Best Movies of All Time + Steven Spielberg

Jaws: An Experience

Anybody who reads this page on a regular basis will surely know these two facts: Jaws is my hands-down favorite film of all time, and it's the film I consider to be the greatest ever created. Now, I've gone back and forth on that latter statement - Hitchcock's Psycho and Curtiz's Casablanca give it a run for its money - but the more I watch Jaws, the more I'm convinced that it deserves that top honor. I have grown up watching the film over and over again, and it's the one movie that, if caught on TV, I will drop what I'm doing to give it yet another view.

The one thing I've always wanted to do, however, was see the film on the big screen. Having been born thirteen years after the film's initial theatrical release, I never had many chances to do just that. I'd hear about screenings here and there, but they were always out of my locale and driving range, and so, I'd sadly sit back and think about what might have been. Seeing Jaws in a movie theater became one of my life's goals. There seemed something grand about the idea, and I wanted to have the chance to see the film as so many did back in 1975. My dad always used to recount tales to me about seeing Jaws during its initial theatrical run, and he would tell me about how terrifying it actually was. I simply had to have the experience for myself.

Along comes this little company called Cinemark who, in honor of the one-hundredth anniversary of the founding of Universal Studios, has chosen to "re-release" a number of classic Universal films for one night only over the course of the next month or so, and they started tonight with Jaws. Needless to say, I jumped at the chance as soon as I saw that a theater only eight miles away would be playing it. I was so excited that I actually bought my ticket before realizing I had been scheduled to work at my outside job tonight, but I quickly scrambled to switch shifts around. Finally, I had the night free, my ticket bought, and my spirit jumping for joy. (Im)patiently, I waited the week until I had the chance to see the flick. That night was tonight.

Before I get into the specifics of my viewing experience, I want to talk a little about what the film means to me. As I previously stated, I grew up watching the film, and from an early age, I can remember being drawn to its simple story of man versus nature. Looking back, I can honestly say I didn't really understand the movie as a child and adolescent, nor do I remember the film as a whole. The only parts I remember were the ocean sequences where we saw Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and Captain Quint (Robert Shaw) battling the massive shark one-on-one. I have no early recollections of the first half of the film where we delve into small town politics and a number of other themes and ideas. Rather, I just remember the film as being man versus shark, and for a young boy with an insatiable appetite for action and suspense, that was all I really needed.

It wasn't until my late adolescence and young adulthood that I started to view Jaws in a very different light. As it was always one of my personal favorite films, I always had a copy of it readily on hand for whenever I felt the need to give it another go. I started to see the brilliance of the film, and considering how difficult it was to bring it to life, I started to garner quite a bit of respect not only for the film as an entity but also for the cast and crew, helmed by a young Steven Spielberg. On the surface, the film presents a very simple storyline of man against beast, but with all of the politics behind the decision-making, there's so much more going on in the film than meets the eye. It's a brilliant film that almost didn't make it to the cutting room floor, but for whatever reason, Spielberg managed to pick up the pieces and bring it all together, making one of the most memorable and influential films in cinematic history.

Fast forward to today, and I'm getting myself ready to head out to the theater. I'm leaving extra early in order to alleviate any possible traffic or parking issues I might hit. Dressed in my light blue Amity Island shirt (compliments of my awesome girlfriend), I set out for the theater and made it there with plenty of time to spare. To create my full experience, I ordered both a large popcorn and a large soda so that I could fully enjoy the world's first-ever "blockbuster."

I have to admit to this: as the opening credits started to roll, I turned into a bit of a blubbering fool. After so many years of waiting and wondering whether I would ever have the chance to see Jaws in a movie theater, my wish was finally coming true, and I simply couldn't hold in my emotion. Surrounded by a nearly sold-out theater of equally-interested enthusiasts, I settled in for what would be the most fulfilling movie-going experience I have ever had.

From the very outset I could tell I was in for quite an evening. While seeing the film for the (note: estimation) one-hundredth time wasn't going to bring forth any real changes in my view of the film. What was really surprising, however, was the audience reaction. As I said, the theater was mostly-filled, with probably around two-hundred occupants (none of whom left during the film's entirety, by the way). It was the way the audience reacted to the film that made this evening such an enjoyable experience.

Now, back in 1975, Jaws scared the crap out of people. It kept people out of the ocean for years, to the point where you could go to the beach and see hundreds of people sitting along the shore, but none of them would dare venture into the water. By today's standards, Jaws really isn't the scariest of flicks, but there are a few moments of suspense and jump-out-of-your-seat thrills there for your enjoyment. And let me tell you: there was plenty a scream in the theater tonight. Another interesting point is that I'd forgotten just how funny the film is. The audience was roaring with laughter at all the right places, and that made for even more entertainment. But what really got to me was the reverence that the crowd showed to the final act, starting with Quint's monologue about the U.S.S. Indianapolis. Just before that point, we were laughing as he and Hooper compared tattoos, but as soon as Robert Shaw delved into the haunting story, the theater went silent. And from that point, the audience was hooked into the action, all the way to the finish. And yes, the film got a stirring round of applause as the final credits started to roll. It was utterly beautiful. I shed another tear or two as I, along with the rest of the audience, sat through the credits in their entirety.

I had always known that Jaws had an incredible amount of staying power, but tonight's screening proved to me just how strong that power is. People still love this film just as much as I do, and they're passing it onto their children and their children's children. I saw a number of families out tonight, and I couldn't be happier that the film is being introduced to today's generation. It's a film that needs to be seen by all, and I just hope that newer audiences will love it as much as I do. I know that it's definitely a bit dated, but it's still one of - if not "the" - greatest film ever put on the silver screen. I'm just so glad that I finally had the chance to see my favorite film in the grandest way possible. And as for the continuation of its staying power, Jaws need only look at one of its final lines, uttered by Dreyfuss's Hooper:

Keep kicking.

1975, Jaws, life, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, and more:

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