This year celebrated the 40th anniversary of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, so as per big screen law, it had to be given another watch. Filled with lines that are now imprinted on the inside of any film fan's brain, here’s a brief list of the best bites from Jaws, and why it still stands as such a classic today.
Enjoy the swim...and remember, no diving!
1. The First Attack
In a number of interviews, Spielberg has admitted that Jaws would have nowhere near the lasting effect that it has had it not been for the masterful score from John Williams. A tune so simple and focused in its delivery, the director didn't even believe his go-to musician when he first heard it.
Williams, of course, was as serious as a shark attack, creating a piece of music that mirrored Amity Island's unwanted visitor, which he describes as a "relentless, unstoppable, primeval creature." Swimming alongside the audience from the film's first frame, the tension rises and falls like a wave, before a harmonica breaks the silence and we say hello and goodbye to an unfortunate late night swimmer.
2. The Death of Alex Kintner
Hitchcock may have introduced the world to the reverse zoom in Vertigo, but most will always link it to Jaws, when Spielberg set up all the potential meals for the shark, only for Brody to realize who was really on the menu. It’s brilliantly handled and shows a fine example of a young filmmaker who would become one of the greatest storytellers of our time.
Only briefly showing the attack, more time is instead spent on the build up. Heads bob about in the ocean before islanders are rushing to shore, and the panicked, land-bound Chief Brody is there to meet them. Surely, the kid is fine though? Surely, this up-and-coming director hasn’t just fed a child to a shark less than half an hour into the film? It’s an understandable fear from the audience that is quickly answered when Miss Kintner calls out to her son, and and only the waves answer back, bringing a tattered inflatable with them. Truly haunting.
3. “The head. The tail. The whole damn thing.”
There’s a lot of great performances floating among Spielberg’s classic, but the one that towers above the rest is Robert Shaw’s sea-beaten fisherman, Quint. An Ahab for the modern day, Shaw’s portrayal of Amity’s crotchey old seaman is perfect. Often imitated, but never duplicated, Quint steals the show from a 25-foot shark as soon as he appears on screen, following that ear-bleeding introduction down the chalkboard.
Like a meeting in Hamelin, the town folk are silenced by one man who pipes up and clearly knows what he’s talking about even if the other locals don’t. Not only does he become the most interesting character in the film, he also highlights just how dangerous this fish is, and what it’ll take to catch him.
Thank you, Mr. Quint.
4. Hooper’s Autopsy
Jaws is dependent on building fears from what we don’t see. The shark doesn’t poke its head out of the water until 81-minutes in, and even then, the damage it has caused previously is rarely seen - including the first victim. Only giving a hand to show us what sort of carnage this big beast can do, we get a good and rather gripping description thanks to Richard Dreyfus’ Hooper.
If this was a film being made a few years after 1975, someone may have braved the idea of showing the audience what the shark had done to its first bit of prey, but the shaken description from the mainland man is more than enough. It’s bad enough that the remains of Chrissie are enough to fill a sandwich box, but the look on Hooper’s face does more than enough to take the terror to new levels.
5. Brody Meets Miss Kintner
Regarded by the late Roy Scheider as one of the most painful scenes to film in his career, the actor had to take a number of hits from Lee Fiero’s Miss Kintner, who struggled to do a fake slap and had no choice but to wallop him for real. The result is a hit that sends ripples down the dock and leaves Brody ashamed of the life he could’ve saved... but didn’t.
There’s a lot to take from this scene; the deathly silence that comes with this woman in black, Hooper recoiling at the sight and ultimately Brody helpless to defend himself. The biggest success, though, rests with Fiero’s performance - brief but undeniably heartfelt, that leaves our hero and the audiences stunned.
6. Brody & Son
Spielberg has a knack of capturing wonderful interactions between an adult and a child. These encounters would appear in The Temple of Doom, Hook and Jurassic Park to name a few, but it’s Jaws where he delivers his best, and it’s one that involves nearly no dialogue whatsoever. In-between the blood, biting and bitch slapping, Spielberg spares a moment for calm in what becomes one of the most striking scenes in the film, and it’s not between man and beast, but father and son.
Just like every other favorite on the list, the scene is simple and striking but for much more heartfelt reasons. Sitting back at the dinner table, Scheider irons out the creases on Brody’s face brought about by a day riddled with guilt. The first person to see it is his son, who looks on at his father in awe and respect, mimicking the man at the head of the table. It’s simply a wonderful moment, proving that no matter how flawed he may be, Brody's still a hero in his son's eyes.
7. Staying on the Line
As soon as the Orca sets sail, the film quickly turns from a monster terrorizing the town to Spielberg’s own Moby Dick. Three men (two of which don’t necessarily get along) set sail to bring back the trophy fish, and the build up for the battle is immense. He already has us hooked, but it’s here where Spielberg literally begins pulling in the line, as the beast takes Quint’s bait and the real chase begins.
A wonderful moment of terror that is often overlooked by Brody’s first encounter with the shark, Quint’s twitching fishing line isn’t so different from the quaking cup of water in Jurassic Park. Both helping ramp up the anticipation for the monster to reveal itself, in what is one of the most iconic moments in cinema history.
8. “You're gonna need a bigger boat.”
There’s enough quotes from Spielberg’s filmography to fill a phone book, but one that stands out from the rest is one that neither he or the screenwriters came up with themselves. As Roy Scheider shovels guts into the sea, he’s greeted by his nemesis from beneath the waves, and recoils whilst uttering a line that would be spoken, spoofed and cemented in the minds of cinephiles for years to come.
Whilst it would’ve no doubt brought chills to the audience back then, now the scene stands as a hair-raising example of filmmaking. It’s Bruce swinging out and back into the water, it’s Brody springing from his seat like a Jack-in-the-Box, and it’s the improvised line that Scheider shakily delivers that puts the icing on this terrifying cake.
9. The Indianapolis Speech
Robert Shaw is the best thing in Jaws. You can admire the malfunctioning shark, and applaud John Williams’ ear-prickling theme, but Robert Shaw’s Quint is not only the best performance in the film, but probably the highlight of his entire career. His secluded classist fisherman brings life to the film the second he drags his fingernails down the chalkboard, and steals it from the shark thanks to his account of the Indianapolis.
It’s well-known that he and Richard Dreyfuss didn’t get along for most of the production of the film, with the latter describing Shaw as "intense, extraordinarily competitive and the most difficult man he ever worked with." Having said that, Dreyfuss defended his co-star in the 30th Anniversary Edition interview explaining that, “sometimes when you hear an actor tell a story, you’re making up the interest…when Robert told that story, I couldn’t keep my eyes off him.” Even now, audiences are no different. This is, by far, the best scene in Jaws and the fish is nowhere to be seen. Instead, all attention is on one man’s haunting account of what he saw, and the impending terror of what’s to come.
...Anyway, they delivered the bomb.
10. “Smile you son of a bitch.”
Fun fact: If Brody really had shot that canister that gets wedged between the shark’s teeth, there would have been no explosion. Instead of shark blubber blasted in every direction, we would’ve seen a very agitated fish with a tank flying out his mouth. That’s not the Hollywood ending we want though, and thankfully neither did Spielberg.
Tweaking Benchley’s ending of harpooning the thing to death, Brody instead fires his gun at the monster in a winning shot with a line that’s as memorable as "we’re going to need a bigger boat." One said with satisfaction that should still get any dedicated fan cheering for (what we presume) is the last man standing, before his long swim back to shore. Better start paddling.
Are any of your favorite moments from Jaws on the list, or are there any others that you thought had a harder bite? Sound off in the comments below.