You're gonna need a bigger screen...
33 years on, is it finally safe to go back in the water? Philip Hunter writes about the enduring popularity of Jaws which returns to the big screen on 3 August
31 July 2014
The novel, Jaws, by Peter Benchley was an immediate bestseller. That success though was eclipsed by the popularity and acclaim of its cinematic counterpart. Jaws is that rare beast of a movie which scored highly at both the box office as well as with critics. Jaws invented the summer blockbuster and appears on many film academics best movie lists, frequently even topping them. It’s a movie that is appreciated by the film “elite” as well as loved by the masses.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve seen Jaws on TV or home media. Why the hell would I want to pay to see a movie, admittedly a movie I love, that I had seen a hundred times already and could watch again anytime I wanted to, for free?
Much of that love I have for Jaws is nostalgic. I’m too young to have seen it when it opened at cinemas. Instead, I remember being allowed to stay up late to watch it on summer nights as a child. The movie would begin in widescreen, my whole family bemoaning “those black bars” which would fade out unnoticed at some point and then return at the end, making me wonder when they had vanished at all.
Every time I watched it, my mum would say “Here comes that part that always scares you” and I would think “What part?” turning back to the TV where Ben Gardner’s decapitated head would roll out of the bowels of his boat, “Flicka”, and terrify me. Just like she said it would.
That fear didn’t go away at the movies close for many of us. It certainly didn’t for me. Pulling the plug out of the bath whilst I was still in it was an absolute no-no. What if a shark swam up the pipes? I would walk along New Brighton promenade and peer into the dark, murky water before asking “Do you think HE’S down there?” One time on holiday I waded out into the sea up to my chest. I asked my friend, a local, if they ever got sharks around there. The last thing he said before I raced from the water terrified was “No, not big ones”.
I’ve lost count of the amount of nightmares I’ve had about sharks. Fear of sharks, hell, fear of water – any water, has stayed with us decades later. I’d be wary to swim even in a big lake. I’ve heard a story that, years after making Jaws, Spielberg was attacked by a man who complained that since he saw the movie he was too afraid to go into the water. Spielberg replied “Me too.”
It’s strange then, that so many of us would return, time and time again, to this movie, something which had inspired so much fear in us. Is it that vicarious adrenalin rush of fear; the same reason we watch horror movies? Is it the nostalgia; the warm safe feeling of being a child, safe on a couch between our parents? Or is it just that it’s a damn good movie?
In the years since those early viewings with my parents I’ve learned to appreciate Jaws for what it is. A damn good movie. No. A perfect movie. You couldn’t do anything to improve it. There’s not one scene out of place.
I’d make a point of watching Jaws when it would appear in the TV schedules. I watched it so many times on DVD, making a point to put it on when I met someone who had somehow never seen it. When the Blu-ray was released, it was an instant purchase.
I can try to recreate that nostalgic feeling any time I want to. I just pick a summer night, turn out the lights, put the movie on and curl up on the sofa with a cup of tea. But it’s an empty experience. I no longer pick my feet up off the floor in case of a “carpet shark” or recoil in terror at a fake head filmed in the editor’s swimming pool.
What I can’t do is go back in time and see it during the summer of ’75. Capture the excitement of a must-see film, the hysteria and buzz of radio and TV marketing as well as word of mouth from friends who had already seen the movie.
Which brings us back to that first question: Why would I want to pay to see it again?
Isn’t it obvious? I’m 35 years old. I love Jaws. Love it; but I’ve never seen it on the big screen. A THX cinema screen, with the shark literally larger than life. A leviathan of the deep projected above me, six metres high.
The way it was intended.
You can find Philip on Twitter at @crookedfiction
Jaws is showing on 3 August at 6pm as part of the Picturehouse at FACT Vintage Sunday series. Tickets are available now from the Box Office, by phone on 0871 902 5737 and online.