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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Day 347: Jaws

Jaws, you seriously have to go to the dentist

Movies, like words, have power. Some may scoff at the idea that watching a movie or even reading a book could affect one person, let alone large groups of people, but it's true. The novel Coma, a story about hospitals selling organs was later adapted into a film and caused organ donations to drop 60%. Even the original broadcast of War Of The Worlds caused massive panic. Even though these are just forms of entertainment, they still to this day manage to cause fear and hysteria. While that says a lot about the gullibility and paranoia of humans, it also says a lot of the movies and books themselves. No horror movie still has quite the affect on people like Jaws.

Jaws is a 1975 horror thriller, based off the novel by Peter Benchley, directed by Stephen Spielberg (E.T., Saving Private Ryan). The movie stars Roy Schneider (The French Connection, 2010) as Chief Martin Brody and Richard Dreyfuss (Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Mr. Holland's Opus) as Matt Hooper. Days before the Fourth of July weekend begins on Amity Island, a young woman named Chrissie is mauled by a shark. Chief Brody wants to shut down the entire beach to ensure that no one else is attacked, but Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton, The Graduate, The Hustler) pressures Brody to reconsider. He claims that the entire town will suffer if the beaches are closed, taking away precious tourist dollars. Vaughn tries to pass off Chrissie's death as possibly a boating accident. When a young boy is killed by the shark, a bounty is placed, sparking a small frenzy by amateur fishermen. Quint (Robert Shaw, The Sting, From Russia With Love), a salty veteran fisherman, offers to capture the shark for $10,000, but no one takes him up on it. Marine biologist Matt Hooper comes to Amity and inspects Chrissie's body, declaring it most definitely the work of a shark. The amateur fishermen capture a large tiger shark relieving the town, but not Hooper. That night, Hooper and Brody cut open the shark and find no human remains inside. After inspecting a boat that had been attacked, Hooper discovers a tooth belonging to a great white shark. On the Fourth Of July, the shark attacks again, killing a man and sparking a panic. Brody convinces Vaughn to hire Quint as both he and Hooper join him on the mission. While Brody throws chum out into the ocean, the beast surfaces, showing just how large it truly is. Quint estimates it at twenty-five feet in length and over 6,000. How will these three men defeat this behemoth killing machine?

A pack of smokes a day might work

It's not often that a movie, especially a horror movie, has cultural and environmental repercussions, but when it does, you know you've made something larger than anyone could have predicted. Real life attendance at beaches were down following the movie's release and the number of sharks killed reached the thousands. Shark attacks do occur in real life, but not to the degree they do in Jaws. Peter Benchley actually regretted writing his novel because of all the deaths. That doesn't stop people from fearing that a shark will get them every time they go into the ocean. Heck, as a little kid, I was afraid there were sharks in a pool. A pool! How does this happen? It happens because the movie is so incredibly convincing. The movie's tension and suspense are what make the fear so believable. The attacks happen in broad daylight and are undiscerning. Men, women, and children are all victims and to make things worse, they are all completely helpless. The shark stays hidden for most of the film, allowing the audience to cast their own fears upon this deep-sea killer. While this was partially due to malfunctions with the mechanical shark, it worked to the movie's favor. When we finally see the shark, it is more terrifying than the audience could possibly imagine. It is incredibly large and impossibly vicious. Coupled with the movie's large amount of violence and massive amounts of blood, the shark is the epitome of horror.

The story of Jaws was inspired by actual shark attacks in New Jersey in 1916. They weren't exactly at the level of the attacks in Jaws, but it did spark the same amount of frenzy. All of this does raise the question, “Is any of this possible?” Well, I am no shark expert, but lucky for us, I happen to know one. Chuck Bangley is a PhD student specializing in sharks and marine biology and was kind enough to give lend his expertise to 365 Days Of Horror: “White sharks are physically capable of most of Jaws' feats of strength, at least in the first movie. Any given Shark Week special will show that great whites are capable of leaping out of the water, and they are capable of ramming through a shark cage (though they'd likely hurt themselves in the process). Real great whites are not nearly as motivated to destroy boats and eat humans as the shark in Jaws, though there are documented cases of sharks accidentally landing on boats and doing some damage. White sharks do occur in the New England waters where Jaws takes place, and the population has been steadily increasing as seal numbers increase on Cape Cod. Large predatory sharks are usually highly migratory, so it's unlikely that Brodie, Quint, and Hooper would succeed in hunting down the right one. Modern satellite tagging has proven that large, potentially dangerous sharks like great whites and tiger sharks cover huge ranges, and any shark responsible for an attack on a human would likely be miles away before any response could happen. This is why shark culls following attacks aren't effective.” Thanks, Chuck! Be sure to follow Chuck on Twitter at @SpinyDag and read his shark-related adventures at

FurryCon 2012

Jaws was the original summer blockbuster with it's combination of action, thrills, and suspense. Spielberg uses his careful eye to capture all the actual while spending enough time to build up atmosphere and tension. The movie's iconic music is simple, yet powerful. To this day, the “Dunnn dun. Dunnn dun.” theme only means that something big and bad is coming. Both Roy Schneider and Richard Dreyfuss play their roles very well, each bringing something different to their roles, creating unique, but relatable characters. Robert Shaw is great as the old-timer Quint, giving the movie a harsher, realistic edge. While some may say that the movie fits into the action genre, it is most certainly horror. There are real scares and plenty of atmosphere. Jaws is a classic for a reason as it is good from top to bottom. It's well-known and well-loved and deserves all the accolades it gets.