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Movies that Influenced Us: Jaws

These days, the Summer blockbuster is commonplace and something cinephiles the world over look forward to experiencing every year.  But there was a time when that wasn’t the case, and Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is credited with being the progenitor of the blockbuster; changing the landscape of movies and releases forever.  For that, and many other reasons, Jaws is one of the most influential movies around. 

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Each month the Cinelinx staff will write a handful of articles covering a specified film-related topic. These articles will be notified by the Movielinx banner. Movielinx is an exploration and discussion of our personal connections with film. We’ll even submit reviews of the films we discuss so that you can get a better idea of what we’re talking about. This month we look at movies that are influential to us. What movies are influential to you? Feel free to add your own comments or reviews of movies that you find personally influential.


 

Jaws is one of my all time favorite films and one that’s had a significant impact on my life.  It’s a film I watched a ridiculous amount of times as a kid and even in my adult years find myself watching on a regular basis.  It’s damn impressive filmmaking and was among the first films to put a force of nature (a massive damn shark) in the antagonist role.  

It’s an interesting idea, as unlike other films, it’s not a ‘villain’ that our heroes can reason with or try and communicate with.  It’s a shark, a creature who cares only for eating and swimming around (a statement made by Dreyfus’ character at one point in the film).  It’s uncontrollable, and despite seemingly acting with a purpose, there’s no guessing what the shark is going to do next.  This makes the concept terrifying in ways that films like it have tried to capture decades later.  Thinking of it now, Jaws is essentially a creature feature combined with elements of a disaster movie, and the techniques used in the movie have been used by other movies in similar genres ever since.

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When the film first released it literally kept people away from the beaches and water.  Audiences were terrified in ways they hadn’t been before, because Spielberg took full advantage of the idea.  While it’s obvious fiction, it’s so rooted in actual science, the idea that it could be possible makes it all the more frightening for those watching it.  This plausibility of concept helps elevate the film beyond cheap popcorn thrills and into something timeless.  

Very seldom does a movie effect such a large group of people in such a tangible way.  The fact that it was able to scare people out of the ocean in mass numbers, to the point where tourism on the coasts were seriously affected, helped show how influential movies can be in our society in culture.  

The man versus nature concept is nothing new (nor was it at the time of its release) yet Jaws portrayed it in a thrilling way like no other film had done before.  The characters in the film are all likable and instantly grab your attention the minute they arrive on screen.  While they mostly fulfill generic archetypes (the unwilling hero, the mentor, etc), they’re so well handled that nothing about them feels generic.  They are fleshed out individuals who are thrust into an unprecedented situation, which many disaster movies today tend to get backwards (looking at you Roland Emmerich and Michael Bay!).  

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As I mentioned at the start, Jaws created the idea of the Summer blockbuster.  Back then, movie studios didn’t support the idea of massive wide releases.  Instead, movies were released in a progressive format, starting in one area and then spreading outward into new venues.  Word of mouth helped a film to spread out further across the country, while poorly reviewed films rarely expanded past their initial release area.  

Universal took a risk in releasing Jaws across the country at the same time, and forever changed the landscape of the film industry.  It’s success and manner of release changed the way movie studios projected their revenue, allowing for weaker films to still garner a profit through a wider release.  This in turn changed how films were marketed to the public, ushering in a new era of thrillers and effectively ending the five year long slump the film industry had been in. 

Beyond that, it also changed the movie release calendar.  These days, the biggest films of the year are crammed into the Summer Movie Season, and is one of the most exciting times of the year to be a movie fan.  Before Jaws, however, that wasn’t the case.  In fact, the opposite was true as most studios only released films they thought would be received poorly during the Summer time, while saving their best films for the rest of the year.  Jaws changed all that, and proved that not only could films be successful during the Summer time, they could thrive.

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Let’s forget all of that technical stuff for a moment and get down to what’s important: despite it’s age the film is still just as enjoyable to watch today as it was back when it hit in 1975.  No matter how many times I’ve seen the film (hint: it’s a lot) I still get a thrill when I hear that iconic music playing.  I find myself on the edge of my seat during the final showdown, and continually root for the characters to swim harder and faster; even though I know they never will.  

It’s a film that’s nearly impossible to not have fun watching.  The acting is still solid, the characters still engaging and likeable, and the action manages to hold up even with dated visual effects.  I wasn’t even a thought in my parents’ mind when the film initially released and I still found enjoyment out of it as a child long after it was out of the public eye.  It’s a film I feel can still do that with today’s generation.  

Couple that with the significant impact it had on the film industry in general (the way movies release today can be attributed to Jaws) and it’s fairly easy to see why Jaws is among the most influential movies to be released.  Many films today still borrow heavily from the filmmaking techniques originally presented in Jaws and it’s hard to imagine where Steven Spielberg would be if not for this movie.  

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Beyond all this, the truth is, Jaws is one of the films most influential in me becoming a filmmaker, and making the decision to go to film school.  It’s a move that caused me to fall in love with the film industry and everything about movies; which has in turn shaped me into the person I am today.  I know I’m not the only one who can claim that.  It’s a great movie, with a great story, with one of the largest impacts on the film industry in recent memory.  

Now that you’ve heard me ramble on about this movie, it’s time for you to share your thoughts!  Tell us what influence (if any) Jaws has had on you in the comments below!

-Jordan

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