Beaches are supposed to be fun. Beaches are supposed to be Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon-esque scenes of sandy fun and bikini-clad hormone-o-ramas. Old people, little kids, taut teenagers, sun, surf, smiles. That’s the beach. They are supposed to be fun.
Not cauldrons of frothing blood, 25-foot-long leviathans and an endless body count.
That’s not the beach. That’s Jaws.
I was 2 when the original movie came out. I didn’t see it until I was like 14 or so. I did, however, see Jaws 2 when it came out. My grandmother took us. She even bought me a t-shirt from the movie. That movie’s tagline was “Just when you thought it was safe to back in the water again…” Again? I thought. Well, what happened the first time? What could have happ—oh my god! For the next two hours, I watched a great white shark tear after teenagers and color the ocean red. And, after the movie, my grandmother TOOK US TO THE BEACH!
I’m ok now: my psychologist prescribes sunscreen and Xanax every summer.
Jaws did a bunch of things in terms of storytelling and changing the way we look at the stories that resonate with us. It was the first $100M movie and was the highest grossing film of all time until Star Wars. It made the E and F sharp the most frightening notes in music. Though I’m sure the Great White Shark Defense League didn’t appreciate all the negative publicity.
To date we’ve looked at cockroaches from outer space, a radioactive Jekyll and Hyde, a sadistic puppy killer, a vampire, a rejected parasite, a child molester turned boogeyman, a giant fire-breathing dinosaur, a truly haunted house, a killer clown from outer space, and a bumbling international criminal who can’t shake a 4th grader and her dog. And, short of the House, we haven’t looked at anything that’s remotely plausible let alone possible. Until now. This is what makes the shark an incredible villain: possibility. While implausible, a great white shark attacking a seaside community is possible. It can happen. That’s what makes it terrifying.
Jaws worked because it redefined the way we look at danger—and how close we’d allow it to be. It’s easy to say this is a classic man vs. nature type of story—the same thing that Alien did for space, Jaws does for the beach. That’s surface stuff. What Jaws did is bring danger home. Made it personal. Who doesn’t like the beach? Everyone wants to see their children have a good time on a hot summer day, watch them play in the surf. Just like Alex Kitner’s mother.
Tune in tomorrow, same Bat-time, different Bat-channel: tomorrow I’m posting over at Morgen Bailey’s blog (www.morgenbailey.com). We’ll be taking a good hard look at the Clown Prince of Crime—the Joker!