A good story. That’s what I came away from a screening of JAWS with, this afternoon. Although I’ve seen it a thousand times, I don’t recall ever seeing it on the big screen. JAWS has become a piece of pop-culture that people take for granted. And more people should get the chance to see this film in a theater. I was four years old when the movie was originally released, and while I kind of remember my father taking me to see Jaws 2, I can’t remember seeing the original until it aired on television. As for the remaining sequels … 3D was an embarrassment, and 4 (also known as Jaws: The Revenge) was simply sad. By the way, don’t let that ‘4’ on the ticket above scare you, this was in fact the 40th Anniversary screening, hosted by film critic Ben Mankiewicz (son of screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz) that I watched.
And though I cannot write anything new about a film that has been written about 1,000,000 times over, there were a few things that caught my attention or occurred to me during the movie, that I ‘personally’ wish to make comment on.
1. Best movie I’ve seen all year. Strike that: best movie I’ve seen in a lot of years.
The last few films I have seen in a movie theater, I have reviewed on this site. And based upon how I responded to a screening of a 40 year old film that I have seen many, many times — I think most, if not all of the films I have reviewed here, have been given slightly better letter grades than they deserved. I would even go so far as to call JAWS one of the absolute best stories ever committed to film. And I probably would not have had the guts to say that before seeing it projected. Audience ‘event’ or not, this was an amazing experience. When comparing this 40 year-old icon to other films, the current state of movie making and box office commerce, becomes painfully real-world, soul-sucking-crunching depressing. It has both forced me to invent a new letter grade, simply to give the film it’s true place on the scale. And additionally to humble my former opinions of previous releases.
Recent releases have a lot of lead time on JAWS. They have decades of advancements in cinematic techniques and technology. They have further insight into human sophistication. They have … so much. And yet, in comparison with JAWS — they resemble nothing less than made-for-cable, fast-food, forgettable nonsense. And the critics in 1975 didn’t even think much of JAWS. Not in comparison with what they then called ‘the classics.’ That means the art form of cinema is deteriorating in quality at an exponential rate. Faster and faster, as time goes on. Which is something we should all be taking note of.
2. I’m now officially ambivalent about the entertainment industry’s increasing reliance on computer generated imaging, compositing, grading, and general enhancement of all images captured by cameras.
One of the many reasons I thoroughly enjoyed JAWS in a theater (a movie I own on blu-ray,) was the lack of artificial enhancement of the visual image. It was nice to see something real for a change. Without all that digital crap to complicate what I’m looking at. ‘Nuff said.
3. Sequential storytelling (as in comic books) is a significant asset to JAWS’ storytelling. And that is something I had honestly never taken note of before. And Spielberg additionally mastered the art of overlapping (or dual) dialogue in this film. And that is something I had only partially taken note of before.
When Orson Welles made Citizen Kane, he and his cinematographer Gregg Toland reportedly went down to a local newstand and picked up a stack of comic books to use as reference. They were looking for angles and ‘shots’ that neither of them had seen overused in movies, up to that time. What Steven Spielberg did here was take an adjacent avenue to that rational. He studied Alfred Hitchcock’s economical, visual storytelling style, and coupled it with his (Spielberg’s) own penchant for match cuts, match dissolves, etc. A technique Spielberg used quite extensively in his more recent film, The Adventures of Tin Tin. Once Orson Welles’ own technique gets filtered with Hitchcock and through Spielberg, it ironically comes out looking more like the sequential art form that comic books and graphic novels are well known for. And regardless of the 2 hour runtime, the story just zips along. Pumping out necessarily and relevant story details, in what amount to small hints. And seldom has that been done better.
Spielberg’s penchant for what I will term here as, ‘dual-dialogue,’ is also in full evidence. In fact he completely mastered it in this one film. Several scenes in the film, almost from the beginning when Chief Brody takes a phone call from his office while his wife talks to his son and dresses his wound, absolutely define one of the perfect ways to achieve the suspension of disbelief in a motion picture. Creating further reality by evidencing the true nature of people, amongst one another. i.e. overlapping dialogue. Something Howard Hawks was also known for playing around with. Two discussions happening in the FRAME, at the same time. As stated, it’s used in this film several times. And few other films have used the technique as effectively, as Spielberg utilizes it here.
4. JAWS was known for many years as more of a fantasy/science-fiction premise. However, that was generally based on the size of the shark. And over the years, a handful of great white sharks have been caught, and or identified, that exceed the 25 foot, 3 ton mass of the masticating fish featured in the film.
This, in my mind, now places the film firmly in the mold of ‘thriller.’ Without much of a hint of fantasy. And that gives the movie much better ground to stand on, in the mind’s eye. Making it easier to suspend one’s disbelief, and simply enjoy the story. Many experts will tell you that sharks do not actually seek to attack people, repeatedly; and/or in the relative quick duration of only a few days time. Clearly, these experts do not live in Australia.
5. Robert Shaw was one of the greatest actors who ever lived.
Shaw had a certain reputation. Hard drinking, etc. But watching his performance in this film on the big screen, in comparison with so many others, truly displays his talent. Certainly there is method acting at work here. And while it caused problems between Shaw and actor Richard Dreyfus, it’s obvious to see now, that this was a very precisely designed performance, accomplished by a true professional. Anyone who knows his work can tell you that he completely vanishes into the character of Quint. Method acting is controversial, to be sure. Reference Christian Bale’s performance in the film, ‘The Mechanic.’ But here, Shaw does it right. And by doing so, the character he portrays stands among us as a real person.
6. To be perfectly fair to modern cinema and advancements in technology, the limitations of the Panavision (Scope) style in the early 70’s, are revealed when projected.
At first, I thought it was cinematographer Bill Butler’s hazy photography. But after about half an hour, I began to realize that the camera simply could not maintain focus on more than one focal point within the frame, simultaneously. As a result, in several shots where multiple characters or elements are intended to be featured, there is only a single focal point, in actual focus. This is one of only three imperfections I spotted within the entire film. The other two being the oddly-cut scene when Matt (Richard Dreyfus) Hooper inspects the scant remains of the initial victim, within what appears to be a bed pan. As anyone who has seen the film knows, at a certain point in this scene, Hooper holds up a dismembered hand and says, ‘… you see this is what happens …’ This line and cut are not attached to either the shot before or after it. Then there’s my personal quibble over Chief Brody’s line, ‘blow up’ at the penultimate moment in the film. You don’t really need that. All you need are the visuals of the tank in the shark’s mouth, and Brody shooting at it. ‘Blow up,’ was overkill.
7. The score by John Williams, is the main character.
It makes me chuckle a bit when I realize that Williams had to know when he was working on the score, that the score itself was not only propelling the film, or identifying, or underscoring, but in fact, telling the story. The score for JAWS is quite literally one of the perfect storytelling devices in any movie I’ve ever seen. Nuance by nuance, pitch by pitch, the impact cannot be considered negligible. Take it away, and the story hides behind a lot of pomp and circumstance. People give Spielberg all the credit, but seeing this movie in a theater makes you realize that neither author Peter Benchley, nor filmmaker Steven Spielberg are actually telling the story we’re watching. John Williams is.
(Steven Spielberg has claimed in multiple interviews that when he went into a meeting with Columbia Pictures in 1978 to discuss a sequel to Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and request more money to improve CE3K before it’s ensuing re-release in 1980 — that studio executives told him they wanted something different than a sequel. They didn’t know the right word or phrase for it was, but they essentially wanted a “kind of remake.” Spielberg claimed to have been not simply taken aback by this revelation, but moreover instantaneously drunken by it. I imagine a computer guy in the next room installing an old IBM PC, shouting out, “Reboot! That’s The Word You’re Looking For !
… And I am born, the root of all movie evil.)
I’ve been thinking about the flipside of something since I saw and then eviscerated Super 8 in a review I wrote here on my blog. Something about the attempt at Spielberg-nostalgia paired with a prequel of sorts to the Cloverfield monster running rampant through the pic’s substructure, seemed to bother the shit outta me.
I hope you’re sitting down for this, cause I just commandeered a podium and a microphone and I’m about to verbally kick somebody’s ass; though I think you’ll be very surprised at the identity of the kickee.
What have you been watching this summer, and what were your options ? I’ve heard a lot about the Woodman’s new film, Midnight in Paris. But I’d rather watch it at home, like I did Zelig and Interiors. (Just being honest.) Manhattan I’d watch in a big room, but that’s another essay altogether, and a lengthy one at that.
What do we want to watch ? What do we want to pay for ? And why do we keep paying for these tent-pole things ? Why does nobody ever have the confidence to ask for their money back, even if the projection is dim or the experience is lousy ?
I watched the trailer of the A-Team movie, and had no interest in ever viewing that piece of shit. As dumb as the old TV show is, it has an infinite amount of integrity in comparison, mainly because it was not a big “product” designed on the “assumption” that they were gonna get your money anyway, so they could pretty much do whatever the hell they wanted. The TV show, as dumb as it was, had merit because they were trying to stay on the air. As is the case with a lot of TV — playing right into the winning side of the argument that TV is now better than most movies. But eventually, I sat down and watched the A-Team movie … annnnd it was pretty much what I expected from having seen the trailer. A cash register, with a big button that had my first and last name on it. Along with my bank account number.
Who’s ass do I gotta kick around here to get a decent movie ?
I spontaneously revised my Netflix queue, and then simply put it on hold for several months, and then cancelled Netflix altogether. I needed a break from my entire generation’s addictive, permanently adolescent, one-track, narrow-minded idea of what an exciting movie is. I had chastised this A-Team movie from the outset, and yet knowing that it was going to be nothing more than shallow commerce aimed at cows staring at passing trains, I WATCHED IT ANYWAY ! Like an addict on parade.
You see, when I was a kid — let’s say 1981 — we sat on curbs and talked about what movie they would make next. And when we did this, we didn’t really need to qualify what that meant, because we all knew it meant a film with a fantastic premise, or what I eventually learned is referred to in Hollywood as a “high concept film.” And we ruminated on what Spielberg would do next and what the next Star Wars movie would be like, and why they didn’t make this into a movie and that into a movie. We theorized the concepts of sequels, movies based on TV shows, games, toys, etc. You seeing where this is going? We pestered our Parents, movie magazines, forums in the back of comic books, anybody who would listen, about what movies we felt they should be making.
And guess what … now that’s all they do. %97 of films hitting screens now are those films, and only those films. And they SUCK ! And just about everyone who sat on those curbs is really to blame for the current predicament we find ourselves in. It was all our idea in the first place; our generation generated this assembly line of neverending crapola. And now we can’t make it stop.
Just gimme a name, who’s ass I gotta kick ? Hmm ?
There have a few bright spots. I, myself, very much enjoyed X-Men: First Class. Good solid movie, good story, well told. But while it didn’t bomb at the box office, it didn’t set it on fire, either. A ghost of a trend directly connected with this films lackluster performance, is that of really bad movies, making great gobs of money. Maybe it’s the marketing, maybe it’s the timing, maybe it’s the subject matter — maybe people were just tired of X-Men movies, maybe this, maybe that … I’d like to believe that there is another excuse, but it seems the public are often more drawn to simplicity and easy-to-understand concepts, rather than storytelling in its purest form.
And then people start to argue about it.
At first, it seems a trivial issue. However, bring it up in a group and be patient. You will find it gets controversial within around forty minutes. And you can clock that. In the last 36 years, since the advent of the first reeeeally successful blockbuster, Jaws, the movie industry has gradually changed so much that it is challenging to find original story material in almost any motion picture made and released today. It seems everything has to have a pre-established identity with the audience. There are exceptions, but in general, by the time most somewhat original, stand-alone movies get to us, we’ve been there-seen that, and half the time, don’t want any more of it.
So let’s leave TV outta this, and go straight for the jugular. In brief, here’s a typical list of the unending stream of wannabe crap, pure crap, marginal crap, mediocre crap, and hovering in orbit just above crap headed your way. Feel free to do no more than scan the following. Reading carefully could cause an aneurism.
In no particular order, Coming Soon ! to a generic multiplex near you: Iron Man 3, Thor 2, National Treasure 3, a reboot of The Wolfman (yep, already,) a Total Recall remake, a Robocop remake, another Abrams Star Trek movie, G.I. Joe 2 (Really ??), Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked, Happy Feet Two, a Bourne Prequel, another bad Wolverine movie, Disney’s Jungle River Cruise, Pirates of the Caribbean 5, Monoploy: the Movie, Risk: the Movie, Battleship: the Movie, a remake of the original Clue movie, a Hot Wheels movie, more Underworld, Saw, Final Destination and Resident Evil, more (insert your own number here) Days or Weeks Later zombie pics, a remake of WarGames, a remake of Fright Night, The Smurfs, 21 Jump Street, Transformers 4, A remake of Mr. Mom, a remake of Westworld (wouldn’t it be a hoot if they did a remake of Waterworld; wouldn’t that be funny as hell,) another Judge Dredd movie (Why !?? It was never a good idea to make the first one,) a remake of Outland, another Dick Tracy movie from Warren Beatty, a remake of Poltergeist (fuckers,) a Prequel to John Carpenter’s The Thing, a long in development sequel/prequel/nobody seems to know wtf this thing is Blade Runner reboot thing which Ridley Scott btw is not involved in, a remake of Red Dawn, Piranha 3DD (much bigger titties than the last one,) competing Snow White movies, competing Wizard of OZ movies, Expendables 2, a reboot of those horrible Fantastic Four movies, a reboot of Spider-Man called The Amazing Spider-Man, a reboot of Daredevil, Shaft in Africa Part 2 (just kidding,) Sherlock Holmes(2): Game of Shadows, Terminator 4, Mission Impossible (4): Ghost Protocol, a needless remake of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by a very good, and apparently very bored director, A Very Harold and Kumar Christmas, Spy vs. Spy (based on the Mad Magazine characters,) a reboot of Lethal Weapon, Bull Durham 2 (no shit, Costner wants to destroy it with a sequel) Ghost Rider 2: Spirit of Vengeance, Jurassic Park 4, Get Smart 2, Space Invaders (based on the Atari game,) and believe it or not, Green Lantern 2 …
*returns jaw to proper placement*
You can’t imagine how much longer the actual list of these impending craptastic shitsnack spectaculars actually is. What you see above, is merely a nasty taste of the sour nauseating, delirium inducing sewer that has become “the movies.” And as a member of a generation that indirectly caused this, I am embarrassed by this. It takes time for the corporate world to listen to the public, but when they do, and once every department is on the same page — watch out, buddy, they’re in it to win it. And they don’t stop until everything crashes down, and around them. So don’t expect this state of affairs to end anytime soon. If left to their own devices, corporate types would sell all the air to extra-terrestrials and leave us nothing to breath, under the ridiculous conceit that a new industry would have to be created to make more air, citing that otherwise their rights are being violated, because they (lol are you getting the joke here yet?) — because they are in fact doing nothing more than exploring the evolutionary spirit of progress, la-de-da-da. i.e. Corporate America is the snake that eats its own tail. Has been since probably the 1920’s.
[I remember reading an article on the Hollywood Reporter’s website one morning; I really wish I had bookmarked it. The question came up regarding a movie that had been made that had never been released and the Exec. stated that they saw the finished film and decided to “reboot” it. He also said, and don’t quote me on this but I remember reading this, he also said that if he could have changed anything, he would have rebooted the film before they made it. LOL !! — Think your priorities are outta wack, dude.]
Then there’s the current drama over plunging revenues in ticket sales linked to 3D presentation. Don’t get me started on that jokefest.
And where are all the other movies ? The non-genre stuff that used to balance everything out ? The stuff so few of us watched when we were kids ? The stuff we crave now, or at the very least wish could be successfully merged with genre more often ? Well … I’ll give ya a hint. Pretty much everything that shows up at the Sundance Film Festival is not really as independent as people would have you believe. In fact, the majority of those films simply lost their distribution. Almost all of them were made either by, or in connection with people already working in the film business. Thus, they aren’t truly independent, thus … uh, oh, the snake just ate its tale. You see, when a style of movie, say for the sake of argument, storytelling, goes the way of the dinosaur — that in fact reverberates throughout the industry like a gunshot. And it results, very directly, in good productions with very talented people getting shortchanged in every way possible. Next thing they know, their grand design on bringing storytelling back to cinema — is a mess; either sent to the graveyard of film festivals, desperate for reanimation, or worse, resting on a shelf at a soon to be closed bankrupt Blockbuster store, and promoted by cover art created in Photoshop by a nineteen year old intern, who graduated with a degree in accounting. Perhaps this is off-topic and pointless in respect to the subject at hand. My apologies. Let me get to the point; spell it out for you using those colorful little blocks with letters on them we all used to play with when we were toddlers. It’s very simple: for one reason or another, non-genre films are either going straight to video, or vanishing. Some become property of the bank. Some just sit on a shelf somewhere. And once they’re forgotten in the box of forgotten toys, they’re lost forever. Movies don’t get “rediscovered” if they never really got a release to begin with. They simply vanish, forever.
But … again, it is our fault — my fault, your fault if you’re of a certain age. Even though I find the majority of those coming films listed above distasteful — those Remakes, Reboots, Sequels, and Toy and Game Movies — I still find myself intrigued by Ridley Scott’s prequel to Alien — Prometheus. I nervously anticipate the Indiana Jones 5; with the hope that it could actually be better than the last one (Oh God, please don’t let it be as bad as the last one; Oh God, please; Oh God, please; Jesus, Lord — I supported that movie out of a desperate act to force success upon it so that Lucasberg the Two Headed-Dragon, would hopefully find it in their hearts to apologize for it by making a better one “next time.”) There’s the hope that The Dark Knight Rises will be as good as The Dark Knight — even though, I already hate that damn unimaginative title. A title only a studio executive could love. (why can’t they just call it Batman: Detective, or better yet, have comic books be a part of the plot and call it Detective Comics?) There’s Tim Burton’s movie version of the 70’s macabre soap opera, Dark Shadows, and a film centering on Disneyland, titled Magic Kingdom, written by Pulitzer Prize winning author Michael Chabon.
Yea, there are a few that typically rope me in. But still, the answer to my question haunts me.
Who’s ass do I kick for this … ?
Be careful what you ask for, kids. For someday, you just may get too much of it slapped right in your face, courtesy of your own hand.