Getting right to the point, “Jaws” is an artistic and commercial smash. Producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown, and director Steven Spielberg, have the satisfaction of a production problem-plagued film turning out beautifully. Peter Benchley’s bestseller about a killer shark and a tourist beach town has become a film of consummate suspense, tension and terror. The Universal release looks like a torrid moneymaker everywhere.
Spielberg’s feature debut last year in “The Sugarland Express,” also a Zanuck/Brown pic, was greeted with a measure of critical ecstacy not echoed by the public; domestic film rentals on it were not even $3,100,000 after seven months in release. However, story considerations aside, Spielberg’s directorial abilities on that one as well as “Jaws” display a remarkable grasp of both logistics and drama. The assured success of “Jaws” will minimize the 100% budget overrun, to the neighborhood of $8,000,000.
Author Benchley and Carl Gottlieb share adaptation credit for “Jaws,” and the literate screenplay moves easily from large-scale mob scenes to extremely intimate situations. There are three stars: Roy Scheider, very effective as the town’s police chief torn between civic duty and the mercantile politics of resort tourism; Robert Shaw, absolutely magnificent as a coarse fisherman finally hired to locate the Great White Shark; and Richard Dreyfuss, in another excellent characterization as a likeable young scientist.
The fast-moving 124-minute film engenders enormous suspense as the shark attacks a succession of people; the creature is not even seen for about 82 minutes, and a subjective camera technique makes his earlier forays excruciatingly terrifying all the more for the invisibility. The final hour of the film shifts from the town to a boat where the three stars track the shark, and vice versa. The creature is no less menacing when finally seen in a fight to the death wherein Shaw fulfills his Captain Ahab destiny.
Bill Butler’s Panavision-Technicolor cinematography is excellent; one can almost smell the Martha’s Vineyard location. In addition, Rexford Metz did the underwater lensing, while Ron and Valerie Taylor are credited for the live shark footage. The Australian Coral Reef was used for underwater shooting. Robert A, Mattey headed the crew for the diverse and exciting special effects work – including wrecked boats, piers, shark attacks, etc. (A mechanical shark’s inanimate temperament was a cause of some filming delays.)
The adroit casting extended through the ranks of supporting players: notably Lorraine Gary (a familiar inhabitant of Universal TV shows), very good as Scheider’s wife; Murray Hamilton, excellent as the temporizing town mayor; scripter Gottlieb as a newspaper editor; Jeffrey C. Kramer, great as Scheider’s harried assistant; and author Benchley himself as an eyewitness-type TV newsman.
Verna Fields, since moved on to a senior exec post at Universal, did the topnotch editing, while John Williams’ haunting score adds to the mood of impending horror. All other production credits are superior.
The domestic PG rating attests to the fact that implicit dramaturgy is often more effective than explicit carnage.
1975 Oscar awards: Best Sound, Original Score, Editing.
Nomination: Best Picture