Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Reel 40: JAWS - Part 4: On The Big Screen

This month marks the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s JAWS. Widely regarded as one of the best films of all time, Reel Speak celebrates this game-changing film with a blog each week for the month of June. Part 1 (HERE) explored The Beginnings, Part 2 (HERE) examined Why It Worked, Part 3 (HERE) dove into The Legacy…and this fourth and final part is a review of the film’s return to the big screen. 

Based upon Peter Benchely’s novel in which a killer shark terrorizes a fictional resort town, Steven Spielberg’s JAWS was not just the film which wrote the book on today’s current summer blockbuster model; it was the movie that created the pages that book was written on. It was an instant smash on its way to becoming the No. 1 box office hit of all time (before being overtaken by STAR WARS just two years later), and one of the most endearing, respected, and beloved films ever. Forty years later, a true example of the film’s ongoing appeal was witnessed at the film’s limited re-release on the big screen; courtesy of Fathom Events and Cinemark’s Classic Series. 

The most cynical may ask why they should shell out cash to watch a movie they could easily view at home via DVD, Blu-ray, or even on any given cable or satellite channel. If the big-screening of JAWS which this Blogger attended this week is any indication, the most cynical can go swim with the sharks. This particular screening was not just a packed sold-out show, it was clearly attended by old fans along with a host of newcomers (more on that in a bit). The variation in age was all over the map; very young, very old, and everything in-between. 

The presentation of JAWS was nothing short of spectacular. From the deep blue of the ocean to the bloody reds, JAWS practically leapt off the screen and into the auditorium. It looked clear and crisp and rich…and the largeness of the screen allows so many little details to be seen on the sets; from the wood-grains of the boats to the labels on bottles of wine…the big screen treatment made the fun and horror of JAWS an immersive experience. Spielberg’s eye for filling a frame with all of the vital elements is on full display; offering a clinic for anyone who has ever picked up a camera. 

How a movie sounds is just as important as how it looks, and this is why JAWS belongs in a theatre. The audio is not just amplified, but more importantly, it sounds so very clear with the littlest dubbed-in sounds now audible. Background chatter can finally be heard, the screams of the shark’s victims are bone-shaking, the groaning of the sinking boat feels dreadful…and of course, John Williams’ iconic soundtrack has all of the low-end bass rumble strong enough to loosen the hardest of bowels. In the theatre, it's a new movie to take in and it has never looked or sounded better.

The audience this Blogger viewed the film with were 100% on-board with the experience. The many newcomers jumped and screamed and sent popcorn flying at all the right jump-scares and laughed in all the right places. Their reactions points towards Spielberg’s perfect balance of terror and humor in the film. The old vets, this Blogger included, sat back with a huge grin and took it all in…and still chuckled at the jokes and witty one-liners. Perhaps the best part about the screening was towards the end; when people gasped at the bloody demise of Quint, cheered at the bloodier demise of the shark, and applauded without shame when the credits rolled over the shot of Chief Brody and Hooper arriving at the beach. For a brief but wonderful two hours, that theatre was in 1975 again; when sharks and the men who hunted them were something new, and the names of Spielberg and Williams were just being etched into the pillars of filmmaking. 


As a wee-lad in the 1970’s, this Blogger was much too young to see JAWS on the big screen in 1975, and it wasn’t until the later part of the decade when a new thing called HBO played the film in the family room; causing jumps, scares, cigarettes flying, and plenty of hiding underneath blankets. Since then, JAWS has been a constant favorite, and as the years have passed, an inspiration for filmmaking and storytelling. This Blogger has taken great pleasure in these JAWS blogs celebrating the 40th anniversary, as it has served a way to rediscover the film and its impact across generations. Seeing it on the big screen for the first time felt like coming full circle, and one day a new circle will begin when JAWS is introduced to new wee-lads in the family room. The film is timeless, and that is perhaps the greatest compliment it can receive. 

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