An odd way to begin an appreciation of a classic movie, perhaps, but I’m going to put it down anyway: Steven Spielberg ruined my holiday in Skegness.
Thirty-five years old this week, 1975’s Jaws propelled a little known director, who was previously best known for an episode of Columbo and the tense made-for-television thriller Duel, into the Hollywood stratosphere.
The tale of a tiny US island terrorised by the presence of a worryingly persistent great white shark, Jaws may have had its roots in the cheesy monster B-movies of the previous decades, but the sheer quality of Spielberg’s assured direction, not to mention John Williams’ truly iconic score, made the film an instant and enduring classic.
One of the first films I distinctly remember watching, its gradually building tension and sly jabs of horror frightened the life out me (even on a fuzzy 15 inch television), resulting in an enduring and irrational fear of what might be lurking beneath the depths of the Lincolnshire coastline.
It was, of course, our universal fears which Spielberg so successfully tapped into with his first big success, and while it didn’t seem like a sure fire hit at the time (the production was beset with difficulties, with a budget that spiralled rapidly out of control, and a series of mechanical sharks which were, by turns, unreliable and singularly unconvincing), it’s nevertheless obvious from the opening seconds of Jaws that you’re watching a truly masterful piece of mainstream cinema.
From the prowling, Hitchcock-like camera work to the first drones of Williams’ unforgettable soundtrack, Jaws was as adept at scaring the wits out of unsuspecting audiences as the great white shark itself.
Jaws‘ script is equally toothsome, and loaded with memorable quips and one-liners. Wisely paring back the inter-marital flings and other pulpy aspects of Peter Benchley’s source novel, Spielberg focused instead on the Moby Dick-like battle between Roy Scheider’s Brody, Richard Dreyfuss’ Hooper and Robert Shaw’s Quint, the movie’s ill-fated Captain Ahab analogue, and their toothsome nemesis.
And while Spielberg’s rubber shark doesn’t get any more convincing with age, Jaws remains as tense and entertaining as it was when it first shocked US audiences on its initial release in 1975.
So, Spielberg may have ruined my holiday in Skegness (and indeed, Jaws reportedly provoked such widespread fear of open stretches of water that beach attendances dropped markedly the following year), but the film remains a classic of its era that has aged like a fine, shark-infested wine.
Sadly, the same can’t be said for the film’s theatrical trailer…