Looking back on… Jaws

Jaws (1975)
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw
Written by…well me actually!

As soon as it was decided that the topic for ‘Looking Back On’ would be those overlooked or “snubbed” for Oscars, I’d decided on Jaws quicker than you could say “mechanical shark”!

It is no secret whatsoever that Jaws is my favourite film of all-time, and in this year alone I have written things on it here, here, and here (okay I’ll stop now!), but basically I am incredibly biased, and vehemently believe that Jaws is the greatest film ever made. I have my ten slide PowerPoint presentation ready to go for anyone who tells me that the shark looks rubbish and fake now, I have my impassioned speech memorised for anyone who has the nerve to say it is “boring” or some other such nonsense. I will defend and advocate for this film until my dying day!

So yes, perhaps I am ever so slightly incredibly and unashamedly biased in writing this piece stating the case for why Jaws was overlooked in the 48th Academy Awards. Whilst not being overlooked entirely – it picked up awards in the sound mixing and film editing categories, and of course for it’s iconic score from John Williams – it was however overlooked in some of the other key categories, namely in the lead and supporting actor categories, best picture and best director. 

Taking a look at the acting categories to begin with, whilst I don’t believe that Roy Scheider could really hold a candle to Jack Nicholson’s winning performance in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, it is still a shame that he didn’t even pick up a nomination in the lead category. Always a criminally underrated actor, Scheider’s measured, yet warm and relatable performance as Chief Brody is the beating heart of the film; the Average Joe thrown into an unimaginable situation and overcoming his fear of the Ocean to save his town and protect his family. Being overlooked in the acing categories is possibly a byproduct of the nature of the story, in that the three leads share fairly equal amounts of screen-time and it is perhaps difficult to separate them from each other (Dreyfuss’ performance as Hooper is actually my subjective favourite), or simply that the Academy struggled to recognise great performances in a film classed as a “blockbuster”; a trend which has sadly continued to this day. 

Whilst I can reluctantly accept Scheider’s overlooking in the lead category, I simply cannot accept the blanket overlooking in the supporting actor category, and it is shameful that neither Dreyfuss or Shaw’s names appear in this list. As already mentioned, subjectively Dreyfuss’ performance as Hooper is my favourite, but objectively, Shaw’s performance as Quint is the stronger performance, and is still one of the finest screen performances to date. From his unforgettable nails-on-a-chalkboard introduction, through his iconic monologues, and finally to his bloody end, Shaw’s embodiment of the Quint character ensures he is anything but a “supporting” character, and it is no wonder he is the fan’s firm favourite to this day. Again, I’m probably biased, but there is a huge Robert Shaw shaped hole in the nominations list of that year, and in my mind, there is no real explanation for why he was overlooked.

We’re almost at the “gas canister in the open mouth of a shark” climax of this article, so finally to the greatest snubs for Jaws in the best picture and best director categories. Starting with best picture, and not staying too long here because it did receive a nomination, but despite the hot competition that year from Milos Forman’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon, Jaws was still absolutely worthy of consideration and earned its place in the list of nominees. It is always difficult looking back on this with hindsight, but what Jaws did for the big summer blockbuster paved the way for films like Star Wars a few years later to becoming all-conquering phenomenons, and started the trend of this summertime cinema sweet-spot, now reserved for the biggest blockbuster movie releases in the calendar year. Jaws was a genuine sensation at the time. It was an event. It was something you told all your friends about. It was an experience. The Academy would rarely go with the “popular” choice, but if they even took into consideration the audiences preferences, you can bet that Jaws would come out on top. 

I’ll try to hold back on getting as frantic and angry as a shark when it gets a whiff of blood, but the fact that Spielberg wasn’t nominated for best director is an absolute travesty, an unforgivable, outrageous, and downright shocking oversight on the Academy’s part. Spielberg was still in his early days as a director when he made Jaws, yet it has all the finesse and style of a seasoned veteran. Not even Spielberg himself could hide the disappointment when he failed to get nominated. Again hindsight is a wonderful thing and perhaps it is easy now to look back on Jaws with the context of Spielberg’s glittering directorial career and think that perhaps it is all okay as he received nominations and wins later on for other (better?) films. NO! It is not okay! Yes I am very biased in thinking that Jaws is Spielberg’s best film, but even at the time, ignoring everything that followed, Spielberg’s direction in Jaws should have received the recognition it so deserved. In winnning awards only in technical categories yet ignoring the man with the vision, and the man who pulled it all together is an absolute disgrace. 

Don’t worry, we are now swimming back to shore Brody and Hooper style, but I’ll finish by saying this; Jaws is a masterpiece of modern cinema, whichever way you look at it. In its trailblazing of the “blockbuster” movie, its masterful strokes in direction, sound, editing, and score, its blueprint for creating tension and the effectiveness in creating scares without overuse of the very thing which is creating all this fear, it is absolutely unparalleled. Sure, later shark films might have a more convincing shark than old Bruce, but none are as effective in the tension, fear, and entertainment that they create. Shark films have now become somewhat of a joke thanks to the Sharknado movies, but there was a time when there was a shark movie so wonderful that it made an entire generation scared to dip a toe into the sea. It was a simpler time, it was a Jaws time, and it was a time in which the Academy should’ve been bold and backed a blockbuster. Ah well, at least they’ve changed their ways now right? Oh wait… 

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3 comments

  1. I thought the first Jaws was excellent. I wasn’t aware of how much the film was shortchanged. It really surprised me because it’s saw iconic. I bet more people watch and know it than over the cuckoo’s nest nowadays, (though that film’s great too.)

    I need to re-watch Jaws. What’s your thoughts on its sequels?

    Liked by 1 person

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