of the issues I have may be from the age of the movie.
Jack: 4 - This is by far this movie’s lowest score. Even the super tense scenes on the Orca are broken up by some good comedy. That said, it does use the isolating nature of the ocean to pretty great effect, and the scene where the porker shows up to Brody’s chum is terrific.
Jake: 6.5 - This is the movie that made it scary to go in the water for MANY generations of people. I can’t recall when I developed a fear of the open water, and I can’t tell you it has anything to do with sharks, per se. The idea that there are things in the ocean that are lurking, and are more powerful than you is an unsettling feeling. In many ways, the ocean is a giant question mark. And this movie helped it become a terrifying question mark for millions of people.
EFFECTS (OR JUDICIOUS LACK THEREOF):
Jack: 6 - Look. The shark looks goddamned terrific. It’s pretty unassailable. But a lot of the backgrounds don’t look great, and much of the stuff leading up the scenes on the Orca are hit or miss. This is a really hard category. I should probably go higher for that shark.
Jake: 8 - I agree this is a tough category,and I wouldn’t do this very often, but I have to think about what this would have been like in 1975 when it came out. They made a fucking animatronic shark. That would have been like an 11/10 for that time. The majority of the movie falls into the ‘judicious lack thereof’ with regards to effects, but the shark itself and the liberal amount of blood was pretty shocking for its time. While it doesn’t hold up perfectly today, it definitely doesn’t look bad.
Jack: 7 - I enjoyed the hell out this movie when I first saw it. I enjoy the hell out it now. Hard to extricate whatever factor nostalgia may be playing, but still a pretty all-around awesome movie.
Jake: 8 - this is not only a genre defining movie, but is one of the best movies ever made. Look at the sheer parody-factor for this fucking thing. My math tells me to go lower (7.375) but a lot of that is due to some age-related factors. While I’ll acknowledge those by giving it an 8, I could easily go higher as well. If a human being hasn’t seen Jaws, there need to be some questions.