Movie: Jaws


Tony and I watched the Jaws DVD recently – neither of us could remember much about the movie, but the Mythbusters Jaws Special had reminded us of some of the more sensational moments and we wanted to refresh our minds as to what all the hype is about.

This isn’t high art, but I cannot fault Steven Spielberg, Peter Benchley (who wrote the novel upon which the movie is based and co-wrote the screenplay) and his team for their use of suspensful music and editing – the film is almost faultless in the way it builds suspense and both of us almost fell off the couch more than once. The animatronic eight metre shark (nearly two metres longer than the largest great white ever actually recorded) was also quite impressive for 1970s technology. Aside from that, however, this is a highly dangerous film.

Tony and I love sharks. We read about them, we dive with them, we talk about them, and we closely follow shark conservation issues. We’re a fairly educated audience when it comes to the habits, motivations and behaviour of these creatures, and for this reason I spent much of the movie chuckling at the preposterously over the top way in which the “rogue great white” of Amity Island is portrayed.

Tony was less amused, not because he was under the impression that human flesh is so darn tasty that a shark – or any animal – that gets a bite of homo sapiens is instantly transformed into a MANEATER, but because he knows that there are many, many people who ARE under that impression and he couldn’t shake that from his mind. There are people, even some in our circle of friends, to whom Jaws is more a documentary than a B-grade horror movie. And that is profoundly disturbing.

Correcting the kind of ignorance that dismisses sharks as mindless predators takes a lot of time, slow persuasion, and, preferably, a transformative experience with a shark – whether it’s a chance encounter with a great white, a dive with a sevengill cowshark, or an afternoon at the aquarium watching the raggies slowly circle the I&J Predator Exhibit – that convinces one that these are magnificent creatures worthy of our respect and protection.

I’m in two minds as to whether to publish anything about Jaws on our blog – initially Tony said that we would never give this kind of film any publicity or recognition at all. But I think that understanding the way in which this production plays on the deep, primal fear that human beings have of sharks – in an ancient part of our brains – can help to rationalise and moderate those fears into something more akin to respect. It’s old news that sharks are not the top predator on planet earth; we are.

You can get the DVD here if you’re in South Africa, and here if you’re not.

On a lighter note, my favourite take on Jaws is one that went round recently on facebook: if you watch Jaws backwards, it’s about a shark who throws up so many people that they have to open a beach.

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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