You’re going to need a bigger screen

Amazingly I’ve managed to find some time to visit the cinema a bit more recently, a rare treat! I’m not entirely sure why I dedicated an entire blog post to rant about Prometheus when I have seen two far better films on the big screen. The first of which was The Raid, a film that is developing a bit of a cult following. It is an Indonesian action film made for £1million by Welsh director Gareth Evans (who also wrote and edited the film – superb work that man!). Now as an indie film-maker I find this terribly inspirational stuff!

It is frequently getting mentioned alongside Die Hard but to be honest it is perhaps closer in tone to the John Woo’s Hard Boiled. It still has the siege elements, but also the ridiculous body count, the slimy despicable baddie who hides behind security monitors, a few twisted alliances, even a bad guy called “Mad Dog” who steals the show (and the actor who plays mad-dog also does the action choreography just as in Hard Boiled). The other film I’d perhaps compare it to is Ong Bak, but instead of showcasing Muay Thai it showcases the equally visceral and seemingly more deadly art of Pencak Silat. Wow!

It’s pretty brutal stuff at times, but massively entertaining. There are two versions of this film, I’m going to have to track down the non-Westernised original version with an alternate score. I don’t want to give too much more away about this film, but for action hounds – well worth a visit!

During the showing there was a trailer for my favourite film of all time, which I have never seen on the big screen,… until now.

Jaws.

Yes, it’s all this film’s fault. Not only is it my favourite film, it is also the film you can credit for making me want to become a film-maker. I aspire to craft something as perfect as this film, I probably never will – but that’s the goal.

I have so many memories of this film as a child. The first was my parents putting me to bed early so they could sit and watch it on their own. I was told I was absolutely not allowed to come downstairs. The second was a couple of years later when returning from a fishing trip from my Dad. We came back late and it was on telly. The scene in question was where Robert Shaw is strapping himself in to do a spot of fishing himself. This scene fascinated me with the way that the suspense built, I’d never really seen anything quite like this before. Just as I was getting into it, I was once more shown the door to my bedroom and told I wasn’t allowed to watch. I was a bit miffed this time! So skip forward a couple more years. Once again the parents told me I couldn’t watch. The big difference this time was that they had recently put a TV in their bedroom. I duly sneaked off in the dark to watch on their bed whilst they watched it downstairs unaware. Of course, the opening sets the tone nicely, I was gripped. It was all going rather well and (in Scooby Doo tradition) I might have gotten away with it until “that scene” reared it’s ugly head! You all know the one I refer to, arguably the biggest “jump” scene in cinema history! I yelped and was busted shortly afterwards. Thankfully during the advert break, my parents said “Okay, you can watch – but at least watch it with us downstairs”. And of course, I loved it!

To be fair, Jaws clearly appeals to kids but it is debatable whether it should be for smaller children.  In the States it was originally rated R before being given a PG certificate. Different children have a different tolerance/threshold, the film has since lost it’s PG rating and is now a 12A in the UK, perhaps a more appropriate rating (again I’d mention that Murder by decree as another good example of where this is also more apt). I remember watching Piranha (an 18 at the time) several years later, thinking Jaws had much stronger content.

I can’t believe this film is 37 years old already and it holds up amazingly well. I got goosebumps hearing the atonal weird underwater noises, followed by those low strings and the names appearing on-screen. There was a slight touch of melancholy when seeing the names of the actors who are no longer with us (Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Murray Hamilton) and many of the crew as well (Peter Benchley, David Brown, Verna Fields).

There are so many highlights to this film, I really don’t even know where to begin. The great acting from the cast (including many of the smaller roles), the tight script (which amazingly was being re-written in many cases the evening before the next day of shooting), the atmosphere, editing, music, direction and some wonderful use of real locations – I can go on and on. I won’t go into specifics as I have at least one friend who has never seen it (we need to rectify this when I get the Blu-ray). Every time I watch this movie I take something different away. I hadn’t seen the film in a few years, perhaps it is the fact I am a father now but the beautifully played scenes by Lee Fiero hit especially hard. After her final scene, we are treated to a lovely family moment between father and son.  For me, these scenes and indeed the first half of the film is absolutely pitch perfect. The second half is “almost perfect”, the tone changes into a boys own adventure with it’s three main characters (Shaw, Scheider, Dreyfus) against the might Great White.

Jaws Characters (C) Universal
Image: Wikipedia, image (C) Universal Pictures

Perhaps it’s that something gets lost once the shark is fully revealed, or the fact the pacing isn’t quite as slick despite some exceptionally fine editing. This is me being nit-picky in the extreme saying “almost perfect”. There are still so many stand-outs, the shark cage, the finale and of course that wonderful Indianapolis speech (co-written by a favourite of mine – John Milius with a lot of help from the brilliant Robert Shaw). Apparently the scene was performed twice. Once when Shaw was drunk to get the full-effect and once when he was sober after apologising profusely to Spielberg about his terrible drunken performance and behaviour. The end result is a mixture of both.

Jaws won three Oscars (Best Film Editing for Verna Fields, Best Music Score for John Williams and Best sound). It was also nominated for Best Picture which ultimately went to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s nest. In my opinion it’s a crime of “Annie Hall/Star Wars” proportions that Spielberg wasn’t even nominated for his direction. This film clearly took an awful lot out of him, it was without question the hardest film production-wise of his career. It almost destroyed him! Thankfully Verna Field’s superb editing aided by John Williams’ ominous score (can I drop in the potentially controversial comment that Jaws 2 is actually an even better score) helped to save the day to make the masterpiece that it still is day.

And so the Hollywood Blockbuster was born!

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One response to “You’re going to need a bigger screen

  1. I’m not an aspiring filmmaker, but this was the first movie to open my eyes to masterful technique. One random example: the early scene in the Brody household with planes of incident unfolding in the foreground and background simultaneously. Brody has TWO phones! (in the 70’s!). The kids want to go swimming – ulp (“What do they usually do, wash up?”)

    Also, the movie delivers terrific, indelible characterizations (something Spielberg hasn’t captured in the decades since). With all that, it doesn’t matter that the shark is phony-looking during the climactic scenes.

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