So as promised, I went to the theatre to see Jaws Sunday night, for the first time. People are always surprised when I say I’ve never seen it before, but they also don’t know the story of why. As I wrote recently, I have serious #SharkIssues, so going to see something like Jaws was a HUGE feat for me.
The theatre was packed, and that’s a big reason why I wanted to go. I was hoping to have a large group with me for support, and though there were only four in my group, the audience helped fill out our numbers. I love seeing movies on opening night, when the audience is bursting and alive. It’s almost like live theatre. Sunday night’s audience was definitely animated, cheering at appropriate times: whooping for the title, for director Stephen Spielberg, for John Williams (though that was mostly me), and of course when Roy Scheider as Chief Brody uttered his famous line: “We’re going to need a bigger boat.”
Which, by the way, I was surprised to learn they never get.
I had no idea how great Williams’s score is. Obviously it’s one of the best examples of an aural icon, and changed film scoring history with how easily and simply it conveys terror and impending doom. As soon as you hear that first “da-dum,” you know what’s coming. But aside from that, there’s lots of other music that is exciting, thrilling, full of action and energy, and helps the story along without detracting from it. It’s fun to hear more than just the theme.
It’s a very dated movie now, obviously, originally filmed in 1975. A lot has changed since then, in movie making, in society and history, and in my own life. While it was extremely violent and bloody (as critic Charles Champlin wrote in the Los Angeles Times, which I read Sunday afternoon), it is certainly not as bad as some of the stuff that’s on television these days. As a watcher of Game of Thrones and Dexter, I’ve definitely seen worse. I still cannot believe it was only rated PG, even before Spielberg himself forced the creation of the PG-13 rating.
I relied on the movie being dated in my decision to see it. It makes it a lot less scary to see that Bruce, if you will, is obviously a mechanical, fake shark. I keep envisioning him as this big, cartoonish (but not a cartoon), grinning face, just saying “How ya doing?” It’s kind of weird.
I had seen parts of the movie before, so that also made things easier, though I did miss one part that I’m a little sorry to have missed. The combination of drinking too much water at dinner and nervous energy was not one I could ignore, and I had to escape to the bathroom. I left when Brody and Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) go out on the ocean to learn more about what kind of shark they’re dealing with and discover, via a capsized boat, that it’s a great white. Naturally. I missed that part, and I’m a little sorry I did, though I had seen part of it in a behind the scenes special I watched a little while back. For whatever reason, I thought it happened much later on in the movie.
Perhaps it was because I read Champlin’s review ahead of time, or maybe it’s just that it’s a dated movie, but I agree with him that the characters are not terribly well defined. Quint (Robert Shaw), especially, is a huge caricature, almost laughably so. It makes me sad to say that because his story of the Indianapolis is really interesting, but he was also annoying. To be honest, I had a little trouble understanding him sometimes (perhaps in part because of the sound quality of the old film). I do appreciate his calmness in times of stress, like how he casually asks Brody, “would you put that fire out for me, chief?” I don’t think I’m capable of such calmness. Especially not out on the ocean.
To be honest, I don’t quite understand why Quint needed to die (a pretty disgusting, horrible death, btw, that I mostly watched through my hands). I asked my husband about it, and he mentioned the similarity with Moby Dick, sending us off in a Google-fueled tangent about that story, which neither of us has read. (Alex is curious to read it now, but I don’t know if he will. It sounds really long.) It is interesting to read about Moby Dick after seeing Jaws and consider the similarities between these two stories.
There were still plenty of really scary moments in the film, especially for me, and I didn’t always watch. I had my sweatshirt over me like a blanket, and often hid my face in it, for example when Bruce attacked Quint’s boat (and Quint), and when Hooper was submerged in the cage—which of course is real shark footage. But I did try to watch some of that stuff, and I’m actually disappointed that involuntary reaction turned me away from it first.
The ending surprised me. It’s interesting that Brody, who is in charge of a beach but hates the water, ends up taking out the shark alone. He blows it up in a big exciting explosion. Somehow it was over faster than I thought, but that’s probably because I was partially hiding my face. Then Hooper comes back up and finds Brody again, and they grab a couple of barrels and swim back to shore. But the film ends while they’re kicking toward shore. There’s no denouement, no tying up of anything, no further explanation or what happens in the future. I suppose there’s nothing more to explain, but I do wonder how the shark came to be out that way in the first place. It’s the ocean, so I guess why not.
Perhaps the most surprising was that the credits were quick and over in about three minutes. No massive teams of visual effects people running the credits for 15 minutes. And yet, it’s still a classic movie.
Not to disparage visual effects artists (my husband is one). They can do absolutely incredible things with visual effects nowadays, and clearly this film would be very different if it were made today (not that that’s a suggestion, Hollywood). But it also shows that it’s possible to make amazing movies with special effects (models etc., as opposed to computer effects), and perhaps to limit some of the computerized stuff that’s so frequent in today’s blockbusters. We can still learn from Spielberg’s ultimate Jaws lesson: more creative filmmaking and fewer effects. We don’t always need all that CGI, so let’s not get out of hand.
Boy did I go off on a tangent.
I’m also happy to say that I mostly slept fine Sunday night. I didn’t have any nightmares, or dreams that I recall, but I did wake up at 5 a.m., mostly because my cats were sleeping on me in a way that made me uncomfortable. I had trouble falling asleep, but not necessarily because I was afraid . . . or not in the same way I’ve been before. I did force myself to think of other, more pleasant things (Pride & Prejudice is my go-to), but it wasn’t bad. It’s possible I’ll have a nightmare in a few days, after it sinks further down into my subconscious, but I hope not. So far so good.
What’s weird is I think I’m so used to being afraid, that I felt like that’s how I was supposed to feel. I know more now what FDR was saying about nothing to fear but fear itself. I’m so used to being terrified that I feel like I’m supposed to be freaked out, even though it wasn’t that bad. I’m not completely over my fear, by any means, and I do shriek when I see an #UnexpectedShark, as I did in the movie—but I only did it when Jaws attacks Quint’s boat, which is quite late in the film. I’m surprised I hadn’t done it sooner, but I’m glad. Part of me almost wants to see it again . . . Almost.
I definitely feel empowered too. I’m proud of myself for doing this, and I feel stronger for it. It’s kind of an awesome feeling.
As I said the other day, you should always do something that scares you. And I’m really glad I did this.