Here is why Jaws is the best fishing movie ever made.
There have been plenty of good movies over the years that were either about fishing or had fishing as a central plot item. "Grumpy Old Men," "The Old Man and the Sea" and "A River Runs Through It" are all fantastic fishing films with stellar casts.
But when it comes to fishing movies, I'm of the firm belief that none can match Steven Spielberg's classic 1975 summer blockbuster classic, "Jaws."
Here's why this adaptation of the Peter Benchley novel about a killer great white shark just stands out amidst all the other fishing titles.
Quint is the best portrayal of a fisherman ever.
Robert Shaw's masterful performance as Quint the shark hunter makes him the most likable fishing character ever.
Part of that comes from the incredible lines he has that help him take over nearly every scene.
"Y'all know me. Know how I earn a livin.' I'll catch this bird for you, but it ain't gonna be easy. Bad fish. Not like going down to the pond and catchin bluegills and tommycods. This shark, swallow ya whole. Little shakin,' little tenderizin,' down you go."
"Ten Thousand dollars for me by myself. For that you get the head, the tail, the whole damn thing."
"Back home we got a taxidermy man, he's gonna have a heart attack when he sees what I brought him!"
Plenty of other characters in Jaws have memorable lines, like Roy Schneider's classic, "We're gonna need a bigger boat." But Quint's haunting story about surviving the USS Indianapolis disaster helps make him the film's best character to me. That scene made Quint more than just a simple fishing stereotype. It explained his dislike for sharks, while also giving him one of the best backstories ever.
In a way, it's a shame one of the original ideas for "Jaws 2," a prequel film about Quint surviving the USS Indianapolis, never happened.
But in any case, that story foreshadows Quint's eventual death. I was always kind of disappointed Quint got eaten in the end, but I get what Spielberg was going for: he wanted to turn the hunter into the hunted. It's a very fitting death for the ultimate fishing character.
In many ways, Quint is the modern-day, American version of Captain Ahab from the classic Herman Melville novel "Moby Dick." He's single-minded and obsessive in his motivations much like any dedicated fisherman. It's probably part of what keeps him so relatable to so many. But much like Ahab, though, it also gets him killed.
It also really helps that Roy Sheider and Richard Dreyfuss act as the perfect counters to Quint's abrasive character as Amity's police chief Martin Brody and marine biologist Matt Hooper. The actors had great chemistry, leaving us with a lot of believable exchanges between the three characters on their hunt for this monstrous great white.
All these years later, it's hard to imagine Spielberg first wanted Lee Marvin or Sterling Hayden for the role of Quint. We simply can't imagine Quint as anyone other than Robert Shaw.
Plus, can we just recognize how cool Quint's boat the Orca is? It's old, weathered and beat up, but we just want to take it out deep sea fishing with it! The cool thing is they later restored for just that purpose!
It's the ultimate big fish tale.
The world record for a great white shark is a 16-foot, 2,664-pound monster caught off the coast of Australia in 1959. That shark also has the distinction of being the biggest fish in the International Game Fish Association's record book.
But the 25-footer from Jaws dwarfs this world-record fish. This is simply the biggest fish anyone's ever seen and the story plays out like something you'd hear from an old, grizzled fisherman sitting on a dock somewhere.
The slow build of this crazy fish tale comes in very subtle steps. We have an idea of the shark's strength early on when the shark pulls the heavy wooden dock apart with two fishermen standing on it.
Spielberg added many subtle visual clues to the shark's killing prowess of Amity Island's residents. For instance, in the scene where Brody and Hooper find Ben Gardner's boat, a very visible bite mark on the boat's railing framed into one shot shows where some poor, unknown fisherman met his grisly end. All these subtle clues help make the shark into a nearly unstoppable killing machine, and the most dangerous fish anyone has ever tangled with.
Much like any crazy fishing tale, the details of the hunt get stretched to a point that makes the whole thing hard to believe. It probably isn't realistic when the great white rips apart the shark cage, as I've never heard a shark actually destroying a cage before. And, could a shark really pull a huge boat like the Orca backwards through the ocean? Probably not. But, Steven Spielberg captured some real magic with a movie that makes you believe.
Jaws captures the essence of the ocean and fishing.
Part of what draws fishermen back to the lakes and oceans again and again is the mystery and the unknown. You simply don't know where and when you're going to catch a big fish. Most of the time you can't see what is lurking in the depths and it helps make the ocean and the shark attacks in the film all the more mysterious and scary.
Few films have captured the essence of the ocean quite like Jaws. Fewer have embraced the mysteries it hides. Those mysteries are only heightened by John Williams' simple and mysterious score on the film. Humans have explored so little of the oceans that they might as well be an alien world, much like the simplistic music that highlights this shark as a mindless killing machine.
Only reinforcing the ocean's mysteries is the scene near the beginning of their hunt when Quint hooks into something big on a standard fishing rod. We never actually see what he hooked and he gets into a bit of a fun verbal tussle with Hooper over it. I've always wondered, did Quint actually hook the shark, or was it something else entirely? We'll never know for sure and that's part of the fun.
Had Quint lived, I'm sure he would've been telling tall tales of exactly what he had on the end of his line in that scene. Other than the fact Quint was using piano wire as a leader, that scene is actually a pretty realistic portrayal of fishing.
The scene where Quint, Hooper and Brody drink and swap stories perfectly captures the camaraderies that can form while fishing. It isn't always about catching something; it's about the fun you have while doing it.
There will never be another "Jaws."
While I'm a fan of the different style of "Jaws 2," I'll admit it just doesn't have the same magic as the original. Many films including "Deep Blue Sea," "The Shallows" and "Open Water" have tried to tap into what made this film so good. And, they've disappointed me time and time and again. I haven't seen it, but from what I've read, "The Meg," which just entered theaters, contains many references to this legendary film.
It's probably safe to say sharks and oceans wouldn't capture our imaginations so much if not for this film. There probably wouldn't be "Shark Week" every year on the Discovery Channel.
Fortunately, though, Jaws came along at the right time with the right cast to make a truly iconic movie that shattered all sorts of Hollywood box office records. It also gave us the best fishing character ever and the best fictional fishing story of all time.
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