Plot: Summer is a wonderful time of the year for Amity Island, since it happens to be the season when the tourists arrive to visit the beaches and spend their tourist dollars. While most of the summers on Amity Island are calm and uneventful, this year is going to be different and no one on the island will ever forget it. Right before the initial wave of tourists ransack the island, some of Amity’s officials become aware of a Great White shark that has been trolling near the beaches. Of course this poses a lethal threat to those who would enter the waters and as such oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) believes the beaches should be closed to avoid potential personal injury or even loss of lives. But the mayor of the island feels closing the beaches is not needed and would result in loss of too much income, so they remain open, although Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) thinks this is a mistake. As time passes, the shark feeds on several swimmers but the beaches remain open nonetheless. In an effort to end the feeding frenzy, Hooper and a local fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) to attempt to take the shark down. But once they’re on the trail of the monster shark, they soon realize that the shark is also on the hunt and a showdown looms.
Entertainment Value: Jaws was one of the first summer blockbusters and even decades later, remains a popular and acclaimed picture, with a tidal wave of horror movies that copied it and hoped to capture a little of the magic. The movie was made with limited resources, but the rough edges just add to the b movie vibes, while the great cast and production values ensure there is ample polish as well. That blend of blockbuster and b movie is part of why Jaws works so well, as it scratches that campy, monster movie itch, but delivers a serious, effective atmosphere at the same time. That kind of balance is rare, but Jaws manages to nail it and perhaps that is why it attracts such a wide, varied audience base. This is one of the uncommon monster movies that appeals to those who don’t often visit the genre, so it is a testament to the film that it can satisfy both sides of a genre’s fence like that. The narrative is straight forward, bolstered by some terrific character development and performances, so while it is a shark hunt, there’s a lot more going on as well. I think the pace is spot on as well, keeping tension tuned up even in the exposition driven segments and the movie never feels slow, despite some heavy lifting that unfolds at times. This could have easily turned into an over the top schlock flick, but Jaws is able to deliver serious horror elements and great atmosphere, with just enough b movie magic sprinkled on top.
While most shark movies play up the camp value and the cast follows suit, Jaws has a serious tone and sincere, effective performances. Roy Scheider has a central role and brings a strong presence, serving as the film’s anchor more or less. He plays it straight and serious, even in the wackier moments. Robert Shaw has some of the movie’s most memorable moments, including his monologue about his previous shark encounter, in another serious performance. He dials things up a little in the confrontation with the shark, but otherwise keeps it grounded. The same holds true for Richard Dreyfuss in another prominent role, though he has a little more comedic presence than the others, though it is reined in. I think the cast is a big reason why Jaws works so well, as the leads are able to make the most of the material and elevate scenes, which might not have been nearly as effective in other hands. I think the narrative is one of the movie’s weaker links, so the focus on characters and performance works wonders, especially since the cast really delivers. The cast of Jaws also includes Murray Hamilton, Lorraine Gray, Jeffrey Kramer, and Carl Gottlieb.