On October 8th 1981 I was only 9 years old when, alongside my mother and younger brother, we sat down with another estimated 23 million people to watch the British Television Premiere of Jaws on ITV. Originally released 6 years earlier in UK cinemas, the 1975 film based on the book by Peter Benchley, put director Steven Spielberg on the Hollywood map, and by the time I first watched Jaws, it had thrilled audiences around the world and was still keeping some of them out of the water.
Last weekend, some 40 years after I first watched it, I sat down with my wife to watch Jaws again on Netflix. Numerous sequels aside, this is one of the few films I have seen in my life that I can still so vivdly recall the emotions of how I felt when I first watched it.
Back to my 1981 self, and by the time the obligatory break for the news arrived, my brother was sent to bed to try and sleep. Thankfully, despite the next day being a school day, my mother allowed me to stay up. I had been badgering her for weeks, excited to finally watch the movie that I had newspaper cuttings of and the iconic poster on my wall – and luckily, I was allowed to watch the rest of the film.
So back to Jaws. Many, if not all of you will have seen this classic, I am sure, so I will only impart a little about the plot. It’s a week before Amity Island is to hold its annual Independence Day weekend celebrations, and new Sheriff, Martin Brody (played by the simply wonderful Roy Schneider) is about to realise he has a long, hot Summer ahead of him.
When the remains of a young woman are found on a beach, a swimmer reported missing, it is not long before the coroner confirms Brody’s suspicions that she did not drown, but died from a shark attack. Concerned for the welfare of the islanders, Brody attempts to close the beaches, a decision that proves unpopular with the local mayor and the business owners who depend on the huge annual influx of money to their local economy. Forced to back down, Brody watches on worriedly as the beaches begin to fill with tourists… and food.
What follows is, even by today’s standards, an amazing film. Full of shocks and excitement, some wonderful acting and cinematography, Jaws has it all. The iconic score may be legendary, and there are few people who would not recognise it if you started humming it – but the film has some equally legendary quotes, and so much more than that. The three central actors are key to this. The afore mentioned Sheriff Brody, wonderfully played by Roy Schneider, and the irrepressible Richard Dreyfuss as Matt Hooper, the shark expert hired by the Amity Police to help track down the maneater. And of course, we should not forget the iconic role of shark hunter Sam Quint, played by the legendary Robert Shaw.
That night, some 40 years ago after watching the film for the first time, I did not sleep. It was not the music that haunted me when I closed my eyes, it wasn’t the exhilaration I felt when Chief Brody delivers his immortal line – it was of the sun setting, and the young woman swimming out to the buoy that dinged gently on calm waters, as it warned the viewer of what was to follow. Years later, it has stayed with me, and this film, amongst many others I devoured as a young boy, inspired me all those years later to become an author, filling my young mind with the kind of imagery that now, I hope fills my pages.
Jaws is, in my view, a masterpiece, a film that has everything that is great about really astounding cinema. I was worried last weekend, as I sat down to watch it again, that it would not have the same impact on me. I did not have to worry.
CGI fills our screens these days, the go-to choice for directors wishing to create creatures of the deep – and had that technology been available today, I would not be talking about this film, 46 years after its release. Some might sniff about the mechanical shark used in the film, but for me, it fills the screen with a realism that CGI could never capture, and as I recreate fresh memories of this truly great film, I hope that is stays untouched, and any remake is never allowed to happen.
Running Time: 124 mins
Certificate: 12a (now) orginally (PG)
My rating: 9.5/10