Thursday, November 3, 2016
So... Jaws. I had avoided seeing this movie, because of all things, my deepest fear is being eaten to death. All I had seen of this movie was the opening chomps and the severed leg of the boater drifting to the bottom of the ocean - the first had caused me to flee the room (my sister was watching), and the second was while I was channel surfing. It's movies like this that give little kids complexes about things like being eaten. What 7 year old thinks about the primal dread of being eaten to death? Well, I was a weird kid in a lot of ways. But the thing that surprised me with this was how hard it was to keep my attention focused. Instead of being kept spellbound by the ramping up tension, like in Vertigo, I found myself checking my phone and wondering whether it would be tasteless to be eating pudding while watching. I decided it wasn't (Mmm, butterscotchy goodness to go with watching a shark). I think the issue here was the same problem with The Exorcist - cultural osmosis for this film is so inescapable that the "surprises" are now pretty tame. I knew Kim Novak died in Vertigo before I saw it, but I had no idea how she died or why she died or how anyone got to the state they did. I guess this comes down to a personality thing. Some people enjoy spoilers and like watching how things unfold, while people like me can't enjoy suspense movies without the suspense present. And watching Jaws just doesn't have any surprises for a person who was a kid in the 90's. Cartoons and pop culture were lousy with references.
This is a pretty standard film as far as summer monster blockbusters go, but obviously that's what makes it so influential. Monster movies where usually the B-reel, and made the kind of quality viewing that you see on Mystery Science Theater 3000. Of course the progenitor is going to seem standard, since everyone ripped it off. The soundtrack is so beyond iconic that it's joined The Ballad of Jed Clampett and The Ballad of Gilligan's Island (what was it with 60's sitcoms and calling their theme songs ballads?) as an instantly hummable wad in the American conscious. There seems so little to talk about, considering you can take a class on Jaws alone in some places. Though I did find it funny that the girl who gets eaten at the beginning is signalled as a literal garbage person. Like... she's not just the slutty girl who invites a stranger to go nude swimming and thus must be punished with horrible death (as per horror tropes). She's actually first seen sitting in a pile of trash, like Oscar the Grouch. I thought this little bit of virtue signalling was pretty heavy-handed, but odds are, it wasn't really a conscious decision. Lots of people subconsciously virtue signal... and based on descriptions of the problem-plagued production of the film, they probably just meant her to be sitting off a little ways, and the mound of trash was incidental. I overthink a lot of things. There doesn't seem to be a lot of point into getting into describing the film, because everyone knows it: shark starts eating people, police chief gets overridden about closing the beach by a bunch of bureaucrats, shark eats more people, men go out hunting shark, shark eats more people, shark explodes. An exploding shark is really the best thing you can hope for when you have a monster shark. I didn't personally care much for this film (DEAR SWEET LORD WHY DID NO ONE TELL ME THERE WAS BLACKBOARD SCRATCHING!?!), but I can see why it's influential and why people enjoyed it. However, here's also the problem that the killer Great White took such a hold on the public imagination that they were hunted to the endangered list. There's a little factoid for anyone who says movies don't influence reality. This is a movie that broke barriers for summer films, for action, and for monster films. It's also a film that caused widespread damage as people became terrified of sharks. Maybe someone should make a movie about malarial mosquitoes killing a bunch of cute, rich, or likable people in Massachusetts. Maybe then we could focus on an animal that actually causes humans problems.