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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, No. 1, March 1, 1976

"JAWS" - Film Review

"JAWS" - Film Review.

Now in it's 3rd record month screening in Wellington and having the same incredible success elsewhere, one wonders just what sets JAWS apart from most other ceiling busters.

It is expensive ($8 million), elaborate, and technically intricate, and yet though Peter Berchley's novel was in itself a proven commodity, the well-over budget and schedule screenplay might have just as easily flopped.

Part of a stream of high adventure films, like "Earthquake', JAWS is a fantasy relying on the immediacy of illusion, taking a panic-producing disaster and showing how a representative cross-section of humanity responds to it. On the screen the menace comes horrifyingly close putting everyone it seems, into imminent danger.

Yet the audience revels in its own terror, subconsciously aware that fear alone is what it's all about. There is security in the knowledge that, like the heroes, they will return alive.

Having previously enjoyed the novel the film-goer is immediately aware of a lack of similar padding in the way of sub-plots; the exploring around with age-old phenomena such as the uneasy marriage, the adulterous wife, the clever seducer, is eliminated.

Police Chief Brody (Roy Schrieder) must still fight the town's mayor, who is fearful that closing the beaches after the first shark attacks will ruin his resort's economy. He still joins forces with Quint the professional shark killer (Robert Shaw, who tends to play the part of excess) and a youthful ichthyologist named Hooper. Richard Dreyfus in this part perfects a cheeky charm which humourizes the picture without altogether overshadowing the ever-essential symbol of evil.

At sea in Quint's leaky craft, the three are confident of destroying this great white horror which gradually shows itself to be far more cunning, far larger and stronger than even Quint could have believed. Throughout the whole film are the classic sequences of suspense; always present is the unknowable. Steven Spielberg as director works us up with false alarms, giving us the real thing with heart-stopping suddenness. The end is explosive.

The shark-attack scenes at the beginning were handled in the never-failing Hitchcock manner, sure to cause audience reaction; what's to be expected when an audience has knowledge of lurking danger and yet is unable to shout effective warning to obvious victims?

But realism at times tended to border on the ridiculous whereby, after initial horror the spell was inevitably broken. For instance, I found the appearance of a severed head through the bottom of a sunken craft, while being a grotesque reminder of the evil effectiveness of an as yet unknown quantity, too much to bear.

Finally the appearance of "Jaws", played by a 24foot mechanical monster, and ultimately Quint's fateful end destroyed the illusions I had previously had. I found myself comparing the film rather unfavourably with the novel which was thankfully forced to leave much more to the imagination.

The soundtrack, on its own a success due to its appeal to the more morbid is indeed one of the film's great assets.

On the whole the film is over rated and yet as such will continue to attract audiences who are bound to be gripped, with only the more detached being critical enough to notice any short comings at the time.