Tag Archives: Steven Spielberg

RetView #50 – Jaws (1975)

Title: Jaws

Year of Release: 1975

Director: Steven Spielberg

Length: 124 mins

Starring: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Murray Hamilton, Lorraine Gary

I wanted to do something a bit special for this landmark 50th RetView, and you could probably count on your fingers the number of movies, of any genre, that have had more of a cultural impact than Jaws. In fact, these days it is widely considered one of the best films ever made. It was based on the novel of the same name Peter Benchley was commissioned to write by Doubleday in the early seventies, though rumour has it that he was ejected from the film set for making a nuisance of himself. To date, the movie has spawned three sequels despite declining popularity and commercial performance, the franchise reaching its nadir in 1987 with Jaws: The Revenge which, conversely, is generally acknowledged as one of the WORST movies of all time. The Jaws franchise is a prime example of how to go from hero to zero in four easy steps. It’s probably fair to say that by 1987, the killer shark premise was beginning to wear a little thin. They probably did well to take it as far as they did. But while the series ended badly, upon its release in the summer of 1975 the original movie was nothing short of a revelation, terrifying beach-goers everywhere, raking in an astonishing $470 million at the Box Office from a $9 million budget, and going on to win no fewer than three Academy Awards, making it one of Universal’s biggest ever triumphs. All things considered, it’s well worth a closer look.

If, by some miracle, you’re unfamiliar with the plot, it’s pretty easy to swallow (sorry). When a giant man-eating Great White shark starts terrorizing a nondescript New England town called Amity, threatening not only swimmers but local businesses much to the chagrin of the local mayor (Hamilton), police chief Martin Brody (Scheider) is called into action. After getting slapped in the face and shouted at several times by affected locals, he eventually enrols a grizzled professional shark hunter called Quint (brilliantly portrayed by Shaw) and a witty marine biologist (a pre-Close Encounters of the Third Kind Dreyfuss) and together the trio head off into the open sea on Quint’s too-small boat called the Orca (named after the only natural enemy of the Great White) to hunt down the pesky fish. Incidentally, if you didn’t get the reference, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” is a classic line from the movie delivered by Brody upon seeing the size of the shark they were dealing with and has been ‘meme famous’ ever since. Screenwriter Carl Gottlieb later revealed that the line wasn’t scripted, but ad-libbed by Scheider.

The musical score, which went on to become a classic piece of music synonymous with impending doom, was composed by John Williams. Widely regarded as one of the greatest film composers of all time, Williams also wrote the music for Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, the Indiana Jones films and, er, Home Alone. During his distinguished career he has won 25 Grammy Awards, five Academy Awards (including one for the Jaws theme) and four Golden Globes. Discussing the piece that kick-started his career, he described the Jaws theme as, “Grinding away at you, just as a shark would do. Instinctual, relentless, unstoppable.”

But it wasn’t all plain sailing. Jaws was the first major motion picture to be shot on the ocean, resulting in a troubled, prolonged shoot that far exceeded its budget. Among the issues the crew had to contend with were unpredictable weather, vessels drifting into shot, the effects of salt water corrosion on equipment, everyone getting seasick and problems with the life-sized mechanical sharks. There were so many problems the story goes that disgruntled crew members dubbed the film, “Flaws.”

So what made Jaws so popular? And why does it remain so?

In a nutshell, not only does it feature a great director, a solid plot, a memorable script, a brilliant cast, impressive special effects and an awesome soundtrack, but it appeals to our primal fears. People don’t belong in large bodies of water. We know this. The stuff living in there don’t like us and that particular environment is not conducive to having a good time. On re-watching the movie with a critical eye, it is noticeable how little screen time Spielberg actually gives the shark. This is testament to his unparalleled film-making skills and ability to ramp up the tension using only dialogue and, in one memorable scene, a drunken sing-a-long. Gottlieb would later reference the original 1951 version of The Thing, amongst other classics, where, “the suspense was built up because the creature was always off-camera.” This enabled the crew to concentrate on showing the ‘effects’ of the monster (or in this case, the shark) rather than the monster itself. Given the post-Watergate political landscape the movie was released into, it’s inevitable that critics drew certain conclusions. Perhaps overthinking things a bit, film critic Andrew Britton has suggested that narrative alterations from the book (Hooper’s survival, the shark’s explosive death) help make it “a communal exorcism, a ceremony for the restoration of ideological confidence,” and suggested that the experience of the film is “inconceivable” without the audience’s jubilation when the shark is annihilated, signifying the obliteration of evil itself. In his view, Brody serves to demonstrate that “Individual action by the one just man is still a viable source for social change.”

In perhaps the most serious bout of overthinking ever, Fredric Jameson went even further, highlighting the polysemy of the shark and the multiple ways in which it could be taken, from representing alien menaces such as communism or the Third World to more intimate concerns like the unreality of contemporary American life and the vain efforts to sanitize the concept of death. He asserts that its symbolic function is to be found in this very “polysemousness which is profoundly ideological, insofar as it allows essentially social and historical anxieties to be folded back into apparently ‘natural’ ones … to be recontained in what looks like a conflict with other forms of biological existence.”

‘Kay then.

Trivia Corner:

According to Spielberg, the prop arm used in the scene where Chrissie’s remains are found looked too fake. So instead, they buried a female crew member in the sand with only her arm exposed. Simple, yet effective.


Top 10 Greatest 80’s Movies

 

They were cheesy and full of bright colours, big hair and even bigger shoulder pads, but the 80’s were a seminal decade for movies. I know there are some notables that haven’t made the cut, but I can’t include everything. That is the nature of lists. They start and they end. Kinda like films.

If you want to nominate your own, you can do so in the comments. And if feel that strongly about it, make your own list. So, in no particular order, here is my list of the Greatest 80s Movies EVER!

10. Rambo: First Blood part 2 (1985)

Our hero John Rambo (Sylvester Stallone) gets sprung from jail and sent back to ‘Nam, where he falls in love, takes on a Vietcong army on his own (and wins), but not before getting captured, escaping, releasing a bunch of American POWs, nicking a gunship, and flying it back to a US camp in Thailand to take revenge on the evil pen-pushers that betrayed him. All in a day’s work.

Fun fact: the entire film was actually shot in Mexico.

9. Rocky IV (1985)

Rocky IV Poster

Rocky IV Poster

Only with the benefit of hindsight can you see Rocky IV as the blatant cold war propaganda it was with the callous, cheating Ruskie versus the honest, down-to-earth, all-American hero. Even for an 80’s actioner, Apollo Creed’s death scene is one of the most brutal and harrowing ever committed to celluloid, made even more powerful by all that glitter.

Fun fact: For added effect, Stallone decided he and Dolph Ludgren, who played Ivan Drago, should exchange punches for real when filming the films climactic fight scenes. He changed his mind after Lundgren hit him so hard in the chest his heart swelled up and he had a stint in intensive care. Oops.

8. Less Than Zero (1987)

One of the darker entries on this list sees Robert Downey Jr steal the show as Julian in pre-American Psycho Bret Easton-Ellis’ realisation and destruction of the American dream.

Fun fact: Easton-Ellis has written a sequel called Imperial Bedrooms, in which he claims all the characters are alive and well in the present day. That must have taken some doing, as Julian dies in the end of the first one.

7. Pretty in Pink (1986)

Like a lot of other teenaged boys in the 80s, I had a Molly Ringwald fetish. And like a lot of other teenaged boys, now I find it all a bit mystifying. She wasn’t even hot. She was more like that ropey plump ginger girl that went to every class completely unnoticed.

Fun fact: Who else thought Andie should have ended up with Duckie? That would have made total sense. So thought writer John Hughes, and the original ending was filmed that way. But test audiences disapproved, and the ending was re-made.

6. The Breakfast Club (1985)

How could a film about a bunch of kids stuck detention possibly work? Nobody knows, but it does. Helped no end by the classic theme song, Don’t You Forget About Me by Simple Minds, teen angst never looked so cool. This is the archetypal Brat Pack film.

Fun fact: John Hughes made the Breakfast Club on a shoestring budget of $1 million. It went on to gross over fifty times that amount worldwide in cinemas alone.

5. The Karate Kid (1984)

Karate Kid poster

Karate Kid poster

Wax on, wax off. Who knew being treated like a slave could turn you into a double hard bastard? Another classic underdog movie from John G. Avildsen, director of Rocky. Hands up if after watching this film you subsequently tried taking somebody out with a crane kick, only to fall flat on your ass in the middle of the playground.

Fun fact: Noriyuki ‘Pat’ Morita was nominated for an Oscar as Best Supporting Actor in his role as Mr Miyagi. He lost out to some dude who was in the Killing Fields.

4. Back to the Future (1985)

The first and by far the best in the BTTF trilogy. Written and directed by Robert Zemeckis, produced by Steven Spielberg and starring Michael J Fox in his pomp, this entry had star quality sprinkled all over it. And so it proved when it raked in over $383 million at the Box Office, becoming the biggest movie of the year in the process.

Fun fact: When filming started Fox was busy making Family Ties, so the makers decided to cast Eric Stolz as Marty McFly instead. Four weeks and $3 million later, all agreed the move was an epic failure, even Stolz. From then on a schedule was devised whereby Fox would work on Family Ties during the day and BTTF at night.

3. The Terminator (1984)

The Terminator

The Terminator

Arnie at his irrepressible best. As wooden and unemotional as its possible to get, just what a machine from the future should be like. The idea for the film came to writer/director James Cameron when he was taken ill in Rome after the release of Piranha II, and he dreamed about a mechanical torso dragging itself from the wreckage of an explosion. His agent hated the idea, and told Cameron to work on something else instead. Cameron fired him.

Fun fact: The studio originally wanted to cast O.J. Simpson as the Terminator, and Schwarzenegger as Reese. This plan fell through because Cameron thought Simpson wasn’t believable enough as a killer. Um, right.

2. Aliens (1986)

This isn’t so much a sequel, as a whole new direction for the Alien franchise. Ridley Scott made the first one, and James Cameron was drafted in for the follow-up, which must surely qualify as one of the best action movies of all time. Watch the Special Edition. It kicks all kinds of extra ass.

Fun fact: Though filmed entirely at Pinewood Studios, England, Cameron wanted only actors who could accurately imitate American accents. As a result, over 3000 auditions by British actors were binned and American actors cast in their places, including three from The Terminator (Michael Biehn, Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton)

1. The Lost Boys (1987)

Lost Boys poster

Lost Boys poster

Sleep all day, party all night. It’s fun being a vampire. Everything about the Lost Boys is just cool from the loaded soundtrack to the witty one-liners and slick production. As an added bonus, Jami Gertz is smoking hot throughout. One of the few films to actually make you want to be a supernatural entity.

Fun fact: The Frog brothers, Edgar and Allen, were named after the writer Edgar Allen Poe, and the reason Kiefer Sutherland doesn’t explode in the end like the other vamps is that he didn’t really die. This was to be addressed in a sequel called Lost Girls, which never got made.

This post was originally published by Huff Post UK:

http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/chris-saunders/

 

 


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