Make no mistake, Jaws is a very good film about a huge killer shark. In fact, it might be the best film ever made about a huge killer shark, topping a list that includes such illustrious titles as Deep Blue Sea, The Meg and Sharknados 1 through 6. But does it really deserve the veneration it receives?
Granted, the film’s merits are many. The performances are good, from the charming business chez Brody (Roy Scheider) to Quint’s (Robert Shaw) show-stopping USS Indianapolis monologue. The script is – as we’ve seen – endlessly quotable. Amity Island is awash with colourful characters. John Williams’ score is wonderful, filling in the gaps with a throbbing migraine menace. And, dodgy mechanical shark aside, the attack scenes are tense and well orchestrated.
Jaws also made a household name of Steven Spielberg, perhaps the most universally loved director of all time. It’s better than Peter Benchley’s book, better than it needed to be, but is that enough for cinematic immortality?
The fact is, Jaws isn’t primarily remembered because it’s a great piece of cinema, but because it was (and is) highly profitable, making nearly half a billion dollars worldwide. It also invented the very concept of the summer blockbuster: not something to be too proud of, in my honest opinion.
While there’s no reason to be sniffy about success, to elevate the film above its box-office receipts feels like glory-hunting. Be highly suspicious of anyone who names Jaws as their favourite film (see also The Rolling Stones for favourite band). Really?What on earth have they been watching for the past half century?
Ultimately, Jaws is a decent exploitation flick that offers a quick trip to the edge of your seat and back, but little more – nothing to chew over, no take-home, and little insight into man or beast.
Compare it to other heavy hitters from the 1970s. The Godfather probes the rotten heart of the American Dream; The Exorcist interrogates ideas of faith and evil; even Star Wars pits idealism against fascism. But Jaws? It is just a film about a huge killer shark, and some of us need a slightly a larger vessel for our dreams. Or is it just me?