Jaws: The Horror Film That's Really an Epic Drama
Genre confusion over one of my favorite films.
Happy New Year, everyone!
Last week, I saw a good film — one that I’ll be recommending later in this newsletter. In my brief review (which I wrote before this main section you’re currently reading), I categorized it as a “dark comedy.” This was mainly because it was listed as such on IMDB and elsewhere. Still, I hesitated to use that label because, truth be told, it had enough elements of other genres that it just as easily could have fallen under any of them.
This got me thinking about other movies whose genre isn’t quite set in stone, including one of my all-time favorite films, Jaws. In fact, I wrote about the movie from that very angle for The Daily Jaws a few years back. And, since I didn’t have much time for writing last week due to the holiday season and a lot of time spent with my family, I figured I’d re-publish that piece (which includes how the movie’s characers relate to my Sean Coleman Thrillers) for this week’s newsletter.
I hope you enjoy it.
Even as a child, I never thought of Jaws as a horror film, but rather a drama. That's not to say that I didn't find it terrifying the first time I watched it (even in its edited-for-television version that was much less bloody and left out a couple of severed limbs). It's just that horror films lose their edge after their original viewing. Audiences know when the scares are coming, and in a genre reliant on catching you off guard, such movies have trouble living up to their original screenings. Jaws, on the other hand, is like a fine wine (or Clint Eastwood's directing). It improves with age.
I would dare say that most of the film's true appreciators — those who recognize it as an undisputed classic and have never ever asked a question like, "Remind me how the shark comes back to life for Jaws 2?" — would probably agree with me on it being a drama, even if they've never put much thought into the distinction.
The star of the film, after all, is not the shark. As great as Bruce was in his cinematic debut, sending chills up our spines to the backdrop of one of film-history's most iconic original scores, the characters were the stars.
The dynamic among Brody, Hooper, and Quint (portrayed masterfully by Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss,and Robert Shaw) is nothing short of brilliant. Each character is remarkably honest and nuanced with separate motivations. And although they are very different from each other (which makes their chemistry all the more interesting), the audience can relate to all of them on a personal level.
Chief Martin Brody embodies our sense of responsibility and concern for the safety of those who rely on us. He shares our fears, recognizes his own weaknesses, and is to some extent a reluctant hero. Like many of us, he's not entirely comfortable in his own skin. But despite his vulnerabilities, he's a man of principles and conviction who elicits admiration — the sort of person we all aspire to be.
Matt Hooper is the explorer in all of us — a passionate, impulsive, and tenacious individual who, in a sense, sees the world through the eyes of a child (albeit a very smart child). He's confident and like many of us, not terribly receptive to criticism. He, after all, knows best — just as we do in our work environment, when it feels as though we're the only person in the organization who knows what in the hell they're doing.
Quint may be the most uncouth character of the bunch, but he is by no means unrelatable. He draws from the inner-libertarian that resides (at least a little bit) in all of us, exhibiting our rugged individualism, resistance to authority, and the cynicism we harbor toward society's detrimental norms. When we go on a hike or walk through a park on a sunny day, and we notice everyone around us with their heads buried in a smartphone, the sneer etched across our faces is us channeling Quint.
We even identify with Mayor Larry Vaughn (more closely than most of us would probably like to admit). No, I'm not talking about his fashion sense, thank goodness. I'm referring to how he embodies our natural inclination to gloss over and even dismiss inconvenient truths that stand in the way of getting the things we want. If you've ever made a big purchase with your Christmas bonus, without first verifying the amount or even that you'll be getting a bonus, you've pulled a Larry Vaughn.
As a novelist who is working on his fourth book, I'm often told by readers that they appreciate my characters for their realism, and that those characters don't fall into the molds of typical fictional figures. I always enjoy hearing that, because it's very much by design: from the abrasive security-guard protagonist who struggles with alcohol and a fiery temperament, to the reclusive survivalist whose pent up guilt won't let him escape his past. I believe that the key to any good dramatic story is nuanced and diverse characters, and writers like me couldn't have asked for a better blueprint for how to get it right than the movie Jaws.
This timeless work of art from Steven Spielberg, Peter Benchley, a great cast, and everyone else involved in the film is a true inspiration. It's a treasure that I can't help but watch whenever I stumble across it while channel-surfing, or when my local independent theater shows it annually on Fourth of July weekend (attending that screening has become a family tradition).
No mere horror film (no matter how scary) could ever hook me in the way Jaws has, even if it were to use three barrels.
What are some movies that you find hard to nail down with a specific genre? Let me know in an email or in the comment section below.
Over the Christmas break, my wife and I checked out some movies from a few “Best of 2021” lists. One that made a couple of them was “Riders of Justice,” a Danish film starring Mads Mikkelsen.
Mikkelsen is perhaps best known as the Bond villain in Casino Royale, or maybe Dr. Hannibal Lecter in the television series, Hannibal. He tends to play intense characters, and his role in Riders of Justice certainly fits the bill. But this is a different type of film that I’ve seen him in before: a dark comedy.
The story revolves around a soldier named Markus (Mikkelsen) who returns from his deployment in the Middle East upon receiving the tragic news that his wife and teenage daughter were involved in a train accident. His daughter survived. His wife did not.
As Markus and his daughter try to pick up the pieces and work through their previously strained relationship, Markus is paid a surprise visit by another train survivor — a brainy statistician named Otto who is certain the crash was not an accident at all, but rather part of a successful plot to assassinate a fellow passenger. The police don’t believe Otto’s claim, but with the help of two eccentric but endearing computer-hacker friends, he is sure he’s identified the responsible culprit.
The story turns to one of vengeance, and is quite serious at times, but the supporting cast of computer geeks keeps it from straying too far out of its clever comedic appeal.
It’s honestly one of the most interesting and satisfying films I’ve seen in a long time, and I highly recommend it.
Obligatory Dog Shot
We might have to have that growth looked at.
Two of my favorite 90s rock acts are Candlebox and Live, so I was pretty stoked a dozen or so years ago when members of both bands collaborated on an album. The supergroup went by the name, The Gracious Few, and they recorded some really great material.
Though their hard-hitting single “Honest Man” garnished little mainstream attention, it’s an absolutely phenomenal song, both lyrically and instrumentally. To this day, I think it’s one of front-man Kevin Martin’s best recordings since Candlebox’s wildly successful debut album in 1993.
I can’t get enough of the societal-driven powerful chorus:
They take my home, they take my land, the flower of my life
They take my friends, they take my love, and cut me like a knife
I spit these words at vile lies, the world’s forgotten men
Ain't no work
Ain't no work
For an honest man
The band's one and only album may not have gotten much fanfare, but it really is a strong collection of rock music.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!