Jaws

Title:  Jaws
Director:  Steven Spielburg
Date:  1975
Studio:  Universal
Genre:  Suspense, Drama
Cast:  Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
Format:  Technicolor, Widescreen
DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

“This was no boat accident.”  Matt Hooper

“It doesn’t make much sense for a guy who hates the water to live on an island either.”  — Hooper
“It’s only an island if you look at it from the water.”  — Martin Brodie

“We’re going to need a bigger boat.”  — Martin Brodie

Quite by accident Jaws was the first movie that I got on DVD, received as a gift.  I still love it though because it’s a masterful piece of suspense, and a fine character study.  It is not out and out shock-factor horror, in part due to happy accident — the mechanical shark didn’t work, and the film works better when you can’t see it.  There are some scenes where you finally do see the shark, and it looks very fake, though the film stands up by it’s well-drawn characters and their relationships.

Amity Island is an East Coast summer island, preparing for the busy Fourth of July summer holiday.  The film opens with a group of young people having a bonfire on the beach.  One of the teenaged girls runs off to go skinny dipping in the ocean, at night, and is attacked and killed (eaten) by the shark.  Martin Brodie (Roy Scheider), the chief of police, immediately tries to close the beach — but is prevented by the local mayor and business people who are afraid they will lose their summer income.

And thus the first half of the film almost has the format of a disaster film:  one guy (Brodie) knows there’s a threat to life and limb, but no one listens to him, because doing the smart thing is a threat to local business and income.  Later a young child is killed, and reward is offered for the shark.  Soon every idiot who can find a boat is out looking for the shark, and doing a terrible job.

At this point, Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), a shark expert, shows up.  He tells Brodie the shark someone’s caught is a Tiger shark and too small to have killed the girl who died.  What they are looking for is a Great White.

The scene where Hooper examines the remains of the dead girl is well done, because we don’t actually see the body, he just describes into a dictaphone what he sees and what’s missing, while trying not to lose his lunch.  Similarly, when Brodie found the girl in the first place — all the audience saw was the girl’s hand — that’s it, no body and no blood.  (There isn’t even any blood in the first attack scene, though there are in later ones).

Again, Brodie and Hooper want to close the beaches, but the mayor won’t allow it on Fourth of  July weekend.  After another attack, and Brodie nearly losing his own son (he survives), the mayor relents.

Whereas, the first half of the movie is like a disaster film — with the one guy trying to convince everyone else and not being believed; the second half of the film is closer to horror — though it’s still more suspense than horror.  Because of the problems with the shark, and Spielburg’s excellent direction, surprise, brief glances, and suggestion is used more than actually seeing the shark eat anyone.

The second half of the film has Brodie — the chief of police, and a guy who’s afraid of water; Quint (Robert Shaw) the old poacher and fisherman, and Hooper (the shark expert), stuck on Quint’s boat trying to catch the shark.  The film examines these three characters, their relationships to each other, and their relationships to the shark.  This is where the character-building occurs, having already been touched upon as the three very different men are introduced.

My favorite scene in the entire movie is actually where the three are in the cabin of the boat, they’ve just finished comparing scars (except Brodie), and the three start singing, “I’m tired and I Wanna go Home”, only to have the shark butt in, literally, as it begins to ram the boat.  At this point, too, the shark goes from the unseen, spooky, where will it show up next, monster — to something they cannot kill.  It makes the film more towards the horror genre, but even once we start to see the shark, it still isn’t seen all that often.  A big part of what makes Jaws scary is that what you don’t see is a lot scarier than what you do see.  Even in Jaws, when we see people splashing around in the water, and hear the marvelous Jaws theme music, that’s scarier as the audience anticipates something happening, than later when the shark takes a chunk out of Quint’s boat.

Again, the acting in this is marvelous.  Scheider is calm and collected, but you can see he’s repressing his fears, especially when in the boat, or watching people swimming in dangerous waters.  Some of the best shots are of him reacting to things.  Dreyfuss is the manic scientist, smart, knowledgeable, but also able to get a quick insult off at the stupidity of people on the island when he needs to.  He also quickly convinces Brodie exactly what they need to do.  And Quint, the poacher and fisherman — course, mean-tempered, essentially a salty old sailor — the perfect foil for the more normal Brodie and Hooper.

In the end, of course, Hooper disappears (but survives), Quint doesn’t, and Brodie manages to thrust a compressed air tank into the shark’s mouth and then blow it up by shooting it.  Instant sushi.

Still, an excellent movie with great characters and some really good acting.

Recommendation:  See it!  But not for the really young (I’d go 13 plus on this)
Rating:  4 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Justice League Crisis on Two Earths

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

  • Title:  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
  • Director:  Steven Spielburg
  • Date:  1989
  • Studio:  Paramount Pictures
  • Genre:  Adventure, Action
  • Cast:  Harrison Ford, Sean Connery, River Phoenix, Denholm Elliott, John Rhys-Davies, Julian Glover
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • Format:  R1, NTSC
“That cross is a important artifact, it belongs in a museum!”  — Young Indy
 
“Nazis, I hate these guys.” — Indiana Jones
 
“I wrote it down in my diary so I wouldn’t have to remember!” — Henry Jones, Senior
 
“You call this archaeology?”  — Henry Jones, Senior

It’s always hard for me to say which is my favorite Indiana Jones movie — “Raiders” or “Last Crusade“.  “Raiders” introduces the great character, and Marion is a great, feisty, independent woman, and it has a good plot — but the snakes still gross me out.  On the other hand, “Last Crusade“, is, again, like “Raiders” a great adventure, set in relatively short “episodes” that span the world, from Indy’s childhood in Utah to his working as a college professor, to Venice, to Berlin, to Austria, to the hiding place of the Holy Grail. But “Last Crusade” also brings back the great secondary characters of Marcus Brody and Sallah who were missing from “Temple of Doom“.  And there’s the great relationship between Indiana Jones and Henry Jones, Sr.

Which is why, though it wouldn’t exist without “Raiders“, Last Crusade slightly edges out “Raiders” as my favorite.  “Last Crusade”, at its core is about a father and son journeying to discover each other as much as it is a great adventure tale about a search for the Holy Grail.  And the film, as I briefly mentioned before, brings back Marcus Brody and Sallah, both from “Raiders” and both sorely missed in “Temple of  Doom“. And neither character just appears just so they can be listed in the credits — both have important parts to play in the plot, especially Marcus. Sean Connery, is perfectly cast as Indiana Jones’ father.  I love the relationship between the two — prickly, yet fun. “Last Crusade” is a fun adventure-filled movie, with lots of great and quotable lines. But it also has heart — when Henry Jones Sr. thinks Indy has died he is truly crushed, and we feel his pain. When the Nazis shoot Indy’s father in front of him to force Indy to get the Grail, it’s a shocking moment, and we feel Indy’s shock and pain — not to mention he’s about to lose his father. Indiana ends up obtaining the Grail to save his father, not for his own aggrandizement, like Harry Potter with the Philosopher’s Stone in that film and book. In other words, he didn’t want it to keep it.  And like the Stone, the Grail heals Henry Sr.

And isn’t Julian Glover just a perfect villain?

River Phoenix really is well cast as young Indiana Jones.  The opening sequence is also great — not only is it full of adventure itself, but we see Indiana become our Indiana, the hero we love.  The transition from the treasure hunter putting the hat on Indiana to the shot of Harrison Ford in the rain, attempting to recover the same artifact, is perfect. And speaking of great shots – the first shot of Sean Connery as Henry Jones, Sr, as he steps into the light is also perfect.  And what can be a more satisfying a ending to a movie than our heroes, Indiana, Henry, Sallah, and Marcus, as riding off into the sunset?

The structure of the film, like Raiders, is again of short episodes, linked into a longer story, which keeps the film moving and the adventure level high. In some ways, the film is a chase film, as much as it is a Quest. And it’s also a Quest of characters of the Joneses coming to know each other as well as the Quest for the Holy Grail.

Recommendation:  See it!  And, again, a great film for kids and teenagers.
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Indiscreet

Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

  • Title:  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom
  • Director:  Steven Spielburg
  • Date:  1984
  • Studio:  Paramount
  • Genre:  Adventure, Action
  • Cast:  Harrison Ford, Kate Capshaw
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format:  R1, NTSC

Indiana Jones and the Temple of  Doom is important to cinema history because it’s the film that introduced the PG-13 rating to American movies.  Or rather, the controversy did (the film carries a PG rating).  “Temple of Doom” was criticized for it’s dark plot and violence, though admirers of  “Raiders” and “Last Crusade” also criticized it for sticking Indy with a screaming, whiny girl and a kid.  And for such a dark film, having a child in it as Indy’s “companion” seems a poor choice.  The film also lacks Indy’s friends — Sallah and Marcus — who add to the feel of the film series, generally.

Temple of  Doom is set in 1935, or three years prior to “Raiders”.  It opens in Shanghai with a 1930s-style musical number led by Willie (Kate Capshaw) singing “Anything Goes”.  Indiana is tougher, meaner, and more world-weary than in Raiders of the Lost Ark, even though the film is set earlier —  he’s in Shanghai  to sell back to a gangster his ancestor’s remains (ashes) probably stolen from an archaeological dig, museum, or grave site.  This Indy sees giving such an artifact to a museum as a waste of time and resources.  But he’s also willing to take the lounge singer, Willie, captive to get his payment (a large diamond) from Lo Chi.  He briefly gets the payment, but is poisoned.  Chaos ensues as Jones tries to get the antidote that’s been dropped on the floor of the ballroom as people stampede all over, while Willie tries to get the diamond. They finally escape out a window and into Indy’s car driven by Short Round, the stereotypical too smart, too cute kid.

Another friend of Indy’s get’s him a flight out of the country, but it’s a Lo Chi cargo plane.  Just shy of some mountains, the pilot and co-pilot dump the fuel and escape in parachutes.  With no parachutes, Jones, Short Round, and Willie escape in a life raft, ski down a slope, and end-up white water rafting.  It’s one of the best sequences in the movie.

The river takes them to India — and the plot gets dark, and at times gross.  Indy is taken to a town, which is dying, the people starving and the children taken.  Indy is talked into going to the palace of the local Maharajah to look for the stone and the children.  After the most disgusting dinner scene ever (snakes stuffed with more live snakes or eel; bugs; monkey brains served in the skull, eyeball soup.  I mean EEEWWW!)  Jones discovers a Thuggee cult in residence.  He also, eventually discovers the missing children are being forced to work as miners in a mine under the palace.

Indy’s about to right all this, when he’s captured, drugged with blood, and his mind is taken over.  He becomes a member of the Thuggee cult, and helps load Willie into a basket to be sacrificed by burning alive in a pit.  He even hits Short Round in the face, knocking him down.  But Short Round also burns Indy with a torch, waking him out of his stupor, and they escape with all three of the Charah stones, including the one for the village.  However, in leaving they have two obstacles — a mine car race (which, unfortunately, looks like a video game) and crossing a narrow bridge over a huge chasm, with crocodiles in the river below.  Indy, Willie, and Short Round are making it — when the cult shows up and there’s a fight on the bridge.  Indy loses two of the three stones, but also defeats the cult, killing it’s high priest and another Thuggee.

However, Indy frees the kids and brings them back to the village.  The village water supply is also back (it had been possibly diverted to the mining operation), and Indy returns their sacred rock.

Still, overall the movie is dark — child labor, a cult that practices human sacrifice, the Thuggee high priest tearing a still beating heart out of a man’s chest — it’s frightening and horrifying.  But the most disturbing is Indy himself falling under the spell of the cult and doing things he normally wouldn’t do — like locking Willie in the sacrifice basket or hitting a child.

But the film also suffers from not having the spirit of high adventure that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” has.  It suffers from not having Indy’s friends Sallah and Marcus in the film.  Willie and Short Round are very annoying companions for Indy — especially Willie who whines and complains and screams an awful lot, and just doesn’t have the fire that Karen Allen had.

Recommendation:  Indiana Jones is only available in multi-film sets, so it’s worth at least watching
Rating:  3 out of  5
Next Film:  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark

  • Title:  Raiders of the Lost Ark  (Indiana Jones)
  • Director:  Steven Spielburg
  • Date:  1981
  • Studio:  Paramount Pictures
  • Genre:  Action, Adventure
  • Cast:  Harrison Ford, Karen Allen, John Rhys-Davies, Denholm Elliott, Alfred Molina
  • Format:  Color, Widescreen
  • DVD Format;  R1, NTSC
“Asps, very dangerous. You go first.” — Sallah
 
“I don’t know, I’m making this up as I go.”  — Indiana Jones
 
“You’re not the man I knew ten years ago.”  — Marion
“It’s not the years, honey, it’s the mileage.”  — Indiana Jones

One of my favorite movies from my childhood, right along side Star Wars (the original), Indiana Jones is a tour de force of  non-stop action and adventures. From the stirring music to the unforgettable characters, and stunning direction, it’s the movie that made me fascinated with movies. It should be noted that the title of the first Indiana Jones film is Raiders of  the Lost Ark, the “Indiana Jones and the…” was added to the DVD release — fortunately it’s only on the DVD case, the film itself  still has the original title in tact.

Indiana Jones, also like Star Wars, has it’s origin in the old movie serials of the 1930s — full of action and adventure, and continued from week to week with a cliffhanger at the end of each episode. And whereas Star Wars is partially based on the SF serials such as Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers, Indiana Jones is based on the adventure serials in spirit but brings an original twist to the idea with it’s characters. But it does follow the tradition of keeping the audience’s interest by having brief episodic stories within the main story. That is, the settings change frequently in the movie, from the jungles of South America, to an American University, to Nepal, to Egypt, as does the action. This definitely adds to the action and adventure of the film, or as one of the promos has it — “If Adventure has a name, it must be Jones.”

The film begins in the middle of an adventure, with Indiana Jones searching a jungle in South America for a golden idol. It fact, the first shot we see of Indiana Jones is as he steps into the light after using his bullwhip to disarm a native guide who was going to shoot him. Ford, as Jones, in leather jacket and fedora, with bull whip and revolver, steps into the light — and he is the character, this is all we need to know. In fact, for the entire first scene, we don’t even know this explorer’s name. Indiana manages to get the Idol, and escape the temple, only to have the idol stolen from him by a rival French treasure hunter named Rene Belloq.

Next we see mild-mannered Jones teaching archaeology at his university. He’s tracked down by government agents and sent on a race to get the Ark of  the Covenant before the Nazis do. This is the core of the film, the race to find and take the Ark. The film includes the famous “snake” scene, as well as the ultimate torching of the Nazis by the Ark’s power.

But one of the most chilling images in the film is the Ark being boxed up by US Army Intelligence and locked away in a mysterious warehouse, filled with other wooden crates. Makes me wonder every time I re-watch Raiders of  the Lost Ark, just what else is hidden away in that warehouse.

But the film is pure fun — action, adventure, romance (in the old-fashioned sense of the word), fiery women, real men, everything a young girl could want in a film. And the magic doesn’t wear off no matter how many times one watches it. Spielburg and Lucas created a timeless classic that just never gets old or looks dated.

Recommendation:  See it!  This is especially a great film for young teens and pre-teens to adults.
Rating:  5 of 5 Stars
Next Film:  Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom