Ah, doesn’t this take you back. Back in August I reviewed fun little shit-yourself thriller called The Shallows, which started Blake Lively and some a great white shark, also known as ‘Carcharodon carcharias’ according to the co-star of this week’s critique. I remember making comments about the shark-attack genre in my review back then, so as a nice little retrospective before strapping myself into the pilot’s seat for Rogue One, let’s take a moment to look at how this all began.
Not only had it been a good 13 years since my last viewing of Jaws at time of writing, but I also didn’t realise how old this film is. Released in 1975, this Spielberg classic is older than Alien and has aged incredibly well, mechanical shark notwithstanding. In fact the shark itself has become an integral part of the film’s production legend. It was one of several models, the remainder of which repeatedly malfunctioned. As a result, Spielberg was forced to suggest the presence of the shark rather than actually show it, incorporating John Williams’ iconic 2-tone score to create the film’s renowned tension. I used to rank Alien as one of the best films for tense horror, but I’m forced to bring that opinion into question having seen Jaws again.
I have to say, I absolutely love the characters in this film as well, as they are exceptionally well cast and utterly unique. Robert Shaw is an absolute scene-stealer as the PTSD-riddled Quint (the Indianapolis monologue says it all), and Richard Dreyfuss’s marine biologist and nerd Matt Hooper made me chuckle repeatedly. Fun Fact: Spielberg originally wanted Jon Voight to play Hooper, but it took his old pal George Lucas to recommend Dreyfuss for the role (another little reminder that the man wasn’t always medically diagnosed with creative insanity). And nobody can possibly forget good old Chief Brody, the unassuming yet compelling main character played by Roy Scheider.
All that praise aside, this film is not without it’s problems, and the big one is that of the main villain. What, the shark? No no, that’s just an animal acting on instinct, the shark is not to blame. No, the true evil behind this film, and the factor around which all the horror and carnage circulates is the character of Larry Vaughan: the town mayor. If by a man’s blazer shall ye know him, then this man is Amity Island’s own personal Satan. His actions are monumentally stupid to the point of disbelief, his sole motivation to rake in tourist dollars completely overriding his responsibility to, say, protect his citizens from man-eating predators!! I know there has to be a secondary conflict to hamper the efforts of the main character, but honestly! And the worst part is that most of the ancillary cast agree with him!
But this is a small complaint to make, when the rest of the film is what it is: iconic edge-of-the seat tension. Yes, the shark looks absurd in places, and yes, most of people on Amity Island are absolute cretins, but to my mind this simply adds to the flavour. The second half of the film, which I will hilariously coin ‘The Three-Men-In-A-Boat Act’, is just excellent, and is the tension of it was, to my mind, the part which inspired most of the action in The Shallows. So in conclusion, I can see now why this film has its reputation, and I can confirm that it thoroughly deserves it, and it’s just one of many examples of Spielberg’s creative genius. And on that note, I think I might go for a swim…