Monday, January 9, 2012

First Monster Flick Review

This wasn't brought to my attention until recently, but I have yet to review a monster flick! That being said, let's talk about the mother of all monster movies. The one that sneaks up on you when you think you've hit smooth sailing. The one that eats all other monster films right out of the water. In case you couldn't tell by those really bad puns, the film we're going to talk about today is Jaws, the movie that scared people away from the beaches for years to come. This movie was the first of many big hits to be directed by Hollywood legend Steven Spielberg, who has since made several good movies, including two of my favorites, Raiders of the Lost Ark and Saving Private Ryan. But does it hold up? Do the techniques employed still scare audiences today like they did all those years ago? Well, let's take a look!

First of all, I should point out that part of what made this movie a classic was a bit of an accident. Originally, the studio and director decided that this would be a Godzilla-type movie with people running away from a giant shark that would look terrifying on the big screen. Here's the rub: The shark that would supposedly go on to scare the living piss out of its audience kept breaking down. And it was for this reason that the movie fell into such a tremendous debt and production fell so behind. It was for this reason, among others that the movie was in danger of being scrapped altogether. Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss (one of the stars) probably would have never made another movie, and Roy Scheider would look back on this project as just some failed experiment in an otherwise sterling career. That would have been the case... Except for one thing. Spielberg came up with the idea of instead of showing us the shark (nicknamed Bruce on the set), he would show us everything from the shark's perspective, all while playing that subtle but still heart attack inducing music... You know the music I'm talking about. I'm betting you're probably humming it right now! Duuuuun dun... Duuuuuuun dun.... You get the idea. Anyway, by combing these two elements, you wouldn't exactly have the audiences shrieking right away, but you would have them getting closer and closer to falling off the edge of their seats as we see the shark moving closer and closer to the naked lady/ 9 year old kid. And then when you actually show the victim being dragged to the bottom, that would be the moment where the aisles became flooded with the urine and vomit of a thousand saps, cascading down the steps of the theater like a river of... you know what? I'm going to drop that analogy there before even I get grossed out. But you get the point. Part of the reason why the movie worked so well is that you never saw the shark, I can recall 3 times that I can remember seeing the shark. It may be more than that, but it probably is no more than 5. The point is that this movie follows the principle of less being more. The less the audience sees, the more intimidating and suspenseful it is, and thus the reaction you get is much greater as well when things get to a head.

This technique ended up saving the movie because the scenes with the shark became few and far between, and the budget problems were nearly solved. The only thing that people were waiting on were the box office results. And wouldn't you know? The movie absolutely killed at the box office, making a ton of money and giving the studio enough reason to make not one, but THREE sequels, but we'll get to those later. According to Spielberg, there was an incident where he saw a patron start to run out of the theater in the middle of a screening. Naturally, Spielberg thought that the guest was sickened by the film and was leaving in anger. Well, one of those statements is true, and it's not what you think. The patron WAS sickened by the movie, and he left the theater to go puke his guts out. When you are making this kind of movie, that should be the highest praise you can get! Screw letter grades, forget about scales of 1-5, when you have a guest tasting his last meal, you have done your job mister! Pat yourself on the back you gruesome bastard! The movie has since become a legend, making icons out of all the people that were involved in the making and has even been parodied to death. I think three of those parodies are mistaken for being actual sequels... At least let's pray to God that's the case

When all is said and done... Does this movie still hold up? Well, yes and no. Yes, because it still scares audiences even to this day, again proving that less really is more. Some of the greatest horror films of all time have proven that. Take movies like The Shining, The Haunting, or even The Others where the fear comes from what you don't see, thus building suspense and tension in the mind of the viewer. Other movies, like the remake of The Haunting, try to get cheap scares by showing us CGI ghosts and having things scream in our faces. It's good for a momentary scare (if that), but leaves no real lasting impression on the audience. A movie like Jaws does leave an impact because of the amount of things we do see, or rather, what we don't see. For this reason, it does hold up.

The reason why I would say it doesn't hold up is this: Audiences would not be able to accept this movie if it were made today. These days, the so-called 'scary movies' are all about the ghost or whathaveyou. Jaws is more about the people that are being affected by this, and how they react to the situation. We really do care about these characters and want to see them pull through. And, since the scenes with the shark are few and far between, that makes them more special and therefore, more memorable. This was again, accredited to the fact that the filmakers were limited by the technology of the time and had to make do with what they had. Audiences these days would just be bored out of their mind and continuously ask "Where's the shark?" This has less to do with the movie itself and more to do with the audience that would be viewing it.

Bottom line: Do I recommend it? Umm... Duh! The only reason I wouldn't recommend this movie is if you list any of the Saw movies on your top ten. Even if you don't find it scary, you will at least learn to care about the characters and cheer for Roy Scheider when he says "Smile you son of a bitch!". In any case, go buy it or rent it. Especially now in January, when going to the beach is not ranking high on your to do list. And now, since I talked about this one, I feel almost obligated to talk about the rest of the movies. Expect to see that review soon... God help us all...

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