Celebrating its 40th-anniversary, TCM and Fathom Events paired up to screen Steven Spielberg’s seminal shark thriller, Jaws on the big screen. I’d never seen the story of a small-town sheriff hunting down the titular shark in theaters and immediately jumped on the opportunity. While I’d hoped to review this sooner, as a means of enticing you to go, time didn’t permit. In that case, let’s look at why Jaws is A) so awesome and B) should be seen on the biggest screen possible by everyone.
Police chief Brody (Roy Scheider) lives in the idyllic town of Amity Island. When a series of attacks happens to various locals, a shark is believed to be the culprit. Brody finds himself butting heads with local government, who demand the beaches stay open to facilitate Fourth of July tourism. As the body count rises, Brody teams up with an oceanographic scientist named Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and a salty sea captain named Quint (Robert Shaw) to take care of the shark, once and for all!
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the basic structure within Jaws: shark attacks, the famous “dun-dun” music, Robert Shaw. I’ve watched Jaws countless times, but watching it in theaters was a unique experience that, like other Fathom Events screenings, allowed me to take note of elements I’d never seen before. Chrissie’s (Susan Backlinie) midnight swim has always played as a murky sequence to me due to poor transfers and color settings on a television. With this new transfer, the colors still darkly obscure Chrissie’s surrounding view, but lit so the audience can watch her terrified reaction and subsequent demise. The added benefit of Blu-ray transfer and color correction allowed the underwater footage to pop; you’ll be surprised just how nude Chrissie looks in this!
And unlike watching this on your television, there’s an added dimension of horror with the shark placed in proper proportion. It’s been well-written about “Bruce’s” (the affectionate nickname for Spielberg’s shark) temperamental nature during filming, but when he’s presented it’s horrifying. Subtle scenes like his attack on Alex Kitner or the reveals of him under the water when the trio of hunters board the Orca, are effective in conveying the sheer size of the behemoth, an element lost on television screens.
There’s also an enhanced appreciation for the story outside of the shark as well as the acting talent on display. Roy Scheider perfectly embodies the small-town sheriff with an irrational fear of the water. His confrontation with the shark allows him to overcome his fear of the water, as well as trivialize it. Richard Dreyfuss is the comic relief as our scientist, Hooper. And you can’t forget the indomitable Robert Shaw as Quint. For me, Shaw will always be Henry VIII in A Man for All Seasons (1966), but his Quint is the pure embodiment of the classic leading man, macho, confident, with a strong sense of purpose that will probably take him to his grave. He’s a Captain Ahab figure, to be sure, but with an added sense of Old Hollywood gloss and good looks.
I can’t quite remember where I read it, but Jaws has oft been reported as an indictment on Watergate with Chief Brody as the man who knows the truth and wants to alert the masses. In this case, telling the beach patrons there is a shark in their midst. He comes to loggerheads, though, with the local government who are more content to let bodies pile up than lose out on their precious holiday weekend dollars. I’m not saying I believe this was Spielberg’s intent, but it’s a fun theory to look for during your viewing experience.
For us TCM fans, it’s always worth attending the Fathom Events screenings for the special introductions by either Robert Osborne or Ben Mankiewicz. Unfortunately for my screening, the sound was out for much of the introduction so I didn’t hear Ben Mank’s opening statements. His outro was great, on par with most TCM introductions either at home or during one of these Fathom screenings. I was sad that most in my audience got up and left right during the credits, missing out on Mankiewicz’s comments about the John Williams musical score – which will leave you with chills, hearing it through movie theater speakers.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed Jaws from this perspective. The expansive screen and bright colors allowed my eyes to catch more than I’ve noticed in countless television viewings. If your local theater is showing the film over the summer, be sure to check it out!
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A freelance film critic whose work fuels the Rotten Tomatoes meter. I've been published on The Hollywood Reporter, Remezcla, and The Daily Beast. I've been featured in the L.A. Times. I currently run two podcasts, Citizen Dame and Ticklish Business.