Widely regarded as the film that began the “summer movie blockbuster era”, JAWS (1975) was also rightfully one of the year’s most critically acclaimed movies. It was also the recipient of an Academy Award Nomination for Best Picture and a winner of Oscars for film editing (Verna Fields) and music score (John Williams). One of the reasons the film received no acting nods is that everyone involved is so good, how could one single out just one or two? (I personally feel Robert Shaw should have gotten a Best Actor nomination, however). Roy Scheider is wonderful as New York cop Martin Brody, who has relocated to a small coastal island town, only to have his bad case of “aquaphobia” put to the ultimate test. Richard Dreyfuss is perfectly cast as a shark expert and provides some truly funny comic bits along the way. Lorraine Gary (who director Steven Spielberg says was the first person to be cast for the film) does an excellent job of being the concerned wife and mother. Finally, there’s Murray Hamilton, who gives one of the best performances of his career as Mayor Vaughn, who seems to be more concerned about the economy of the town than the safety of the residents. In a way, Vaughn is really the film’s villain. Solid cast indeed. The screenplay (by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb) is tight and well-written, as is Spielberg’s direction. Whether it was the mechanical shark’s failure to operate correctly or Spielberg’s decision to simply see less of the shark until the end of the film, the “less is more” idea works perfectly, particularly in the opening scene, which is chilling to this day.
One thing I do want to add: if you choose to watch this film at home, do yourself a favor and rent or buy the WIDESCREEN version. The full-screen pan and scan version is a travesty that ruins the great camerawork that Spielberg and cameraman Bill Butler made. I always recommend the widescreen version but it is especially important for JAWS.
No offense to fans of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, but this is the film that should have taken home the Oscar gold.