When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.
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What causes people to be scared of the unknown? Most often, it is that which canít be seen that is the most terrifying. The imagination, it seems, is capable of conjuring images that are far worse than anything real could ever be. The best horror films are the ones that capitalize on the reactions people have to the things that are beyond their scope, be it something from another world, or, as in the case of Jaws, something that lies just below the oceanís surface.
The plot of Jaws centers around a man-eating great white shark, terrorizing beachgoers at a summer resort. The Chief of Police, played by Roy Scheider, lobbies to close the beach, but is overridden by the town mayor. After more people are killed on the Fourth of July, the Chief, a marine biologist, and a shark hunter go out to kill the shark before it can claim another victim.
The ultimate success of the film is one of the most unlikely stories in cinema history. The original novel was written in 1974 by a first time author named Peter Benchley. The book, despite not being well received by critics, was a giant success, selling nearly ten million copies. A film adaptation was inevitable and, despite it being such a hot property, it was entrusted to an unknown filmmaker with only one other feature film under his belt, a twenty-nine year old named Steven Spielberg.
Ironically, in retrospect it seems that the problems that Spielberg encountered while making the film are at least partially what led to its ultimate success. Since the mechanical sharks refused to work, Spielberg was forced to improvise, shooting around the shark and from its point of view, thereby making the film even more suspenseful and the shark that much more terrifying even though it was not seen until at least an hour into the film. Also contributing to the suspense was John Williamís, now classic, and also Oscar winning, score, made up of merely two notes played over and over again, starting out slowly but steadily speeding up into frenzy. Some have likened the score to the heartbeat of the shark, as it is getting ready to feed. This, combined with the Oscar winning editing of Verna Fields, was instrumental in creating suspense and terror in audiences.
Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw are three excellent actors who have very strong chemistry together. Although the entire second half of the film is the three of them on the boat together, hunting the shark, and not for one second is it dull or boring.
The movie would be nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, ultimately winning three of them, yet, surprisingly, it did not receive a nomination for directing or for any acting categories. It did not take long for the Academy to recognize Spielberg, however, as he was nominated for three of his next four films.