Today may be 40 years since Jaws took a massive bite of the 1975 box office but after a lifetime of seeking to view the film on the big screen I finally got the chance to see a newly spruced up print of the classic Spielberg thriller on the big screen back in June 2010, as part of the 35 anniversary celebrations. And yes, I bought it again, adding it to my pan and scan CIC VHS copy, my widescreen VHS copy and both the 25th and 30th anniversary DVDs.
My journey to see Jaws, my all time favourite film, on the big screen has been quite literally a lifetime in the making as I blame my mum for getting me hooked. I may not have been born until October 1975 but she had eagerly read the serialised version of the book in The Sun newspaper, clearly it had quite the impact on me. Cue lots of pre-teen years of being terrified of even stepping into the bath.
The closest I had previously got to seeing Jaws writ large was back in 2002 after travelling down to Neuquay to see a screening on the beach, alas it got cancelled the day before it was scheduled to be shown. I had to wait until 2010 then for the experience I had been chasing, and after all that time, all those viewings, it didn’t disappoint. Put simply it was Jawsome.
Jaws of course is having several 40th birthday screening across the states and It is somewhat fitting that Jaws had been re released as part of the centenary celebrations of Universal Studios in June, smack bang in the middle of the summer blockbuster season, as Jaws is the granddaddy of them all, the first film to have such a large (at the time) opening, and the first to hit that magic $100 million mark. In more ways than one it is the big fish.
Four decades have passed since Jaws first swam onto our screens but it still more than holds its own against today’s output, in fact it is the filmic equivalent of what Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) calls the shark, ‘the perfect eating machine’.
As a piece of cinema Jaws was always the near perfect piece of cinema and now, cleaned up frame by frame and looking like it was practically shot last week, this lean mean thriller machine became the closest to cinematic perfection it has ever got.
Put simply, you can forget your Star Wars, forget your toying with special effects, nipping, tucking or even adding here and there (yes you Mr Cameron, Mr Lucas – sounds like Are You Being Served – and Mr Scott), this is cleaned up but otherwise untouched, and still has the same shark and still has that primal fear in buckets, along with the chum.
Spielberg has clearly learnt from his ‘radio’ meddling with E.T. and left Jaws exactly as it was, save for giving it a fresh lick of paint and thankfully modification free.
It may sound obvious but never having seen the film on the big screen the first thing that hit me was that it all looked so big, from the (thankfully) old fashioned Universal logo to each and every character introduction, counting the fictional Amity Island in that.
With such a large canvas, that had also expertly been cleaned up, we are able to feel even closer to that (really rather sunny and bright for the most part) world and see and notice so many small things in the background that I hadn’t done before. It was practically like seeing the film for the very first time.
Jaws still packs a punch (or should that be bite radius) of a juggernaut. The opening Chrissie attack sequence has never looked so uncomfortably clear, her nakedness making you almost feel voyeur like – making it even closer akin to the shower scene it Psycho in that respect – right up until that moment of impact when the John Williams score and sound effects really kick into high gear. If anything its heightened more than ever with the Alex Kintner lilo attack, which in many ways seemed even more powerful.
It’s not the 25 foot shark, all three tonnes of it, that dominates the film though, each and every piece of the film he is in is dominated by Robert Shaw as Quint. Scheider and Dreyfuss are no slouches for sure and the way the threesome ping off each other is a joy to behold (the script coupled with the beauty of the extra rehearsal time due to operating problems with the shark et al but Quint has never been so dominant, so alive. He chews scenery like the shark chews his boat, the Orca, at the end of the film and his eyes, his eyes are just so piercing a blue that they make Daniel Craig’s look practically dull in comparison. It confirmed to me that more classic Shaw films should be viewed on the big screen but also left a genuine feeling of loss, for the man, Shaw died only three years after the release of Jaws, and for cinema generally, as he carved such an impression up their on the big screen, seen as he should be and not on a box – no matter what its size – in the corner of the room.
Jaws never puts a foot wrong, it still has fantastic pace, still thrills and scares a little in all the right places and also makes people laugh in all the places that it is meant to do. Rubber shark or no rubber shark it, like Alien after it, which after all was pitched as Jaws in Space, still taps into that primeval fear and when each and every person bringing that to life is working at the top of their game you can’t go wrong, critically,commercially or for longevity.
The wait was well worth it, and I’m pleased that Bruce, as the shark was nicknamed by Spielberg, came back for his noon feeding to mark the then 35th anniversary of Jaws, it mattered not that most of us in that small screening room had seen it hundreds of times, knew exactly what shot or line of dialogue came next, we were all in awe of the remastered Jaws.
And to paraphrase Chief Brody at the end of the film as he blows the great white shark out of the water as it races toward him, we were all smiling like sons of bitches.
I may not be sat enjoying it on a big screen for its birthday but will be celebrating with lots more Jaws fans in a tweet along, safety in numbers and all that, although try telling that to the crew of the SS Indianapolis!