Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Second Age Review Backlog 4: Jaws

Oh what the hell are you doing here? You're reading a review of Jaws? Freaking JAWS? Is there any actual need to review this movie? Seriously, it's fucking Jaws. I know it's great, you know it's great, we all know it's great. You don't even need to see it to know it. This is a very rare specimen of a film that has never managed to top any critics top 10 films of all time list, but has still managed to sink so deep into our cultural collective unconscious, that we don't even need to see it to get references to it. It's also one of the prime examples of art from adversity. Is there anything I or any other critic could say that would remotely affect how this film is viewed. Oy. Anywho, this is the first review I'm using pictures, so feedback everyone.

Moving on to the plot, the setup is as simple as these things usually come. A big shark is attacking swimmers on a beach and the Sheriff wants to shut the beach. But the mayor doesn't believe the problem is as bad as everyone thinks, and wants the beaches to remain open for tourists on the 4th of July (hey, good timing on this review eh?), thus continuing to prove my thesis that 90 percent of horror films would not exist if a character in them was not breathtakingly stupid. 

Eventually even the mayor has to admit they have a problem and sends out a crack team to kill it. This team consists of an old fisherman who is perhaps just a tiny bit too manly for his own good, a rich and unexperienced shark expert and the hydrophobic sheriff. I feel it would be a little cruel to make the "Idiots in horror films" comment again, so let's move on to the technical details, shall we?

Of the technical details, music stands out the most, at least in popular culture. John Williams simple-but-effective score is one of his most famous and easily the most recognizable part of this film. The cinematography is given all the attention and care it's usually given whenever Stephen Spielberg directs. The dialogue is well written and aside from the aforementioned story driving idiocy, the plot flows. The characters are well rounded and imaginative, especially for a monster film. Overall, it's honestly one of the more technically brilliant films of it's age.

Before I finish this up I'd like to spend a few minutes on the special effects and more importantly the concept of art from adversity. What that concept means is that, when you're having trouble creating something, the techniques you use to get around it actually make your final product better. A good example of this from my favorite director is in The Shining. In the original book, after Jack attacks Halloran, Danny is startled from his hiding place by a group of living topiary animals. Unable to reproduce this with special effects at the time, Jack instead killed him and the psychic shock caused Danny to reveal his hiding place, in a much more effective moment.

This is the concept that I'm trying to get across, that limitations make it better. The original Star Wars trilogy could also be considered a study in this, but Jaws communicates it much better. The story goes that the shark was initially intended to be revealed much earlier in the film and get much more screen time, but they had trouble getting Bruce (the mechanical shark) to work. So Bruce's screen time was cut back and the film was reworked, making the movie a masterpiece in suspense. You'd think that Mr. Spielberg would have learned that it's often much scarier to not see the villain in his directorial debut, a highly underwatched film called The Duel but what are ya gonna do? Either way, the fact that the shark remains almost entirely offscreen for the first 3/4ths of the film made it far more effective.

But again, I must reiterate that most of this is pointless. Almost everyone has seen Jaws and even those that haven't know enough about it to know that it's good. It's almost disconcerting how much what amounts to a simple monster flick has dug itself into our culture. But it would be far more annoying if it wasn't an amazing film, setting an extraordinarily high standard for all monster films to live up to. So if you haven't seen it, I recommend you do, and I'll see you next time.

Next on Second Age Reviews: The Big Lebowski

Elesar is a 20 year old Alaskan born cinephile and he found out last summer that screaming "GET OUT OF THE WATER" at an actual beach doesn't go over as well as you might think.

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