Thursday, September 1, 2011

"Jaws" the first summer blockbuster

TITLE: "Jaws"
DIRECTOR: Steven Spielberg
STARS: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw
EDITOR: Verna Fields
AWARDS: Best Film Editing (Oscar), Best Original Dramatic Score (Oscar), Best Sound (Oscar)
BOX OFFICE: $470,654,000 (Worldwide)
RUN TIME: 124 min.

When bathers start disappearing off the coast of Amity Island, Police Chief Martin Brody (Scheider) discovers a renegade shark inhabits the waters he is responsible for. After the town elders ignore his requests to close the beaches, and more swimmers are victimized, Captain Quint (Shaw) and, marine biologist, Hooper (Dreyfuss) join him on a hunt to kill a giant great white shark, that will fight to the death for it's own survival.

"Jaws" is one of the most popular films of all time, and many people know the basic trivia associated with it: it was done with practical effects, the shark didn't work most of the time (hence, one reason the audience rarely sees the beast), Spielberg was a relatively untested director when he made this film, it was the highest grossing film of all time when it came out (to be beaten two years later by "Star Wars (1977)).

Yes, this film is one heck of a viewing experience, but plenty of good movies are forgotten 30 years after their release. Why does this one stand? It was the first "blockbuster." This was the first American release to receive over $100 million at the box office.

Before "Jaws" most films were released in small chunks, and gained audiences through word of mouth, as the film would travel to different cities. Some had achieved wide release status ("The Godfather" (1972) being one of the most famous examples), but due to incredible advance screenings and largely positive reactions at test screenings, Universal decided to release "Jaws" wide, in 464 theaters (the largest release up to that point). AS a point of reference, "Super 8" (2011) was released in 3,379 theaters this past summer. 

Universal also spent an extra $700,000 on an ad campaign for the film, focusing on a slew of television spots. This was a big risk, as Columbia had done the same thing a month prior to this release for the Charles Bronson picture, "Breakout" (1975), which had a mediocre performance at the box office. The money and hard work paid off though, as not only did "Jaws" break box office records, but it also set the precedent for the summer tent-pole blockbuster practice that has become the norm in Hollywood over the past few decades.

Spielberg's film started many careers, including his own, and has garnered considerable critical and audience praise over the years. It's lasting impact is one that most people don't even know about. Every major film release of the last 30 years has had a direct influence from this classic. It's impact is considerable and unmeasurable.

"Jaws" has earned its place as one of the greatest films of all time. Numerous sequels, and imitators have been spawned (including this week's "Shark Night 3D" (2011)), but none have ever surpassed the original. This is truly a horrifying film. It has legitimate scares throughout, focuses on character driven actions, and has incredible special effects.

Though Spielberg still complains that the shark didn't look real, his sharp editing, and limited views of the creature, kept it grounded in reality. The shark didn't work for much of the shoot, but the audience would never know.

The three male leads, gave performances of a lifetime. All went on to considerable careers. Shaw had already been featured in the James Bond classic, "From Russia with Love" (1963), Scheider earned an Oscar nomination in Bob Fosse's classic "All That Jazz" (1979), and Dreyfuss went on to star in Spielberg's classic "Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind" (1977).

While this film might seem pale in comparison to the "gore porn" movement of horror films in the 2000's, it still packs a punch, and features plenty of gory scenes, and frightening scares. Most have probably checked out this film at some point, but if you haven't, find it right away. It is scary, exciting, enticing, and all together worth while. See it, before you go swimming.

MY IMDb RATING:  9 out of 10

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