Saturday, March 28, 2009

MOVIES: #4 Jaws

I do NOT go to movies to be scared, repulsed, shocked, sickened, confused, dazed, made angry or bored. That cuts me out of the potential audience for stalker porn, torture porn and most other movies aimed at teen-aged idiots ... which is waaaaaaaaaay too many of that particular age group. If they didn't attend in numbers parents should be ashamed of, Hollywood wouldn't make these kind of movies.

On the other hand, I went to see Jaws twice when it came out in 1975.

I had read Peter Benchley's novel BEFORE seeing it the first time, just after graduating from high school. There was a certain familiarity that led me to believe I'd have no problems with the flick, even given my squeamishness about things nasty and watery. I sat there like everybody else and basically grinned as the swimmer in the opening credits went glug, glug to her demise. Then things got ... scary. The night-time boat sequence with the diver in the murky water exploring a recently sunk boat cost me about 3 months of my life. At least that's how many extra times' worth I calculated my heart beat when ... you know ... the thing that comes out of the hole.

And so it began. The first fright film I'd seen since the Kolchak pilot on TV. Only this time, it wasn't a monster in the closet, it was Bruce the Shark nibbling on folks here and there. Roy Scheider's townspeople versus the shark. And Bruce won most of the time. Until the end, when the humans discovered they only had to win once and made shark tartare out of Bruce. (I keep calling him Bruce, because Steven Spielberg dubbed the big mechanical shark used in the movie with that name).

What I found very interesting was the fact that the movie diverted in so many key ways from the book. Richard Dreyfuss' character in the book is a heel who beds the wife of Scheider's Police Chief Brody. You more or less cheer when he gets the close-up of the shark's teeth. In the movie, he certainly is not cuckolding with Lorraine Gray as Mrs. Brody and you do sort of hope he makes it through the other side of the confrontation with Bruce.

The other actors you immediately think of with Jaws are Robert Shaw's all-man Quint and Murray Hamilton's all-weasel Mayor. Shaw obviously made the biggest impression, playing the barnacled captain of the too-tiny boat that goes out hunting Bruce. In fact, it isn't until that hunting trip in the movie's final act that we see Bruce in the flesh, so to speak. The legendary troubles Spielberg had with Bruce were what prompted the famed film-maker to use a lot of shark POV shots. That still wouldn't have worked without John Williams' Oscar-winning score and the liberal use of the famous two-note warning sound that played when Bruce was lurking.

I survived the viewing of Jaws and made plans to see it the next week. The reason? This was the perfect date movie in a way. If your girl didn't spend most of the movie clutching you tight, you were in serious relationship difficulty. I can attest that the plan worked perfectly.

On the other hand, when 'it' came out of the hole in the boat in the night sequence, I jumped in my chair. Again.

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