By: Steven Johnston
While the Void Zone was on sabbatical, I traveled briefly to Martha’s Vineyard, where I spent Sunday August 10th, 2014 exploring a town called Edgartown. Of course, Edgartown is far more famous as its cinematic alter ego, Amity Island (“Amity, as you know, means friendship”).
On a little street, a few blocks from the water, and less than a mile from the beach featured in the film, there’s a small theater that shows Jaws every Sunday. Spoiler alert, it’s the absolute perfect place to watch it.
My 5 Star review of Jaws was probably a foregone conclusion. After all, Jaws changed cinema. It created the blockbuster, made the world safe for sequels, and set the stage for all of the high octane-action adventure franchises that we know and love today. However, it is completely unrecognizable by today’s standards for blockbusters.
For the vast majority of its two hour and four minute running time, Jaws consists of the three men on a boat. Robert Shaw’s Quint loves and understands the sea, Richard Dreyfuss’ Hooper is fascinated by sharks, and Roy Scheider’s Brody fears the water, but it’s this trio that is dispatched to locate and kill a giant shark that threatens the livelihood of Amity.
Famously, the Shark didn’t work, and director Steven Spielberg was forced to adapt his vision of the film so the Shark remained a mystery, a hidden force rarely seen lurking beneath the waves haunting our heroes as if from a dream. The creature leaves behind clues that only make it more menacing, severed body parts, a dislodged tooth, not to mention damaged boats and completely destroyed beach front infrastructure. As the heroes hunt the beast, they discover that he is stronger and smarter than most sharks. They devise new tactics in order to defeat the creature, and with each confrontation they are more desperate, the stakes are more intense, and the sense of danger for the audience is more palpable.
This is especially true at the Edgartown cinema where the first strains of John Williams’ famous score drew cheers, each entry into the water caused the audience to sit forward, the flash of the shark’s fin caused a collective intake of breath, and the discovery of an underwater corpse drew shrieks. The audience spoke Brody’s famous observation, “We’re going to need a bigger boat” right along with Scheider, and cheered when - SPOLIER ALERT - the creature met its final fate.
Carl Gottlieb and Peter Benchley, working from Benchley’s own novel, do a great job of reinventing what was originally a tale of corruption and infidelity set against the backdrop of a shark attack ridden summer into a script that brings all the drama of the best parts of Moby Dick and all the heart of The Old Man and the Sea. Spielberg should’ve gotten best director for turning what was a technical nightmare into a masterpiece, and the stars deserve accolades.
By today’s standards, this is a small movie, with a small cast. It is steeped in the language of cinema, one shark attack provokes such a reaction from Roy Scheider that Spielberg films in the same film effect perfected by Hitchcock for the movie Vertigo that you just know he must have stood up and cheered. That said, the way the audience in Edgartown reacted to Jaws convinces me that a movie doesn’t need to be gigantic to make a big impression.
See Jaws again, and if possible, see it in Edgartown. It’s easily one of the best film going experiences, I’ve ever had.