Retro Geek Throwback Thursday: Jaws

Retro Geek Throwback Thursday: Jaws

October 2, 2014 0 By Jeff Fountain

I still remember the first time I saw the movie Jaws. My parents took me, figuring I was old enough to watch something violent and horrifying. They were wrong.

I think I clutched the seats so hard I left permanent imprints of my hands. I still ask my parents to this day what they were thinking and they shrug and say ‘Well, we thought you were ready for something a little more mature.’ Good call there, parental units.

It took awhile for me to get comfortable in the water again. I had to first conquer the pool, then I moved on to jaws2the lake. It took even longer to stop looking over my shoulder for the dreaded triangle fin signaling my impending doom.

This is the effect the movie had not only on me but literally thousands of people. It made you look out at bodies of water whether it was pools, rivers, lakes or oceans and made you wonder what lay beneath the waves.

The irony was that thanks to delays and malfunctions with the mechanical shark, director Steven Spielberg was forced to film the movie in a more restrained way, which as it turned out led to a much more suspenseful and horror filled movie.

Jaws played on the minds of the audience, who after watching and letting the story digest realized that this was something that could actually happen. Sharks really existed, so why couldn’t one this big and terrifying be lurking just off the shores of your favorite vacation spot?

In fact, author Peter Benchley, whose book Jaws was the reason there was a movie at all, wrote his novel after reading about the capture of a huge shark by fisherman Frank Mundus. There is also some evidence suggesting that the character of Quint in the movie (played brilliantly by Robert Shaw) was based on Mundus himself.

The whole setting of the movie, from the small coastal town surviving on summer tourists, to old school fisherman and small minded politicians, had the feel of authenticity. It was the perfect set up to deliver the monster from the deep, a sort of leviathan killing machine.

It also helped that you had three very different but likeable leading men who were thrown together to try and stop the shark.

Chief Martin Brody, a small town sheriff who is afraid of water and is in way over his head, marine biologist Matt Hooper, who understands quickly that a shark has made this area its personal hunting and feeding ground and Quint, the local fisherman who knows how to catch sharks and the need to do it quick to save the summer for the town of Amity.

I still haven’t forgotten the scene when the boy, floating innocently around in his rubber raft, is attacked by the shark and dragged down to his death in a violent churning of water and blood. It affected me when I first saw it as I wasn’t much older than the poor kid in the raft, and it still makes my hair stand on end today as I have kids of my own around the same age.

Horror for all generations; thank you Mr. Spielberg.

You can’t talk about Jaws and not mention the music, either. Horror movies have had their fare share of memorable soundtracks, like in Friday the 13th or Hallowe’en. None of them are as recognizable as the music associated with the imminent shark sighting or attack, which usually led you your demise.

It’s amazing how many times I’ve heard the familiar ‘dum-dum-dum-dum-dum-dum’ used over the years, especially in comedy. It’s a great sound to use because everyone knows what it’s supposed to mean.

Let’s not forget the wonderful image the poster left with us. You know the one, the girl swimming in the ocean about to be devoured by our favorite shark? Another visual cue to plant an idea at the back of your mind for the next time you go for a swim.

It is a testament to how good this movie is, how it works on different levels to scare and horrify you, that it survived all it’s misfortunes to become a huge hit and launch the career of Spielberg into superstardom in the land of directors.

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A budget that tripled, a movie that took an extra one hundred days to finish, a malfunctioning shark… it’s amazing this movie even got finished. However, I believe early on the director, cast and crew knew they had something special with this movie and despite personal differences and the long list of problems, they managed to keep it all moving, even if it had to be simply one day at a time.

The movie all came together with the three main characters jumping on a boat and heading out to sea to face the killer shark. There are many great moments, from Quint’s speech about his encounter with sharks aboard the U.S.S. Indianapolis to Brody’s classic line ‘you’re gonna need a bigger boat’.

However, it is hard to top the violent death of Quint. Imagine sliding down the deck of a boat, no way to stop with only the gaping jaws of a giant shark waiting for you. It was a quick scene, with a cruel and horrible death as the finale. I wonder if in his final thoughts, he realized he should have indeed brought a bigger boat?

The success of Jaws was of course followed by the inevitable sequel. Actually, three sequels, which got progressively worse till they bottomed out completely with Jaws: The Revenge. I’m not going to talk much about them, only to say that trying to top Jaws with any kind of sequel was a bad, bad idea.

Movies that are really special are ones people buy and watch over and over again. The horror genre is no different, except in the fact that the monster or scare of the movie better be damn memorable to evoke multiple viewings. Jaws is one of those movies. A well crafted movie with a ‘real’ monster, something that lives in our oceans and swims beneath us as we float above on the waves, be it in a boat, raft or just using our bodies alone.

To think that the ocean does indeed hold sharks this large in its cold depths is something that played on the minds of a generation of people, who then like my parents, shared that paralyzing fear with their kids.

Passing on the terror to yet another generation is the sign of a great horror movie, (and some questionable parenting decisions) but I can’t wait to watch it with my daughter. Bonding over Jaws, can it get any better than that?