What in god’s name is a G.O.A.T?
To get this party started, I figured I’d do a couple pieces on the G.O.A.T. movies of my life. While it would be impressive if these were in fact a series of posts on different goat-themed movies, I hate to disappoint: it is not. G.O.A.T. is instead a clever -if not misleading- acronym for “Greatest Of All Time.” When brainstorming ideas for this blog, I thought about doing a traditional “Top Ten” list. However, the thought of trying to assign a rank to each of my favorite movies made me break out in hives, so I decided to go for the trendier, non-committal grouping of “G.O.A.T.” I also have more than ten favorite movies (a few Scooby-Doo movies would take up a good percentage of the top ten, if that gives you any sense of the special breed of asshole that I am) and so voila- a G.O.A.T. list was born.
Disclaimer: this is by no means a definitive list, nor do I expect you to necessarily agree with my opinions on G.O.A.T.s, which is cool. At any rate, I hope you enjoy the read nonetheless.
Now, onto the first G.O.A.T. in my cinematic pasture: Jaws.
(For reference, I tried to find a picture of a goat in a shark costume, to no avail.)
I first saw this movie as an 11-or 12-year-old about to embark on her family vacation to Nantucket for the summer. For those who are unfamiliar with Jaws, it’s set on Amity Island, a sort of stand-in for real life locations like Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. If you’re reading this review, I’m assuming you understand the basic premise of Jaws, which is about a giant fuckin’ man-eating shark that terrorizes WASPy beach-goers on said island, including kids. Putting two and two together as an adult, my dad’s decision to show me (a WASPy kid) a movie about a (WASPy kid-eating) shark set in a proxy for the very location we were headed to seems questionable at best. At worst, it was a recipe for tears and a burning desire to never set foot in water above 3 inches again.
Luckily, I was one of those weird-ass kids who was obsessed with things like sharks and mummies when they were young, so I wasn’t terribly phased. While that was the summer we happened to actually see a real goddamn shark in the water, I managed to escape my viewing experience and subsequent vacation unafraid of the water, and instead ignited a deep love of the film itself. Jaws, directed by Steve Spielberg and released in 1975, is one of the few honest-to-god monster movies on the AFI Top 100 list, currently sitting at #56, after being bumped down from #48 in the 2007 revision. Despite the fact that Jaws got scooched down the bench in 2007, this movie will always get my GOAT.
To begin: I’ve watched a lot of monster movies. “Creature features” are always a good time in my book, and even awful rubber-suit flicks entertain me. But few manage to actually be genuinely scary, even with all the benefits of modern FX and technological advances. In this light, Jaws should be outrageously dated and cheesy to the modern viewer by this point in time, having been filmed in the early 70s. The simple fact that Jaws uses a giant fucking robotic shark should be its death sentence to a modern viewer. Shit, Sharknado has more going for it in the FX department than Jaws and all of its sequels combined. But despite all of this, Jaws still manages to deliver big in the scare department, and for a lot of reasons.
Bruce, The Swimming Metal Catastrophe With Teeth
The FX in Jaws is primitive by modern standards. The animatronic sharks they built for Jaws, which were collectively named Bruce-supposedly after one of Spielberg’s lawyers- look not-so-great when they’re out of the water. I think that even the most diehard Jaws fans (read: me) would admit that Bruce looks rather sad flailing about on the sinking hull of the Orca at the very end of the film. But when Bruce is filmed in the water, Bruce looked great. That is of course, if what you’re seeing on filmed actually is the animatronic. Bruce was notorious finicky (read: a mechanical piece of shit), and so Spielberg and his crew were forced to get creative with how they visually told the story, seeing as their headlining star was being a primadonna.
And this is where Spielberg and his cinematographers take a tough situation and fucking fly. How do you make a movie about a giant fucking man-eating shark without a giant fucking man-eating shark? You get ballsy and film real goddamn giant fucking man-eating sharks. Spielberg got underwater cinematographers/shark experts/brave, beautiful, bastards Ron and Valerie Taylor to get real footage of Great White sharks. This footage was then brilliantly woven into the film, and avoids looking fake because it wasn’t. Even modern monster movies still can’t figure out how to subtly weave in creature b-roll (I’m looking at you, Sharknado), and those who manage to do so unnoticeably still often don’t use the footage with such grace and to such effect.
Okay, they filmed honest-to-god sharks, whatever. Why was it scary and not simply a dramatic National Geographic special? Spielberg is a master of suspense in this movie, both due to design as well as practical realities. Bruce wasn’t cooperating, so footage of the animatronic in the water was dubious. Extended footage of a real Great White underwater is cool, but also kind of boring. Spielberg’s editors and cinematographers are wily bastards, and said “fuck you!” to that, and attacked this footage with a Hitchcock-ian joie de vivre. Instead of giving the audience the whole proverbial chalupa and just showing us the shark in its entirety, Spielberg teases us with terrifying glimpses of the creature, and allows the human mind to fill in the rest. I mean, few images are more evocative than that of a fin silently gliding up out of the water. Or a dark mass in otherwise clear water. Bloody foam. Empty barrels being viciously tugged around the Orca. All of these tasty little nuggets serve to ratchet up the suspense, using well-edited footage of real sharks and snippets of Bruce to paint a picture of a massive, horrifying beast- all without ever having to really show us the damn thing.
Of course as I mentioned before, you do see Bruce in all of his awkward glory at the very end of the film, but only briefly. I personally find that while it is very clearly not a real shark trying to nibble upon the crew of the Orca, it didn’t ruin my enjoyment of the film or break any of the tension. And that’s why Jaws still manages to (mostly) hold up to more modern monster movies FX-wise: Jaws uses FX, but does not rely on it. Spielberg instead utilizes the camera and editing to scare the shit out of us.
Well, that and the occasional well-timed loose head rolling out of a sunken boat hull.
But beyond the shark itself, Jaws is also a GOAT because of its simplicity: it tells a simple story and does it damn well. Now this isn’t some anti-intellectual jab at thematically/linearly complex movies at all, so let’s make that clear. Some of my other G.O.A.T.s are wickedly twisted. But in this case, simplicity makes Jaws a G.O.A.T. Spielberg is an excellent director, and that’s because Spielberg is an excellent storyteller. And sometimes the best stories are simplest. His movies succeed not because they’re twisted or complex or full of surprises, but because he creates a complete world in his films, sticks characters who the audience are invested in into this world, and then throws us in along for the ride.
Amity Island is a simple place to understand: small, close-knit, lives on seasonal tourism. Brody (Roy Scheider) is the likeable underdog, an awkward outsider lawman just trying to do the right thing. The conflict is clear: true danger knocks on the door of economic struggles and tradition, and chaos ensues. I can literally sum up the entire movie in a sentence without missing any major plot points: A hangry shark comes to an island that lives off of summer tourism, and keeps eating those tasty tourists until the local lawman is forced to take matters into his own hands and kill the beast himself. Wham, bam, thank-you-ma’am. Jaws’ story is easy to follow and even easier to choose sides in, and is emotionally compelling.
Brief tangent: the script is also fucking genius. “That’s some bad hat Harry.” “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Jaws is rife with dry one-liners that are now some of the most-quoted in film history. Also, can we take a moment to discuss the scene on the Orca where Quint (Robert Shaw) gives one of the greatest movie monologues of all time? His story about his harrowing experience on the U.S.S Indianapolis (which, by the way, is a true goddamn story, though embellished in the film) and is one of the most tense scenes in the film, and it’s all dialogue. Shaw may have been a bear to work with on set, but he delivers big time in this scene.
I would talk about the music, but I think it goes without saying that John William’s score both was and still is iconic and essential to Jaws and the creation of suspense within the film. And don’t worry: I have lots of feelings about Mr. Williams, and this will not be his last appearance on this blog.
Real People are Assholes, But Scientists are Cool
From a historical perspective (bear with me) the impact of this film is another of its G.O.A.T.-y aspects. Cinematically, the shark movies that were sweatily conceived and messily birthed in the aftermath of the first Jaws film are a direct result of the film’s immense popularity. While the original je ne sais quoi of the original has yet to be truly repeated, many of these resultant films are fun nonetheless (once again, here’s to lookin’ at you, Sharknado).
Unfortunately, the G.O.A.T.-liness of Jaws’ impact extended far beyond the world of film, and is a prime example of how art does not exist in a vacuum. Before Jaws, sharks were …..sharks. They were scary if you saw one I guess, but they weren’t necessarily considered a public threat. Jaws changed that. The movie struck fear into so many viewers that shark hunting and killing shot up massively after the movie’s release, as viewers now saw these creatures as direct threats.
Peter Benchley-the author of the novel that spawned Jaws and co-writer of the screenplay- spent the rest of his life trying to undo the damage his killer shark had caused. He wrote non-fiction books on sharks and sponsored multiple conservation efforts, such as the Benchley Ocean Awards, all in the name of promoting education over baseless fear.
Bottom line: this movie was so effective as a thriller, that real people took real measures to kill real sharks, who were probably just doing shark things and minding their own goddamn business. On a more positive note, the increased fear of Great White Sharks also translated into increased curiosity. This curiosity lead to an upsurge of academic interest into the creatures, about whom we really knew jack about at that point. I can’t make this shit up.
God, will this post ever end?
So I’ve now managed to take up more of your time than I originally intended, all while rambling about Jaws’ G.O.A.T.iness with no real direction. So here it is folks, a quick summary of why Jaws is one of my G.O.A.T.s:
Jaws is a monster movie created with an artist’s touch, using film as a medium and not just a method. And it is a monster movie, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Time and Spielberg’s touch have put this movie on an artistic pedestal (where it should be), but let’s be real, this movie is about a fucking shark that eats people. And that is why this movie is a GOAT. It delivers thrills that aren’t cheap, and is a monster tale told with a meticulous hand. It’s the best of both worlds, ladies and gents.
Oh, and they like, you know, blow up a fucking shark at the end.
But that’s whatever I guess.
Featured Image source : https://www.movieposter.com/q/jaws_posters.html
Corgi in Shark Costume Image source: http://www.costumemodels.com/best-shark-costumes/a-dog-wearing-a-shark-costume