1975 was a big year in the film industry. The golden era was over and films were in a state of nostalgic throwback to the 1950s, with homages and remakes rife. Audiences in general were dwindling and a shake-up was needed. This came in the summer from the mind of Steven Spielberg. His film Jaws, the first ever summer blockbuster, and such a commercial and critical success that it created it’s own sub-genre and became the outline for marketing strategy by all studios from that time to the present day.
Amity Island beach, summertime. A young girl and a small boy are killed by a shark in quick succession, causing panic and the shut-down of the beach. Local business owners are distraught over the loss of business and under pressure, local police officer Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) calls in marine biology expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) to investigate the deaths. A tiger shark is blamed for the killings, which is promptly caught, leading to the re-opening of the resort. Brody and Hooper, who don’t believe the tiger shark to be responsible, go out in search of the real cause of the deaths.
The plot is pure B movie fare, but for the template of a summer blockbuster it works perfectly. The casting, including the irrepressible Dreyfuss and stoic Scheider, is perfect with everyone getting stuck into a script that could so easily have become trite and cliched. The scene with Brody, Hooper and salty sea dog Quint (Robert Shaw) where they discuss scars and how they got them while getting increasingly drunk is a particular highlight, especially when you realise that it is almost entirely ad-libbed. In fact it’s fair to say that without the chemistry that the three lead actors display the second half of the film wouldn’t work. Luckily for Spielberg, and the audience they had it in spades.
There has been talk in the years since it’s release that Jaws might not qualify it as a horror film. Some, including Mr. Spielberg at various points refer to it as a drama, a thriller or simply a ‘summer blockbuster.’ However to remove the film from the horror genre seems either a slight on the film or the genre depending on how you look at it. The film revolves around the fear caused by an unknown rampaging beast. People are killed in horrific fashion in Jaws and the goal throughout is to scare the audience, which is the most important aspect that defines horror. Such was the impact and fear caused by Jaws that to this day people still sing John Williams’ epic score whenever they’re in water and it has almost single-handedly lead to generations of people fearing sharks. How many horror films can claim something like that?
It featured a cast with scintillating chemistry, a creature that (due to some faulty mechanics) spends a lot of the film as an idea rather than a visible entity, a soundtrack from John Williams and a director at honing his now iconic style with the bravery to take necessary risks and you have a masterpiece in the making. Don’t listen to the doubters, not only is Jaws a horror film, it’s one of the best ever made.