I was four years old when I saw this film. Yes, four years old when I witnessed Steven Spielberg's revolutionary classic Jaws for the first time. When it comes to seeing movies at an inappropriate age, I think watching one of the scariest ones to ever grace the big screen before you can speak grammatically correct sentences deserves some kind of award. I don't remember my first viewing of most of my favorite childhood films because, well, that's how having favorite childhood films works. They're a crucial part of your upbringing, in forming who you are creatively and igniting passions that will hopefully burn within you for the rest of your life. But holy crap, do I remember seeing Jaws for the first time. What the hell were my parents thinking? I don't know and I don't care, because Jaws has fundamentally influenced my life in more ways than one.
As it says in the title, Jaws traumatized me and I don't say that flippantly. I mean it. I was absolutely, 100% scared out of my wits for a large chunk of my childhood by this movie. Sure, we all know how this movie scared an entire generation away from the beach. Boo hoo. Me though, my fear didn't end at the ocean. I was afraid of swimming pools. I was even afraid of the damn bathtub. If I closed my eyes while taking a bath, the all too plausible scenario of a 25 foot long great white shark bursting through the fiberglass of my pathetically fragile tub would bite down into my gray matter and not let go until I was safe and sound...out of the bath.
The trauma does not end there, though. Let me tell you about my nightmares! You see, it wasn't enough for me to be afraid of any object larger than a spoon that could hold liquid. No no. My sleep had to be tormented too! To this very day, to this very damn day, the vast majority of my nightmares involve sharks or the ocean to some capacity. Sometimes I see the shark, monstrously large and mouth agape, waiting to tear me to bloody pieces. Sometimes I don't see the shark...I feel him. I could be waist deep at the beach or treading water in the middle of nowhere and I just know that something is close by. It's getting closer by the second and if I don't wake up I'm a goner. I've had so many shark nightmares throughout my life that if I'm lucky, I can actually force myself awake before anything bad happens. Now if I ever encounter Freddy Krueger, I'll have an ace up my sleeve.
So, how did I process all of this abject terror? Well, I watched the hell out of Jaws! Duh! As crapping-in-my-pants scary as I thought the movie was, I couldn't get enough of it. It enthralled me like no other film has or ever will. Every time it was on TV (I remember the TNT Network playing the hell out of it) I had to watch it. I had seen it on TV so many times I still remember all of the points in the film where it cut to commercial break. I loved the film so much, I even watched and enjoyed the sequels as a kid! Jaws 3 was the shit to this fin-atic (see what I did there?). I mean, how could you not cherish a scene like this?
That was originally in 3D by the way. I don't know if that makes it better or worse, but what I do know that it is movie magic all the same. As embarrassingly bad as Jaws 3 and Jaws: The Revenge are, I still maintain that Jaws 2 is a half decent sequel. Sure, the film turns the shark into a scarred up slasher villain, but there is competent acting, suspense and the score by John Williams is genuinely equal to the first films. But enough about the sequels, let's get back to business.
I can't pinpoint exactly when I became a movie freak, probably because, thanks to Jaws, I've always been one. If I didn't see it at such a tender age, maybe my love of film wouldn't have developed as strongly as it did or even at all. I can't remember ever not loving movies. Even when I didn't understand what I was seeing, movies had a hypnotic effect on me. I could just watch them. It didn't matter if it was a children's film or some adult drama. The affect was (mostly) the same if the film caught my attention.
As I grew into my love of cinema, and I became self aware that I was indeed a movie geek, Jaws was the first film I put a effort in studying and examining. I cut my teeth learning the language of film and what goes into film making by studying everything that went into the production of Jaws. By extension, Steven Spielberg became my personal hero. Jaws led to Jurassic Park and E.T. and Indiana Jones and Close Encounters of the Third Kind and...you get the picture! It doesn't matter if he was the director or only the producer, all of my favorite movies seemed to bear the Spielberg name over the title. Jaws and Steven Spielberg are single-handedly responsible for all of my artistic passions and for that I owe him my eternal gratitude. Every movie geek has that one film, and Jaws is mine.