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Sunday, September 30, 2007

Jaws: Fearful of the sea

(This review will contain the story of the film, so if you feel that your surprise of the movie is being spoiled, feel free to stop reading at any point of time)
For thousands of years now, humans have been traveling on the vast waters of the seas and oceans. And just like there are massive predators on land such as tigers, lions and others such, there are massive creatures in the sea. The shark is one such predator, it is the pinnacle of evolution in the water, and has been there for millions of years now. The shark is one of the true rulers of the water, being a very accomplished killing machine in terms of razor-sharp teeth, sensors that can sense animals in the water, and so on. It is only man with his superior technology who has managed to start decimating the shark, and given the fearful reputation of the shark, there are not that many people signed up to save the shark (as opposed to more lovable creatures such as whales, dolphins, and so on). With more research, it has been found that most of the initial theories regarding sharks are more misplaced, they are not natural man-eaters who will sneak upto you when are in water and attack you. A lot of shark-attacks happen because the shark mistakes a swimmer from underneath as a seal.
And then there was this movie. It single-handedly exploited the fear of humans about the unknown in the water; you can imagine the fear when you are going into the water not knowing that there is a shark nearby, and this movie was actually about a great white shark, the largest of the sharks. Shark attacks have happened before, making the story all the more believable, and people did not know enough not to be spooked by the movie.


The movie was directed by Steven Spielberg as a young aspiring director who had just directed 2 movies before this (one of them was a made-for-TV movie). The movie was based on a novel of the same name by Peter Benchley, with the general consensus being that the movie was better than the book. The movie was shot in Martha's Vineyard, and had a number of problems during shooting. However, the movie was splendidly made, with the right amount of menace, suspense and horror and was an incredible success (the movie grossed more than $400 million in its release and is still earning from the DVD market; in comparison the total cost of production was only around $12 million). The movie essentially revolves around 3 people, Roy Scheider (as the local sheriff Chief Martin Brody), Richard Dreyfuss (as a shark specialist, Matt Hopper), and Robert Shaw (as the old fisherman who offers to hunt the shark down, Quint).
Imagine the start of a movie that did not have too many movies of the same genre, and suddenly you see a young girl who has gone into the water in some amount of drunkenness, suddenly being attacked by a massive creature, and you don't even see the full size of the creature. And this is how Jaws started. This is a small town 'Amity', dependent on the tourist season for a fair amount of business. A mention of a shark in the water, and you will see tourists voting with their feet and the collapse of the business. On the other hand, if you don't do anything, then any more shark attacks will anyhow be public knowledge, and you risk the lives of innocent people. This is the choice facing newly arrived Sheriff, Martin Brody. He is helped in this decision by the cold nature of the town mayor who can't see the business lost, and constantly over-rules the sheriff.
While the first victim is being evaluated to see whether this is a shark attack, eventually it is business as usual. And then a second attack, where a young boy is killed in a busy tourist beach session almost in front of her mother. It is now open season on the shark, with many shark-hunters going out in all sorts of boats. It also sees the arrival of the know-it-all expert Matt Hopper and Quint (nursing a grudge against sharks when his ship was downed in the Second World War and sharks killed a number of his fellow sailors). In all this, the shark claims one of the hunters; while a different tiger shark is killed and proclaimed as the killer shark, and hence the people are safe now (an illusion that will claim more lives).
These scenes lead onto the final confrontation where the true size of the Great White Shark is revealed to these 3 hunters who are out on a small boat to get the shark. In a cat-and-mouse game with the shark, including a terrifying sequence where the shark actually tears into a metal cage, their boat is almost destroyed by the shark. How do they save themselves and get the shark ?

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