"There is a creature alive today that has survived millions of years of evolution, without change, without passion, and without logic. It lives to kill; a mindless, eating machine. It will attack and devour anything. It is as if God created the devil and gave him… Jaws."
— From the trailer
When a giant great white shark starts killing swimmers near the New England resort community of Amity Island, the town mayor tries to keep it quiet rather than risk frightening tourists away. The police chief, Brody, investigates anyway, eventually gaining the support of two other men; Quint, a professional shark hunter, and Hooper, a marine biologist.The level of terror in the tourist-economy town of Amity (and in the audience) gradually grows to a fever-pitch throughout the film as the attacks persist, eventually forcing Brody, Hooper and Quint to spend the last part of the film completely isolated at sea, hunting the monstrous shark.Jaws was adapted from the 1974 novel by Peter Benchley, which was inspired partly by real shark attacks, partly by Moby-Dick. Quint's dogged pursuit of the shark has many similarities with Captain Ahab's hunt of the great white whale.Released in June 1975, Jaws was the firstSummer Blockbuster, soon to be codified by Star Wars. Along with Godzilla and King Kong, it was also the inspiration for Giant Animal rampage movies, and it served as a launchpad for its director, Steven Spielberg.This film had such a negative impact on the public that beach attendance dropped sharply the summer it was released - it has been said that Jaws filled the cinemas and emptied the beaches - and marine biologists cite it as a reason that people actively hunt great white sharks to endangered status. Peter Benchley, the novel's author, even said he regretted choosing the great white as the creature due to people needlessly killing them, even though the chance of being attacked by a shark is considerably less than that of being hit by lightning or of being eaten by a crocodile or being murdered by a human.Jaws is a classic of American cinema. It is very character-based, with a strong plot, fantastic pacing, and wonderful acting. It is still to this day widely regarded as one of the most chilling and exciting thrillers of all time—indeed, it is ranked #2 on AFI "Thrills" list, the shark is ranked #18 among its "Villains", Brody's "You're gonna need a bigger boat is #35 among its "Quotes", and John Williams' music is #6 among its "Scores".The film was followed by three sequels:
Which, incidentally, is Truth in Television. Although in Real Life, more of the sailors on the Indianapolis died from exposure and dehydration than from sharks.
Robert Shaw, an accomplished writer himself, made major contributions to the script for that scene. He believed there should be some explanation for his character's antipathy towards sharks.
The scene where Mrs. Kitner confronts Sheriff Brody when the townspeople catch a shark they think is responsible. She slaps Brody, accusing him of indirectly letting her son die by letting the beaches stay open after the first attack. It's what leads Brody into his drinking binge during the middle part of the film, and explains why he tags along with Quint and Hooper to catch/kill the killer shark during the final act.
Adaptation Distillation: Very much so. The novel was criticized for its unsympathetic characters, while the film is known for its depth of them. It also streamlined the plot, but remained fairly faithful (for example, in the movie, the Orca goes out and stays out until the end, while in the book, they make several trips out, returning at the end of each day - each film encounter with the shark roughly corresponds to a single book encounter, with the Orca returning to port after losing track of the shark). Like The Godfather before it, it is considered to be an example of a film being superior to the book.
Another good use of this trope is the elimination of the novel's distracting sub-plots, including one revolving around Brody's wife Ellen having an affair with Hooper and another about Amity's mayor being involved with the Mafia.
"...What we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, an eating machine. It's really a miracle of evolution."
And this shark itself is specifically marveled at by both Hooper and Quint as being a truly unique specimen, with both of them admiring its tenacity, intelligence, and unpredictability.
Aluminum Christmas Trees: And literal on that first part! Quint crushing his beer can doesn't look too impressive now that they're made of aluminum, and a kid can do it. But at the time, they were made of tin, and it really was quite a show of strength to crush one, which makes Hooper crushing his paper cup in retaliation so much funnier.
Anti-Climax: The ending of the original book has the shark just quietly die from the wounds caused by the battle, which highly contrasts to the badassery shown in the film's climax. It's also worth noting the contrast between Quint's deaths: The movie truly lives up to its sheer climactic and terrifying intensity when Quint is eaten alive by the shark on the boat, screaming in terror as Brody helplessly watches. In the novel, he gets tangled and pulled down by one of the weighted barrels and unceremoniously drowns.
Armor-Piercing Slap: The grieving Mrs Kintner gives Brody a stinging slap when she learns that the beaches were left open despite the authorities knowing there was a man-eating shark in the area, resulting in her son's death. Even though Brody had actually been overruled by his superiors, he says nothing and accepts the blame.
Artistic License - Biology: Sharks do not usually attack you unless you provoke them or they can smell your blood in the water. But they will attack you if you look like a seal or a turtle, which the little kids just happen to look like, but they won't eat you whole — so that's a relief. Many of these (including the shark's love of attacking humans) were from the book, and Peter Benchley admitted that at the time of writing, he knew absolutely nothing about sharks. Once he learned about them, he was horrified at the damage he and the movie had caused. Although, it's easy enough to Hand Wave that this is just a particularly vicious and man-eating shark, which if nothing else is certainly bigger than the average Great White. It's rarer for sharks to attack humans and rarer for them to actually target humans...but that doesn't mean its impossible, or unheard of (which would not justify trying to hunt all of them into extinction, just because an extreme minority might be a threat).
Attack of the Town Festival: While it wasn't a festival, the town officials tried to deny that there was a shark near the town as closing the beach would ruin the town's tourist business over the Fourth of July weekend.
Chief Brody. After all, he blew up the first shark and went to electrocute the second one.
Quint, by virtue of being a WWII vet and having killed more sharks that you can shake a stick at.
Badass Bookworm: Hooper. He's a scientist who's studied some of the more dangerous ocean predators, and, although not exactly fearless, has the cojones to hunt a 25-ft. man-eating shark, and earlier, scuba dive into the wreckage of a shark-ravaged boat in the middle of a pitch-black night.
Brief Accent Imitation: Brody's first scene has his wife encourage him to talk more like the locals. He busts out "They're out in the yahd, not too fah from the cah," and she replies that he sounds like a New Yorker.
Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Quint has a lot of really idiosyncratic mannerisms, and is often dismissed as a nutcase, but is a shark hunter of unmatched skill and experience.
Burning the Ships: In the climax, Quint destroys the radio when Brodie tries to call for help, and later appears to deliberately burn out his engine so they can't escape their final confrontation with the shark.
Early in the movie, Brody flicks through a book of shark pictures, one of which shows a shark with a scuba tank in its mouth. Also an example of Foreshadowing.
Quint shooting at the shark with a rifle that Brody uses later.
The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: The local authorities try to write the death that opens the movie as a "probable boating accident" instead of a shark attack. Hooper is furious when he has a chance to examine the body, as (to him) the signs of a shark attack seem obvious.
Dissonant Serenity: Quint's Indianapolis tale of watching his Navy mates eaten by sharks is horrific enough. But the sly grin playing around his face for most of the story makes it ten times more disturbing.
Played for laughs a few minutes later, when the shark is attacking the boat and knocks an oil lamp to the floor, starting a fire. Brody and Hooper are rushing around frantically, while Quint says, in a very calm voice, "Chief. Put out the fire, would you?". His tone of voice is the same one you'd expect from him saying "Chief. Pour me a cup of coffee, would you?"
Double Entendre: A pretty obvious one, when Hooper is playing solitaire on the deck :
Quint: Stop playin' with yourself, Hooper.
The Drunken Sailor: Quint is no stranger to a bottle, and all three lead characters get drunk one night at sea.
Every Scar Has A Story: Quint and Hooper show off their scars and explain how they received them. This leads to Quint telling the story of the USS Indianapolis. Meanwhile, Brody surreptitiously checks his appendectomy scar, but remains quiet and sort of embarrassed, as he can't compete with the seasoned seamen. He does appear to have a few bullet-wound scars, suggesting why a New York policeman who hates being on the water might have moved to a quiet little town like Amity, but he doesn't remark on those either.
Gonna Need More X: Perhaps the most famous example of someone suddenly realizing they need more of something as a situation gets out of hand:
Brody: You're gonna need a bigger boat.
Gory Discretion Shot: Hooper's narration of Chrissie's body is a classic, letting our minds do all the work as we never see the body. It also applies when Chrissie's remains are first discovered on the beach. We only see her hand, but what Hendricks, Cassidy and Brody see is enough to make them all throw up.
Averted with the killing of Alex Kintner, with the camera seemingly capturing every blood spray.
He Who Fights Monsters: Quint's obsession with the white shark make him behave weird near the end, endangering himself and his mates by destroying his radio equipment to prevent Brody from calling for help. He also wrecks the Orca's motor by pushing it to overdrive even when Hooper begs him not to.
Heel Realization: After the Fourth of July attack, Mayor Vaughn sputters "My kids were on that beach too!" as he realizes he put his own children in danger to sell himself a lie and keep the tourist dollars coming in.
Hope Spot: As Chrissie thrashes around, she manages to grab onto a buoy. Judging from her evident relief, the shark apparently lets go of her at this point—only to immediately grab hold of her again and finish her off.
Brody insisted on closing the beaches, but the town council refused to take his advice.
Hooper tries in vain to explain that the shark they caught is not the man-eater.
Immune to Bullets: The thing is so big and its hide is so tough that bullet wounds are a mere annoyance.
It doesn't help that most of the animal is under water, making it difficult to see what you're shooting at, and (as the MythBusters demonstrated) the fact that most bullets stop after a few feet in water, assuming they don't disintegrate altogether on impact.
Improbable Aiming Skills: Initially averted when Brody tries to shoot the shark with his service revolver in a genuinely realistic depiction of just how hard it is to hit a moving target with a handgun, but later played straight when he hits the gas canister in the shark's mouth from a not-inconsiderable distance. Arguably, an easier shot due to him using a rifle this time, but the director admits he wasn't exactly aiming for realism with this one. Although, to be fair, in the latter case it did take him 6 shots to hit the scuba tank.
Infant Immortality: Averted, twice. To top it off, the incidents in question happen within seconds of each other.
Irony: Quint became a shark fisherman because of his experience with the Indianapolis. He also states, somewhat indirectly, that he'd rather drown than die by shark ("I'll never wear a life jacket again"). His house/business is filled with shark jaw trophies, a multitude of victims mirroring the multitude of sailors lost to sharks. He views the great white as the embodiment of his fears and thoughts towards sharks. And in the end, he falls victim to his living nightmare.
After the shark leaps onto the stern of the Orca, Quint loses his grip and slides to his death when a scuba tank rolls onto his hand. The same scuba tank that Brody then uses to kill the shark.
Jump Scare: Spielberg already had one when the shark suddenly appears behind Brody, and he decided to add another when Hooper finds Ben Gardner's body. It worked so much the original had less of an impact.
Kick the Dog: It is strongly implied that Pippet the dog has become the shark's victim—his sudden and ominous disappearance during the beach scene (where he had once been running into the waves to fetch a stick his owner had tossed to him, now we only see the stick floating on the water while his owner frantically calls for him) occurs just before the attack on Alex Kitner (which is itself a Kick the Dog moment), and is the first hint of the shark's presence.
In the extras on the DVD, Spielberg talks about getting an excited call from John Williams, wanting to demonstrate said Lietmotif. Cue John Williams playing that incredibly basic two-note dun dun... dun dun... on his piano. The director remarks wryly, "Johnny always had a great sense of humour. I thought he was joking." It apparently took some time before it really sank in that yes, just those two notes would do it.
Quint sings "Ladies of Spain", and the tune repeats in the background as his stubborn insanity drives them further into peril. The first two times Quint sings it are after talking about shark attacks (mocking Hooper about the cage and the story about the Indianapolis). The third time he sings it is as he speeds the boat to shore in a desperate attempt to drown the shark, knowing that the engine will most likely burn out before that and leave them stranded and helpless on a sinking boat.
It is heard a fourth time, incorporated into the soundtrack, played after the Orca is immobilized and Quint goes below to inspect the damage. It ends on a sour note when his eyes rest on a pair of soaked life preservers hanging on their hooks.
Non-Indicative Title: To the point that when Spielberg saw the unfinished book, he imagined if it was about dentists. Many countries went for "Shark" or some variations instead (Tiburón, Tubarão, Lo Squalo, "The White Shark" in German, "The Jaws of the Shark" in Greek), if not a Completely Different Title: in French it's Les Dents de la mer, "The Teeth of the Sea".
Noodle Incident: It's not clear whether Brody's fear of the ocean is based on a specific incident. He brusquely responds to his wife's attempt to name his condition with "Drowning!"
Nothing Is Scarier: Spielberg despised how phony the shark prop looked, so he shot it from awkward angles, beneath the water, for only moments at a time; anything to keep the audience from getting a good look at it. It also kept breaking down, which resulted in lots of shots in the movie that imply the presence of the shark, without showing so much as a fin. Spielberg later said that much of the credit for this goes to the film's editor, Verna Fields. They would fight in the editing room (Fields' pool house) over whether to use this trope (her preference) or to use a shot of the shark that Spielberg had spent a day capturing.
You can also count the aforementioned dog scene. We never actually get any clarification over what happened to Pippet; all we see is his owner calling frantically for him and the stick he was fetching floating in the water. It's strongly implied that Pippet was an appetizer for the shark shortly before it attacked the little boy. This is especially horrifying for animal lovers.
Obscured Special Effects: The mechanical shark was used sparingly, not so much because it was unconvincing, but because it was malfunctioning all the time. Therefore, Spielberg cut out the parts where the shark was constantly malfunctioning. This decision helped rack up the suspense, making the film all the more effective.
Only Sane Man: Hooper tells Brody that he will be "the only rational man left on [Amity] island" after Hooper leaves the next day to join a shark research vessel. Even after Hooper stays, Brody is arguably still the only rational man on the island.
Also doubles as a literal Precision F-Strike, as Brody fires the killing shot the moment he says 'bitch'.
Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Quint is the town's major expert on shark hunting, and has a sizable collection of shark trophies at his shop. When we find out he was on the USS Indianapolis—Hooper stops mocking Quint the second he finds out—we realize he's been hunting sharks for 30 years to get his revenge for what they'd done to his crewmates.
And the shark currently hunting them could well be on his Roaring Rampage after Quint.
Room Full of Crazy: Quint's shack is a rare heroic version: The walls are lined with the jaws of the countless sharks he has killed. Doubling as a Trophy Room, the shack displays Quint's obsessive insanity and lust for vengeance against all sharks.
Rule of Scary: The shark does some things against the boat that would in actuality compromise itself, but the sheer shock of a 25 foot shark jumping into the back of the boat was enough to overlook that logic.
Richard Dreyfuss recalls that he first heard about Jaws at a party, overhearing someone (possibly Spielberg) talking about how to achieve that exact shot. He also recalls thinking something along the lines of "Good luck with that!". Spielberg has said that the last few minutes of the movie were a case of "If they've come this far with me, they'll go the last mile."
Science Marches On: See Artistic License - Biology above. Much more has been learned about shark behavior since 1975. As a consequence, most of the theories Hooper voices, believed to be valid at the time, have since been disproven.
Serendipity Writes the Plot: The scenes with the shark cage and the full shark visible were actually filmed with a real great white shark, a miniature cage, and a midget diver doubling for Hooper. The shark was actually supposed to tear Hooper to pieces (per the novel), but the crew could never properly provoke the shark to do so. Finally, the shark did destroy the cage and got stuck in the rope above it—but the Hooper double wasn't in the cage at the time. Because this was the best footage they had, the filmmakers changed the script to have Hooper escape and survive.
Quint's Indianapolis speech, generally considered the dramatic high point of the entire film, was only recorded because the crew was stuck waiting for the broken-down mechanical shark to be repaired (again), and Spielberg didn't want to waste their dwindling production-time.
A subtle homage to The Searchers: Deputy Hicks digging in the sand with his knife after finding Chrissy's remains.
Multiple shots are very similar to ones found in Creature from the Black Lagoon, such as the underwater monster viewpoint of a woman swimming on the surface of the water, as well as the fact that early on in both films we barely glimpse the monster at all.
Staggered Zoom: An interesting use of this trope right before Alex Kintner gets eaten. Roy Scheider is framed in a medium shot. Twice passerby obscure the camera, and each time Scheider is closer when the camera reveals him again. This is done not for any dramatic effect—that comes with the famous Vertigo Effect a couple minutes later—but to demonstrate Martin's feeling of unease as he watches the beach.
In the original novel, the Mayor is in serious debt to a Mafia family, and thus, needs the beach attendance to boost revenue to pay them back, making his insistence on keeping the beaches open significantly more understandable/plausible—he's already in fear for his life.
Vertigo Effect: Chief Brody's reaction to seeing the Kintner boy being attacked by the shark. Hitchcock might have invented it, but Speilberg's flawless use of the technique here is why everyone recognises it today.
Widow's Weeds: Mrs. Kitner is wearing a black veil to show she is in mourning for her son.
Window Pain: The third barrel breaks the Orca's front window when it's launched.
Working Class Hero: Played with. Quint is a veteran, competent, and savvy seaman who dismisses Hooper's knowledge of sharks outright because Hooper is a college kid. Hooper, treated with contempt, calls him out using the exact term. Deconstructed in that Quint's pride causes him to ignore important advice from Hooper, and ultimately gets killed for it. Hooper, although not exactly effective in his own right, at least survives at the end.
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