Steven Spielberg laid the template for the modern summer blockbuster with this expert thriller about the hunt for a man-eating great white shark.
“It may be the most cheerfully perverse scare movie ever made. Even while you’re convulsed with laughter you’re still apprehensive, because the editing rhythms are very tricky, and the shock images loom up huge, right on top of you.”
Pauline Kael, The New Yorker, 1976
The young Steven Spielberg had terrorised audiences with his truck-with-a-mind-of-its-own debut Duel (1971) and bigger budget Jaws confirmed him as a filmmaker of tension-ratcheting abilities not seen since the heyday of Alfred Hitchcock.
Based on a pulpy bestseller by Peter Benchley, this is a masterfully constructed thriller about three disparate men – a cop (Roy Scheider), a scientist (Richard Dreyfuss) and a sea dog (Robert Shaw) – setting out in a boat to capture a shark that’s terrorising swimmers off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.
From the classic opening, in which two amorous teenagers leave a beach party to take a perilous dip, through numerous brilliantly set up, precisely edited subsequent attack sequences, Spielberg’s chilling adventure is the rollercoaster movie par excellence.
Hitchcock’s man-against-nature horror story The Birds (1963) was a prime inspiration. The first of three sequels, Jaws 2, followed in 1978.