Friday, August 20, 2010

Flashback Friday: Jaws

Tonight, at Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland, the final Flicks on the Bricks of the summer was the 1975 classic, Jaws, which is considered the first summer blockbluster. In the era before people could see movies at home, popular movies were re-released occasionally. I can't remember when my parents thought it was a wise idea to bring their two young sons to see this movie at the drive-in, but I'm thinking it had to have been in 1976 or even as late as 1978.

This movie TERRIFIED me to the point where I feared the dark beneath the bed. I had to make a running jump from the doorway to my bed, lest the shark beneath my bed gobbled me up! When my family went on a vacation to New England and went to a beach in Maine, my brother and I ran along the beach in the water, obviously without fear of sharks. Mom even pointed out that we weren't afraid of sharks in the place sharks were more likely to be (rather than hiding under the bed).

My parents were in the mid to late 20s in the late 70s, so perhaps they did not realize how a movie like this could scare a little kid and give him nightmares. In all the years since, I have not revisited this movie to see it with the maturity of an adult. Thus, when I saw that this film was one of the five summer movies featured on Portland's popular Flicks on the Bricks schedule, I knew I just had to see this movie once more. I don't remember much about the movie, so it was like watching a movie for the first time.

I consider the movie poster to be a classic. Even the image of the great white shark with all those killer teeth making a direct line towards the unaware swimmer was terrifying for a young boy to look at. As I watched this film again, I was impressed by the intensity of it. The brutal attacks with screams are still pretty tough to take. That would be a horrible way to go. By the time we see more of the shark, I was stunned by how fake it looked as it attacked the boat. I had my own encounter with this mechanical shark during a Universal Studios tour in Hollywood in 1980. The same great white that was used in the movie jumps out at people riding the train through the amusement park / film studios. I thought that was cool.

This movie was director Steven Spielberg's first blockbuster. You can definitely see the hallmarks of his touch. There are similarities with his Jurassic Park, in that some men think that dangerous animals can be managed and controlled. Only by appreciating the abilities of one's nemesis can one even hope to defeat them.

If I was a parent to a young child, though, I don't think I would allow them to see this movie. Its not terribly exciting for them. They wouldn't be interested in the slow, talky segments and the intense sequences featuring the shark attacks or shark scares would be too much for them. Though I wouldn't own this movie on DVD or likely see it again, I understand why it was a huge hit. Before it was released, there was nothing else like it. Film critics love the adult-themed movies of the 70s (The Godfather, Chinatown, The French Connection, Taxi Driver) and some audaciously blame Spielberg and George Lucas for ruining it all with their blockbuster summer movies. In fact, until Jaws came out in the summer of 1975, there was no such thing as "summer movies." Movies were released year round. After Jaws, studios jumped on the bandwagon to finance the next summer blockbuster, which generally involves lots of special effects and action. The more serious films got pushed back to the post-Labour Day period so that they could be on the minds of the Motion Picture Academy for Oscar consideration.

How ironic, then, that 35 years after a great white shark thrilled audiences that in this summer of sucky movies, the best of the bunch is one that requires your ability to think (that would be Inception, of course). Who said summer movies were all mindless explosions and action sequences? After the movie finished, the people I was with told me about the sequels, which I had never seen. Spielberg did not direct any of them, which is understandable. How does one replicate a movie like Jaws? It would simply be more of the same, though with more gore.

In 1988, when my family vacationed on the beach in Jekyll Island, Georgia, we saw fins in the water and my brother yelled "shark! shark!" to people on the beach. No one reacted. Turns out, it was merely dolphin fins. Its hard to tell from a distance. Dolphins, I can deal with. Its my dream to one day swim with dolphins. I leave the shark viewing to aquariums and the Discovery Channel in August.

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