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JAWS Movie poster

Theatrical release poster.

Summary

The one that started it all, Jaws was the original summer blockbuster and the inspiration for all future shark-related films. Sharks in cinema were previously relegated to the odd mention or appearance, never before had one been the sole antagonist. Film producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown had heard that novelist Peter Benchley had been writing a book about a killer shark, and in 1973 purchased the rights to a film adaptation even before it reached the bookshelves. The novel was significantly sanitised for conversion into a film script, leaving out various subplots and changing the ending slightly. The film adaptation is considered to be superior than the book itself. In 2001 the film was selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the United States National Film registry, citing the work as "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant."

Three sequels were made, although none as successful critically and financially as the first. A number of unofficial sequels have been made over the years, normally by overseas filmmakers, such as The Jaws of Death, Ghost Shark and Jaws in Japan.

Synopsis

Amity Island. July 1st 1975, just before sunrise. Young swimmer Chrissie Watkins and a male friend slip away from a beach party to go skinny-dipping. Both have been drinking, and Chrissie strips and enters the water, whilst her friend collapses in a drunken daze on the sand. Something is stalking the waters just off the shore, and is making its way towards her. After a violent struggle, Chrissie is dragged underneath the water to her death.

The same day, after sunrise. Police Chief Martin Brody and his wife Ellen stir in bed until Martin eventually gets up. They are not native to Amity, as evident in their conversation. Martin Brody is a transferee from New York City. A phonecall from downtown disturbs Brody's breakfast, and he heads on in. Within the hour he is on the same beach we saw earlier with the young male who chased Chrissie into the water. He surmises to the Chief that Chrissie must have drowned, but their conversation is cut short by the frantic sounds of Deputy Hendricks' police whistle. Hendricks is found sat in the sand with a horrified look on his face a few feet away from the remains of a human female. We see a human hand with painted fingernails resting in the sand, being fed upon by crabs.

Brody heads to the police station and makes a report on the typewriter. A phonecall from the local coroner confirms that the girl died from wounds consistent with a shark attack. With the 4th of July celebrations fast approaching, Brody heads into town to buy some signwriting supplies and orders his deputy to get them printed up - Beaches Closed, No Swimming, By Order of the Amity PD, he orders. The Mayor, Larry Vaughan, gets wind of the Chief's decision to close the beaches, and questions his authority on the boat ride back to the police station. The coroner no longer agrees with his own prognosis, and appears to support Vaughan's conclusion that Chrissie's death was a "boating accident" and nothing more. Vaughan is terrified that closing the beaches and telling the world a shark is in the water will lose the town its summer trade. Under the pressure, Brody keeps the beaches open, and chooses to spend his day off at the beach to keep an eye on things. Brody is taunted by local pensioner Harry for hating the water, revealing to us, the audience, that our protagonist is aquaphobic.

As Brody relaxes on the beach with his wife as company, a ten year old boy, Alex Kintner, is killed 100ft from the shore in front of hundreds of terrified onlookers. Brody frantically orders everyone out of the water. Only Alex's torn and bloodstained inflatable raft is left as his mother stumbles along the beach looking her son, the only one who doesn't return from the water. The following day, a town council meeting is called. Mrs Kintner is offering $4,000 to the fisherman who catches and kills the shark that killed her son, although she does not attend the meeting personally. Brody announces to the council that the beaches will be closed until the shark problem is resolved. Vaughan humiliates Brody in front of dozens of onlookers by overriding his decision and telling the crowd that it will only be for 24 hours. Stirs from the crowd are interrupted by grizzled fisherman Quint, who gloats about his shark hunting ability and offers his services for 10k instead of 4. Vaughan takes his offer "under advisement." Meanwhile, oceanographer Matt Hooper arrives on the island and seeks out Brody. Dialogue reveals that the Amity PD, likely Brody himself, requested his presence. Hooper conducts a secondary examination of Chrissie Watkins' remains in the presence of the coroner, and concludes that a shark attack definitely was the cause of her death.

Overnight, two local fisherman try to claim the bounty themselves by throwing a large piece of meat into the water attached to a chain. The chain is attached to the jetty the are sat shivering on, which is pulled into the water when the shark takes the bait. Both are dragged into the ocean, but narrowly escape with their lives.

After sunrise the fisherman of the island take it upon themselves to head out to sea en masse in hope of claiming the bounty on the shark, and end up hooking a 16ft tiger shark and string it up on the dock for posterity. Hooper inspects the dead shark as the press swarm the dock, and tells the fisherman, Brody and the Mayor that they have caught the wrong shark based on differences in the bite radius between the wounds on Chrissie Watkins and the mouth of the tiger shark. The celebrations are interrupted by the solemn appearance of Mrs Kintner, who strolls up to Brody wearing all black. She smacks Brody across the face in front of dozens of onlookers and criticizes his decision to keep the beaches open with knowledge of the rogue shark. Brody doesn't let on it was under Vaughan's orders, and lets her slip away quietly. Vauaghan denies Hooper's request to cut the shark open and orders it taken out to sea and dumped in the morning.

As night falls, Brody and his wife are interrupted during dinner by Hooper, who tells Brody that he intends to approach the town council in the morning and tell them they still have a shark problem. To help give him some proof, Brody pulls rank and decides to allow Hooper to cut open the stomach of the tiger shark on the same night, revealing only junk and fish remains in the animal's gut. With several hours remaining until morning, the pair head out on Hooper's private yacht hoping to sight the shark, as Hooper believes it will be active at night. They discover the ruined wreck of fisherman Ben Gardner's boat. Brody insists they tow it in, but Hooper dons his scuba gear and inspects the wreck up close, retrieving a large serrated tooth from the damaged hull. When he inspects another hole in the hull, he is startled when Ben Gardner's head pops out, and he drops the tooth in a panic and returns to the surface. The shark it seemed had claimed its third victim.

Despite the evidence, Vaughan refuses to accept that the shark is still out there, and nothing Brody or Hooper says changes his mind. He allows the 4th of July celebrations to go ahead, but allows shark spotters to patrol the beaches and waters. Vaughan walks the sands of Amity Beach, annoyed to find that nobody is swimming. He convinces a few friends of his to go into the water, and soon a number of holidaymakers follow suit. A prank executed by two boys with a cardboard shark fin causes a minor panic, and distracts the spotters from the real shark, which has entered the estuary where Brody's son Michael and a few friends are receiving boating lessons from an instructor. The shark shunts the instructors boat, knocking him into the water, where he is devoured by the shark as a terrified Michael looks on. Brody's other son Sean, much younger, sits on the sand watching the horror unfold. Michael goes into shock and is dragged onto the beach where he is resuscitated by his father.

At the Amity Hospital, Michael appears to be doing well. Brody spots Vaughan skulking around the ward and corners him and convinces him to hire Quint to kill the shark. Vaughan is visibly shaken and at first doesn't listen, but when Brody reminds him that with this the summer is now over and he is now "Mayor of Shark City," he puts pen to paper on the $10,000 contract.

Brody and Hooper visit Quint's harbourside shack and are visibly delighted to see the large number of preserved shark jaws adorning the walls. The grizzled Quint takes an instant dislike to Hooper, perceiving him as a wealthy, inexperienced university type. Quint nonetheless agrees to allow Hooper aboard his boat, the Orca, and all three men head out to sea. Quint's crude style doesn't impress Ellen, who sees off Brody at the dockside.

Off the coast of Amity, the three men have taken up varying roles on the Orca. Hooper drives the boat, Brody throws the chum and Quint kicks back at the stern with a heavy duty fishing rod. Brody demonstrates his un-seaworthiness by pulling the wrong knot, detaching Hooper's pressurised oxygen tanks from their hold on the deck. Hooper chastises Brody and reminds him that the tanks will blow up if they are messed around with. Some time passes before the shark rears its head, startling Brody who was busy bemoaning his relegation from Chief of Police to chucking fish guts into the water. And so the hunt begins.

Quint employs a method of attaching large plastic barrels to the shark with small harpoons fired from a rifle. With one barrel attached, the men retire to the cabin for the night for a sing-along. Quint and Hooper, now apparently less antagonistic towards each other (probably due to the amount of alcohol they have consumed) begin comparing scars. Hooper notices that Quint has a large erratic scar on his left arm, which he tells him in from a tattoo removal. The tattoo was once a sailor's from the USS Indianapolis. The jovial atmosphere dissipates as Quint tells how he served on the US warship in the Second World War. Their mission was deliver parts to the shore that would later be used in the bomb that would fall on Hiroshima. After the delivery was complete, a Japanese submarine sank the ship with two torpedoes, leaving 900 sailors adrift in the water. Of the 900, only 316 survived, with the rest killed by sharks. As Brody and Hooper digest the horrific tale, the shark shunts the boat before slipping off into the water again.

As morning comes, the shark resurfaces and Quint fires two more barrels into it. Two barrels and the shark will struggle, three and it won't be able to dive at all. But Quint is proven wrong however when the shark easily disappears into the depths along with three barrels attached. Moments later they resurface, with no sign of the shark. Quint and Hooper reel the barrels in and attach the ropes to the stern cleates, only to have the shark rear its head and take a swipe for Quint. In a feat of sheer brute strength, the shark begins to drag the Orca backwards for several hundred feet before the cleates break off.

Quint, now enraged that the shark is outsmarting him, plows the boat towards the shore with the shark in pursuit in hope of coaxing it into shallower waters. In his obsession to defeat it, he burns out the Orca's engine. With the boat now immobilised, Hooper dons his scuba gear and fetches a poison spear from his kit below decks. With the help of Hooper and Brody, he contructs a shark cage and climbs inside. The cage is lowered into the water despite Brody's reservations about its effectiveness. As Hooper adjusts to the darkness, he sees something in the distance. The shark is on the approach, and barges into the cage several times, eventually forcing the bars apart to get to a frantic Hooper, who has long since dropped his poison spear and resorts to stabbing it in the snout with a knife. Quint and Brody reel in the cage to find it empty, and assume that the shark has claimed Hooper. Before they can think any further, the shark leaps onto the stern deck and shatters the boat under its weight. Brody manages to retreat into the cabin, but Quint is not so fortunate and slips into the path of the sharks mouth. Quint is devoured by the shark and dragged underwater.

Brody, now the only one left, fends off another attack by the shark beating it on the nose with a spare scuba tank, and eventually throws it into its mouth. Brody has to think fast; the Orca is sinking and the shark is circling. He grabs Quint's rifle and climbs the mast of the listing boat. Remembering Hooper's complaints about the sensitive scuba tanks, he hopes to fire a round into the tank in the shark's mouth. After a few misses, one shot scores a direct hit, and the shark explodes. Brody rejoices, then thinks of Quint and Hooper. Hooper however, soon resurfaces unscathed and the men share a laugh before using the barrels as a flotation device to get back to shore. As they head back to dry land, Brody tells Hooper "You know, I used to hate the water."

Cast

Actor Character
Roy Scheider Police Chief Martin Brody
Richard Dreyfuss Matt Hooper
Robert Shaw Quint
Lorraine Gary Ellen Brody
Murray Hamilton Larry Vaughan

The Shark

A 25ft long great white shark, as judged by the character Quint upon first seeing it. The shark remains mostly unseen for most of the film, until the final third when it is shown in full. As terrifying as the animal is depicted, the appearance and behaviour of it differs greatly from that of real great whites. 

Quotes

Trivia

  1. The novel featured a subplot whereby Ellen Brody had an affair with Matt Hooper. The novel also included more exploration of the character of Quint, in particular a scene where he is questioned by his deckhand as to where he caught the whale shark he is found to be hacking up for chum. In the finale of the novel, Hooper is killed in the shark cage, Quint drowns and the shark dies of a cardiac arrest.
  2. The Discovery Channel's science series Mythbusters staged a Jaws Special in 2005 and tested a number of the apparent capabilities of the shark in Jaws. The presenters came to the following conclusions: 
  • That no shark, no matter how big, is capable of dragging a boat of the Orca's size and weight against the flow of its own propellers.
  • That blowing up a pressurized scuba tank by shooting it is no easy feat, and creates more of a rocket effect than a straightforward explosion.
  • No shark can drag three barrels underwater.
  • Confirmed the theory that punching a shark in the snout will temporarily scare it away.
  1. The portion of the film depicting the fisherman heading out en masse to kill the shark is relatively accurate to the real life response to a shark attack, something which is lost on subsequent films.

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