Tuesday, July 6, 2010


On the fourth I visited my parents. Mom made a "Fourth of July" cake, with red, white and blue frosting. I'm changing my carbohydrate ways, however, so declined to have a slice, even a small one. I did have the ham and the carrots and the blackeye peas (my spellchecker says that's wrong, but the frozen package from Pictsweet brand says otherwise; they call them blackeye peas and that's the brand we had, so go jump Wikipedia with your crazy "black-eyed peas").

After the meal it was still early afternoon, and wanting to watch a movie, I got something out that was in the spirit of the holiday, the DVD of the movie Jaws, the events of which take place around Independence Day.

It was just Dad and I in the living room to watch, as Mom went off to watch one of her movie channels on another TV. Dad doesn't like to watch movies again after he's seen them once, unless he forgot he saw it the first time, which usually occurs a couple years after his first viewing of a film. But if the film is iconic like Jaws, well, forget it, he thinks he knows it word for word and scene for scene, even if he originally saw the movie twenty years ago.

Surprisingly, he sat through the whole thing, and enjoyed it for the most part, remarking during the first act that he didn't think he ever saw the beginning of the film before. He did remember the death of Robert Shaw's character "Quint" at the end of the film, but not much else, actually expecting all three members of the Orca expedition to die at sea. When that didn't happen, Dad went into his famous movie critic mode (this happens with nearly every movie he watches).

His favorite commentary consists of the following statements:

"Oh, come on!"

"Yeah, right!"

"That would never happen!"

"Only in the movies!"

"They ruined the whole movie when they [fill in the blank]"

And assorted variations on the above.

His major complaints about the ending were that police chief Brody (played by Roy Scheider) would never have gotten his hands on the rifle after the chaos of the smashing of the boat by the shark; that the air tank wouldn't have just stayed conveniently in the mouth of Jaws making such an easy target for a bullet to blast Great White flesh to kingdom come; that Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) was killed inside that shark cage, so what the hell happened to make him miraculously show up unharmed after Brody had killed the shark? Of course, there is a shot in the movie of Hooper swimming away during the attack on the cage, but Dad acted like he hadn't seen it. It also irritated him that Brody and Hooper created a make-shift raft using a couple of the flotation barrels to swim back to shore. He just kept repeating that the shark would have killed all of them and that's how the movie should have ended.

Jaws was the movie that created the concept of the Summer blockbuster in 1975. Before that major studios saved big pictures for the fall and winter and Summer might see films released that were not considered winners. One thing I didn't know was that before Jaws films didn't normally get a "wide release" but often were allowed to build an audience over a number of weeks, with even a giant of a film like The Godfather opening on only a few screens.

From Wikipedia:

Jaws was the first film to successfully open nationwide on hundreds of screens simultaneously, coupled with a national marketing campaign—a then-unheard of practice. (A month earlier, Columbia had done the same with a Charles Bronson thriller, Breakout, but the box office was middling at best.) The film became the first to use extensive television advertising. The media blitz "included approximately twenty-five thirty-second advertisements per night on prime-time network TV" between 18-20 June 1975.

Because it was released on hundreds of screens across the country on June 20, 1975, I was able to see it on opening day. I remember standing in line with my mom and Ray and my sister, a line that stretched outside the multiplex theater and then wound its way inside down the long corridors that branched off to the other screens (with the main, large screen where Jaws was showing right in front off the lobby) and then back again. It was the longest movie line I've ever stood in, and that includes the one for The Empire Strikes Back a few years later (1980). Now, least you commence to using arithmetic to calculate my ancientness, keep in mind I was a very young fellow in those days, barely out of diapers. Much like this guy, whose blog I found by accident and who says on his sidebar the following:

Perhaps the greatest film ever! In 1975 I was but five years old when Spielberg made this poor little kid scream his pants off! Apparently I threw fits every time the commercial came on the television set so my parents finally gave in and took me to see it. Yes, I apparently screamed much of the way thru it but I was forced to endure. today I am nearly 40 and it remains very close to my heart even though I still have a hard time swimming in the ocean, lol!

The movie was rated PG, because there was no PG-13 rating in those days, and many felt it was too intense for children.

Going back to my dad's comments on the final scenes of the film, I should point out that the Peter Benchley novel on which it was based had a somewhat different ending. In the book, Hooper is killed when the shark attacks the cage he's in, and there is no explosion that kills the shark either; instead, it dies (as I recall) from blood loss and just drifts down to the ocean floor.

Back then I was, like now, an avid reader, and one type of book I loved to read was a novel or novelization of a movie I'd seen. So after seeing Jaws I had to have the book. I wish I still had that tattered paperback copy, but unlike many other books I had at that time that are still with me to this day, it was lost long ago.

I think I read it in less than a week. In fact, I was reading it so constantly that my mom got irritated one day when we were out somewhere in the car, that she snatched the book from my hands while she was driving and tossed it out the window! No, that's not how I lost it (I don't know what eventually happened to it); she mercifully turned the car around and I was able to get out and retrieve it, though I was a little more careful after that on when and where I read it.

Watching the movie again got me to thinking of the cruelty of nature. The shark was just looking for food, not targeting humans (though Benchley wrote in 2000 "considering the knowledge accumulated about sharks in the last 25 years, I couldn't possibly write Jaws today ... not in good conscience anyway. Back then, it was generally accepted that great whites were anthrophagous (they ate people) by choice. Now we know that almost every attack on a human is an accident: The shark mistakes the human for its normal prey.").

Yes, that's true, but we humans also care about that non-human prey (even though most of us are true to our omnivore nature and have no problem consuming lots of meat) and lament the apparent horror of so much bloodshed in the wild. I wonder why we seem to be more merciful and compassionate than God, the supposed creator of it all.

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