How can that be? I remember seeing it in the theater—when I was 11 years old. And I haven’t been comfortable going more than ankle-deep in the ocean since then. Give me an inflatable raft and I feel disturbingly like a canapé.
I recently saw the new Melissa McCarthy movie, Spy, with my womens. (Oh, by all means, see it. See it now. See it more than once.) While we were watching the previews, there was an announcement for a fortieth anniversary showing of Jaws on the big screen.
Things 1 and 2 and I had been planning on taking Joe to see Jurassic World for Father’s Day. (Because nothing says I love my daddy like CGI dinosaurs and Chris Pratt.) But I had to suggest we see Jaws instead. Joe and I had seen it on the big screen originally, but Thing 2 had only seen it on the small screen and Thing 1 had never seen it at all.
I didn’t insist. I made the suggestion and let them discuss. For the three seconds it took them to decide on Jaws.
A short intro from AMC preceded the film. We learned about Spielberg’s intent, the mishaps with the mechanical sharks, and the film’s place in cinematic history. Whatevs. I clutched my Coke Zero and watched wide-eyed as that first young women ran down the beach, shucked off her clothes and dove into the ocean, shortly to become the first casualty.
Holy cow, that movie really holds up.
There is no time for your attention to wander. There’s no wondering what the happy hell the film maker was thinking. The story moves quickly and never puts a foot wrong, never gives you a moment that pulls you out of that story. There’s probably a fishing metaphor lurking here, one about hooking you fast and reeling you in. If you’re inclined to fishing metaphors, which I am not.
The jump scares? I still jumped. Joe didn’t, but he’s a stoic. The Things and I were pulling our feet up in involuntary, full-body flinches, although we didn’t shriek. Keep in mind—I’ve seen this movie. More than once. I knew how everything was going to work out. And I still jumped.
We also talked a lot about the movie’s balance of humor with horror. Sometimes physical, sometimes a one-liner, the small moments of levity bleed off the tension just enough so you’re relaxed again before the next encounter with the shark. Quint’s, “Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women.” Hooper’s, “I got no spit.” And Brody’s “Come on down here and chum some of this shit” immediately before the shark pops up out of the water? The best of both worlds.
Compared to today’s movies, it almost seemed like a documentary. The beach scenes? All those people looked like folks you’d really find on the beach. They were young and old, thin and fat, a great panoply of humans. The main characters? Their hair blew in the wind, they squinted, they didn’t try to hide their wrinkles, and they looked like regular people. Not coiffed and tweezed and photo-shopped into mannequins.
The major difference between seeing the movie on the big screen in 1975 and seeing it there today? When Brody fires that last shot, “Smile, you son of a bitch,” and the shark blows up, nobody in the theater today cheered and clapped.