Tuesday, July 7, 2015

#WeirdEd Week 64- JAWS

JAWS is probably my favorite movie of all time. It's a perfect experience, expertly crafted, detailed, and shot. JAWS created the summer blockbuster and is the opening salvo of every Why Steven Spielberg is the Greatest American Filmmaker Ever debate. Every time I watch it I catch something new, I enjoy it a little more. I just had the chance to see it in the theaters for the 40th anniversary re-release and there's nothing like that experience. I saw it on the big screen in Hawaii and it was magic. This time might have even been better because seated right behind me was a dad and two teenagers. I could hear the kids reacting to the movie the whole time and afterwards asked if they'd ever seen it before. They hadn't. Their first time with the shark was on the big screen and it played for them like it played for people for the last 40 years. They loved it. It was then I decided I'm going to make a focused effort to not let either of my boys see JAWS until the 50th anniversary in ten years. By then Weirdling One will be twelve and a half and Weirdling Two will be ten. Just about perfect ages to see it for the first time. And they will see it in theaters. I want to watch them watch it. I'm stupid excited about this.

But what does JAWS have to do with teaching? If you know anything about the movie you know one of the reasons it works so well is the shark, Bruce*, almost never worked at all. (Side Note: Don't tell me the shark looks fake. Marty was wrong, the shark looks incredible. Watch it again.) The three Bruces were constantly failing and Spielberg needed his movie to be perfect so there was nothing but challenges. The first half of the movie, the half on land, went fairly well. Shooting on land is easy. But Spielberg insisted on shooting his second half on the open sea, too young to know that's a terrible idea. Problems plagued the shoot, causing delays and work arounds. Richard Dryfuss famously quipped Martha's Vineyard echoed with radios crackling, "The shark is not working. Repeat- the shark is not working." So why does the movie work?

And that's our In. Making it work when nothing works. The title character doesn't fully appear for nearly an hour (when he eats the guy in the rowboat and we get to see a leg sink to the sea floor) and we don't get a great look at him until even later, in a reveal that is never going to be topped, including the oft-misquoted line.

The reason that works, by the way, is because it comes on the heels of a great laugh line. That's our first good look at the shark. And by then he's been built up so expertly that he's utterly terrifying. Spielberg is a genius at making you forget things you know**, like sharks can't swim backwards. Who cares? THIS shark can, and he wants Brody to know he's coming.

We can learn a lot from JAWS, both in the making of the movie and in the movie itself. The characters are wonderfully fleshed out and, using the proper amount of #WeirdEd creativity, can be applied to classroom situations. I'm dying to keep writing but I realize I find this more interesting than anyone else, so I'll quickly review the characters in case it comes in handy.

Chief Brody- Martin Brody is the chief of police of Amity, a community with the exact opposite of the level of crime he's used to, having just come from New York. He's married to Ellen Brody, has two children, and is deathly afraid of the water. He kills the shark.

Hooper- Hooper is the young, rich shark expert from the mainland brought in by Brody to help him solve what is, in Brody's cop mind, a murder. Hooper is part comic relief and also set in direct opposite to Quint. Hooper is college smart while Quint is school of hard knocks. Hooper has fancy equipment, Quint has his ancient but well-maintained Orca. In the book Hooper also sleeps with Ellen Brody. He dies in the book, lives in the movie. And he lives because of an accident in filming live sharks.

Quint- Quint is our shark hunter. He's Ahab in this particular tale. He knows the sea better than anyone in Amity and he'll find the shark for three thousand dollars, but he'll catch him and kill him for ten. He might be insane. He also has the best monologue in film history. Watch Dryfuss watch him. Being Ahab, of course he dies.

Mayor Larry Vaughn- Mayor Vaughn is important to our discussion because he's the one most against Brody's plan to close the beach. He keeps them open, getting people killed in the process. But is he a bad guy? His town is a summer town, it lives on summer money. "You scream barracuda, people say, 'What? Huh?' You scream shark, you've got a panic on the Fourth of July." Larry is administration, maybe not happy about all the testing that has to be done but knowing that it's not really under his control.

*named after Spielberg's lawyer and the reason the Great White in FINDING NEMO is named Bruce

**see also the T-Rex pen in JURASSIC PARK. How did the T-Rex get out? We see a few minutes later that it's a 30ft drop on the other side of the wall. Answer- We don't care because Steven Spielberg makes us not care.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This blog is exquisitely written, great job! I thought the Indianapolis sinking was fictional but I just read about it, and it's real and horrifying. While I hate what this movie did for people's perceptions of sharks, there's no doubting the greatness of the craftsmanship of the film!

  3. How did I miss this chat?! I am now challenged to do a blog post on Jurassic Park. I loved Jaws and take great satisfaction in that my younger sister would not go to the bathroom by herself for months after seeing it. Still hates the water to this day and won't admit to why. I will have to borrow a kid for the 50th anniversary screening.