Welcome to Jaws Week! When it was announced that Steven Spielberg's Jaws was arriving on Blu-ray, we thought it'd be perfect to dedicate an entire week to the movie that created the summer blockbuster. Every day this week we'll be posting an assortment of really fun features tied to the film, its production, its legacy, its fans, its merchandise and so much more.
I have to admit that classic "dah-dum… dah-dum" was back in my head, making me feel nervous again. I was worried about Jaws, but for a completely different reason; I was going to have my 13-year-old nephew, Cole, watch the film for the first time.
When I first asked Cole if he'd be willing to watch, he said, "Isn't it PG? It can't be scary."
I knew this would be nothing like my first experience with the film. I was negative 13 months when the movie opened in June of 1975. I didn't meet Jaws until January 1984 (I was in second grade), when my mom left us for one week to help out with a family emergency. That's right, my dad was in charge. When our homework and chores were done, our reward was Jaws on Monday night, Jaws 2 on Tuesday night, and Jaws 3 on Wednesday night. We all laid down in front of the TV, lights off, and I was tucked under my dad's left arm, my older sister under my dad's right. Both of us were ready to dash our heads away from the TV, into my dad's chest for protection when that "dah-dum" kicked in. I was petrified and excited.
Cole knew of Jaws from rare mentions about it from his mom, dad or me. He came to visit me for five days, alone for the first time, from Iowa. He'd recently seen Three Amigos and decided it was his new favorite film, until he saw Real Steel a couple of weeks later. Yup, that replaced it. After all, he's 13.
So, before the sun set on the last night of his visit, I was nervous. Mainly because I didn't know what he would make of the film. All I told him is that I found it scary, and it's unofficially the first summer blockbuster. I hit the "play" button.
"This is like, the most famous movie music, right?"
It's funny how pop-culture things get absorbed. He knew the tune, we all know the classic John Williams score. I might be alone on this, but I would love to know how people were first exposed to the theme from Jaws if it wasn't the film.
During the opening credits we finally get to Steven Spielberg's name. I asked if Cole knew who that was. "I know he just makes a ton of movies, but I can't name one." I know what a lot of you are thinking about my sister (his mom) right now. You should keep in mind he's a straight-A student and plays three travel sports. It's OK if he can't name Spielberg movies off the top of his head.
The opening scene didn't freak Cole out. The way it was actually shot had me realizing that it's more unnerving than scary. In fact, there weren't many scares at all. With Brody (Roy Scheider) and everyone else talking over each other, it creates a feeling of chaos, again unnerving, but not scary.
After the shark kills the kid and the dog, Cole was a little shocked. He thought it would just be the dog. I actually found that surprising, which begs the question if Cole could name other movies where the dog dies. He immediately came up with Turner & Hooch and I Am Legend.
Quint (Robert Shaw) finally shows up in a fantastic first scene, asking for $10,000 to kill the shark.
"I think he dies. I think the shark eats him or something."
After we meet Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), I ask him which character he'd want to be in order to survive. Cole threw me a curve ball and said the Mayor (Murray Hamilton). "He's a coward, and will probably avoid the water at all costs," Cole said. That's some pretty good survival skills.
The first scare for Cole finally comes at the 50-minute mark, and I agree with him completely. Hooper does some late-night diving that leads to coming across a dead body. It's a fantastic, bare-bones scare. One of the more uncomfortable moments for the 13-year-old was actually when Brody's son asks for coffee. That morning Cole wanted to try coffee for the first time. I had him drink it black, then with sugar, and finally with cream. For a moment, I thought he was going to lose his pancakes. He can't imagine a world where he would drink the stuff. He's probably the only one to ever watch Jaws and have one of his most traumatic moments be "kid wants coffee."
Cole got a chuckle when Quint says, "Seen one eat a rockin' chair one time." It's right around this time that I noticed the air tanks get a ton of attention. It's to the point where you feel foolish if you don't know how the film will end.
The U.S.S. Indianapolis scene begins, which is probably the best story told in movie history without a flashback. Brody asks about Quint's tattoo scar. Quint says he got it removed. Cole immediately asked if he was Jewish. I was momentarily confused, until I realized Cole thought it could have been from a Nazi concentration camp. That was a heavy moment, and once again made me realize the never-ending supply of questions kids can have. Changing the subject, do you realize Quint's drink of choice is apricot brandy?
At the 1:38 mark of Jaws, Cole finally has his second jump/scare. It's when the shark jumps out of the water, while the crew was getting the ropes.
At only 15 minutes left in the film, I pause it and ask Cole what he thinks will happen.
"The shark gets away. He breaks the boat, he lives, they die. All of them."
It gave me chills. I'm still waiting for that moment in my life where I know exactly how a movie ends, and I've seen in a hundred times. Then, inexplicably, it's a different ending. Just like the concept of everyone dying at the end of Jaws.
It ended. The music played. We talked. Cole said, "The ending, I guess, was cool." He thought it was kind of boring in parts. He liked the part where the two kids fake that they're a shark. He gave it a 6/10, and thought it would have been cool if there would have been two giant sharks at the end instead of just one.
With only two scares from the film, I oddly wished I would have popped in El Orfanato (The Orphanage) right after to truly try and freak him out. But then he probably would have just rolled his eyes about having to read. Watching Jaws with Cole had me agreeing with him on almost all counts. This is exactly how a 13-year-old boy who has superhero movies, Tranformers, and… sigh… Real Steel in his life should feel about this classic film. I wished I could turn back the clock, and have my nephew be worried (like I was) about the carpet in his bedroom inexplicably turning into the sea, with the classic "dah-dum" followed closely behind. It's such an odd thought to want a kid to be scared. My wife is currently pregnant with our first (a boy). I wonder when I'll introduce this shark into my son's life. Now I realize watching the films on the floor, being scared, and holding on to my dad's arm is probably one of the safest feelings I've ever had.