When you hear the famous “duuuun dun, duuuun dun, dun dun dun dun dun dun. . . .” you immediately know to what movie it is referring. It is, of course, the 1975 classic Jaws. Few films have such recognition. You can put it into almost anything and the audience knows immediately the tone that is being sought, comically or seriously. In the original, the theme was used when you saw a swimmer being stalked from under the water, the music instilling a terror unfelt by the famous shark’s next victim. Indeed, one could argue that without this score, the movie might not have been as successful. Yet, because it made so much money, they went on to make a series of increasingly hokey sequels, not to mention a number of other related films that might as well be considered part of the franchise. None of these can match the first, and I think this is a reason why there has not been a reboot attempted. While I will never put anything past Hollywood in its cynical quest to continue squeezing bucks out of some of the most treasured classics, it does seem like some are just too perfect to touch. For now, we can count Jaws among them.
About all most remember of Jaws is the music, but do you recall its beginning? After partying with some friends on the beach near the fictional New England town of Amity, Chrissie Watkins (Susan Backlinie) elects to go skinny dipping. No one knows what happens to her until her remains wash ashore. This brings local police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) to the scene. When it is determined that the woman was the victim of a shark attack, he decides that the waters are unsafe and closes the beaches. Because this is coming up on the peak of the summer tourist season, Chief Brody’s decision infuriates the town’s mayor, Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), who sees lost revenue instead of potential danger. He then orders the beaches reopened, this being done against Chief Brody’s will. Feeling responsible, he decides to keep a watch on the beach. Sure enough, there is another attack, this time while the waters are full of swimmers. Despite him running on to the beach and shouting for people to get out of the water, there is another victim, a boy named Alex Kintner (Jeffrey Voorhees). This prompts Mayor Vaughn to issue a substantial reward for whoever finds and kills the shark responsible for these killings. It also brings the attention of an oceanographer named Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), who examines Chrissie’s remains. When the resulting fish hunt brings in a large tiger shark with what the mayor deems evidence that it is the culprit, the beaches are determined to be safe once more. Among those disagreeing are Chief Brody, Matt, and a local fisherman of repute named Quint (Robert Shaw). They believe that it is a great white shark of unusual proportions, and that further precautions must be taken. Also, Matt is finding evidence that the killer shark is going after entire boats. Finally, despite the extra measures put in place, another attack occurs on the Fourth of July, this time resulting in Chief Brody’s son being injured. This time, Chief Brody decides to take matters into his own hands, recruiting Quint and his boat Orca to take to the sea to finish off this finned menace. They are also accompanied by Matt for technical assistance. Not long into their trip, they begin to find evidence of the shark, particularly as they chum the waters. With blood and fish guts strewn about, it does not take long for the great white of great whites to appear. When it does, they manage to harpoon it with barrel floats attached to the end of lines, the idea being that it will keep the animal near the surface and make it easier to kill. Instead, it manages to dive deeper, floats and all. This, along with Matt’s estimation of its length at twenty-five feet, demonstrate that they are truly dealing with a monster. Later that night, the seriousness of their situation is driven home by Quint, who tells war stories of his time serving in the Navy during World War II. One of his tales involves how he survived the sinking of the ship he served on, only to see his crewmates devoured one-by-one while awaiting rescue. The next day, the massive shark returns to go after the Orca and her crew. The new line they manage to attach to the shark only serves to get the boat dragged backwards, swamping the engine and rendering them dead in the water (no pun intended). Matt’s next idea is to be lowered in a shark-proof cage to try and inject the creature with a poisoned needle. Instead, the shark bashes the metal and he drops the spear with the needle. It then turns its attention to the boat, breaking it apart in a furious attempt to get at its passengers, managing to chomp on Quint in the process. Chief Brody, though, is able to get a scuba tank into the shark’s mouth. He then climbs up to the crow’s nest of the doomed vessel with a rifle, taking aim at the tank, pulling the trigger, and seeing the menace blown to smithereens. Matt then resurfaces and the two are left to paddle back to shore.
Jaws is basically a monster movie, on par with Alien (1979) or King Kong (1933). Though those others speak to similar themes, what separates Jaws is its focus on man versus nature. There is a Catholic angle to this idea. Some might look at the film and think that it is God punishing people for poor behavior. After all, the first victim dies after she decides to be naughty and swim without any clothes on her body. While God can decide to let a woman perish is such a way, He can just as easily not, and a punishment of this kind would not be in keeping with His loving nature. Besides, it is not for us to determine God’s intentions for others. What I would mention instead is how God gave man dominion over nature. This is something mentioned early in the Bible. I do not think people like the word “dominion,” but that is usually the word used in Scripture. If you want a more politically correct way of thinking about this concept, call it stewardship. There will be some that will say that killing an animal simply for doing what nature designed it to do is not being good stewards of the planet. Then again, there is a whole host of issues we could get into in this regard, but let us remain focused on the film. If nothing else, we can look at what Chief Brody and his friends do as protecting the citizens of Amity. While Quint may be out to avenge his shipmates, Chief Brody and Matt are not acting out of self-interest. Instead, they are using their God-given abilities to render a service to their community.
If you have not already seen Jaws, then what have you been doing with your life? Granted, there is some nudity at the beginning (which I had not remembered before re-watching it recently), and some pretty gruesome scenes of shark attacks. These things need to be remembered because, oddly, the film is rated PG. As such, I would not show it to little kids, unless you skip over the beginning, I suppose. If nothing else, seeing it will give you context the next time you hear somebody humming “duuuun dun, duuuun dun, dun dun dun dun dun. . . .”