Not so great white

Great White

2021 | 91 min

Dir. Martin Wilson

A struggling Australian tour company gets a call to take a couple out to a beautiful remote atoll to spread the ashes of an ancestor. There are five people: two couples, both of whom have relationship tensions and a super hot fifth wheel. This sounds like a set-up for a relationship drama, perhaps something about connecting with nature and ancestors, perhaps a violent jealously narrative, or something else. The options for a compelling story are endless. Instead…a shark takes down a plane.

Charlie (Aaron Jaubenko) and Jaz (Katrina Bowden) operate a tour business at a crossroads, just as their relationship is. They get a timely call from Michelle (Kimie Tsukakoshi) and Joji (Tim Kano) ordering their deluxe tour package. When they get off the seaplane at their destination they find the remains of two people who were killed by a great white shark. They get back in their plane but the shark attacks it and it doesn’t get less ridiculous from there.

I’ve written before that nearly all shark attack movies are both silly and impossible. They’re impossible because those few sharks that do on rare occasions bite people are incapable of eating a whole adult person and even the largest would struggle with a child older than around seven or eight. They just can’t eat enough to keep a conflict going. They’d be full before the first film’s act ends. And they’re silly because, to repeat myself, people go fishing, fish don’t go peopling. As in, you have to keep finding ways to put people in the shark’s way even though people don’t live in the water and sharks do not live on land. Even compelling shark attack movies like Jaws come up with pretty bizarre circumstances to get people into the water like a shark sinking a large fishing trawler. So sharks need bottomless stomachs, need to be able to capsize boats and sink planes and people need to just fall into the water at every chance in order to maintain the drama.

The maneuvering in Great White to keep people in the water is as follows: boom knocks woman into water, shark sinks plane, person drops paddle and has to go get it, jealous man pushes hot fifth wheel out of the boat, shark capsizes boat, person falls out of boat, another person falls out of boat, another person falls out of boat, boat sinks, person falls off little island, person falls off little island. Perhaps one of them is believable.

Katrina Bowden was already in a film that pointed out how nonsensical most of the events and decision making in horror films are. In the very fun Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, they take a series of preposterous coincidences and create a horror film out of the nonsense by playing to the comedy inherent in that nonsense. Shark attack movies almost never do this. They take the utterly bizarre turns necessary to keep people in the path of a shark with a bottomless stomach and pretend that they’re plausible. Which is why so much of shark attack cinema sucks. Adhering to a formula is going to fail when the formula itself is bad. Great White is also bad for other reasons like mediocre CGI and a bad script. But given its premise, it could have only been mildly good if everything else went perfectly.

Dud in the water

Blood in the Water

2022 | 78 min

Dir. Dominic Nutter

At one point in Blood in the Water, the villain has a short soliloquy where they repeat the misconception that sharks have not changed since before the dinosaurs. Sometimes we hear versions of this about crocodiles and other species as well, usually those called “perfect killing machines”. It’s not true. While the general form of sharks existed before the dinosaurs, no currently existing shark species existed then, most currently existing genera didn’t even exist. Sharks have been changing this entire time because time produces mutations. That’s why so many different kinds of sharks exist ranging from ambush predators that camouflage while resting on the sea floor like the wobbegong to very fast fish hunters like the mako to giant filter feeders like whale sharks. If it seems like I’m talking more about sharks than the movie, trust me, it’s better this way. The movie sucks.

The film’s basic premise is a sort of Saw knock-off where the villain makes a mechanism that will feed people to a shark if they don’t fully confess or something. It’s ridiculous and neither interesting nor fun. But what kind of shark?! It’s hard to say but since it’s in captivity we have to assume it’s a bull shark. No other shark species known to kill humans without provocation can survive in captivity. But if the bull shark ate the person it kills at the beginning, it’s still eating them at the later date the others show up. That’s enough food for a maximum size bull shark for about two and half weeks. Bull sharks can only eat around three percent of their body weight at a time and don’t eat daily. So this cannot be a bull shark either since it eats a bull shark’s entire body weight within the span of the film, mostly within a few minutes. Instead the filmmakers have a monster and shark monstrosity is the technological fulcrum upon which the plot and the entire genre of shark attack cinema operate.

Blood in the Water is corny and boring. The performances are about the best you can hope for with the material given and do not come close to redeeming the film. Don’t waste your time.

Man oh Maneater


2022 | 89min

Justin Lee

Let’s get this out of the way first: the shark in the movie is very specifically not eating people. So why is this movie called Maneater? Anywho…a group of mainland colonizers are in Hawai’i to help Jessie (Nicky Whelan) get over being left at the altar. The friends arrange for a boat trip to an unnamed small island to hang out with dolphins and tortoises. As is common for films about vacationing friends there is booze, sexual intrigue, some jokes and, as is less common, a giant shark.

Maneater’s central conflict gets started in the second scene where Harlan (Trace Adkins) wishes his kid good surfing before she goes out and gets chewed up by a great white shark. We learn shortly after that pieces of his daughter were found all over the beach. This leads Harlan to suspect the shark was hunting for sport and not for food. While losing his daughter is obviously horrible, his opposition to sharks sportpeopling is less relatable. There are countless social media feeds, TV programs, books and magazines dedicated to people sportfishing. Harlan even wears a hat with shark teeth on it to brag about his own sportfishing. It’s only fair that fish go sportpeopling as well. Harlan pursues a revenge trajectory and goes off looking for a great white shark that, for some reason, has lots of stretch marks or wrinkles on its face.

Jessie and her friends take off on their trip and share some stories and drinks and make it to the island where they camp out. The next morning the shark starts picking them off, sometimes one by one, sometimes two at a time until what remains of Jessie’s party links up with Harlan and they face off against the shark.

It’s hard to know where to start with this film. There’s just so much that is bad with it. The script is terrible and makes all the dialogue seem forced and, often, incoherent. Take this exchange between Jessie and Harlan:

Harlan: It’s that fucking monster did this.

Jessie: It’s not a monster, it’s the devil.

Harlan: Devil’s don’t bleed. It’s just a fish.

Is it a devil, a monster or a fish? And do devils not bleed but monsters do? Do the poor performances make the script seem worse than it is or is it the other way around? Or are they both bad. Some mysteries just aren’t interesting enough to try to solve and that is one of them. But some of the performances are bad. Trace Adkins has the charisma of a toilet plunger handle and Porscha Coleman gives a visibly effortful turn. The film seems like exactly the kind of result you’d expect from a director who made four feature films in the same year, which director Justin Lee did. At least it could be bad in a fun or interesting way. But it’s just dull.

One of my interests is looking at how films make monsters out of sharks. The usual way they imagine sharks as a perpetual threat is by giving them bottomless stomachs. In film, sharks don’t have to digest their food nor is there a buffet that they cannot exhaust. Maneater gets something right in the process of getting everything about sharks wrong. When Harlan confronts a biologist about the shark eating his kid he asks why so much of his daughter washed up on the beach. Harlan insists that it’s because the shark was sportpeopling and wasn’t hunting for food. In reality, an adult great white shark around the maximum plausible length like the one in the film simply isn’t capable of eating his entire daughter. Great white sharks eat around the same percentage of their body weight as people do. They are much more massive than even the largest people, but not enough so that they could eat an average sized person and would struggle with even fairly small persons. But in Maneater the shark is not eating people at all, just killing them. And given the quality of the film, it’s hard not to be on the shark’s side.

Sharky vs. Drago

Shark Lake

2015 | 92 min

Jerry Dugan

In a northern Nevada lake town, sharks have people on the menu. Clint (Dolph Lundgren), an animal smuggler, loosed a bull shark in the lake five years ago before a jail term prevented him from delivering it to a local crime boss. The shark was preggers and now it and its grown pups are busy snacking on people. Deputy Hernandez (Sara Malakul Lane) is tasked with finding the sharks and is also Clint’s ex with a creepy age difference between them that suggest that the sharks aren’t the only predators around.

Going into the plot more than this is just a waste of time. The story is bad. The directing is bad. The acting is bad. The effects are bad. The score is perhaps the worst part. It’s just a bad film all around. Perhaps with enough drugs the brief scene where Clint wrestles and punches a shark could be mildly entertaining. But otherwise it’s not even bad in an interesting way. Instead, it’s just a project that somehow got funded with the help of grants and tax breaks and a bunch of people got paychecks for it. I’m happy for them.

Shark Lake could have been fun had the sharks been munching on the rich who have taken over Lake Tahoe and most other waterfront spaces in the US. They certainly have it coming. But that’s not what happens. Instead we have bull sharks living somewhere where bull sharks cannot live and eating quantities of people that bull sharks cannot eat and generally doing things sharks cannot do. You can tell the screenwriter just phoned it in. You can tell the rest of the production did as well.

Nothing too deep in The Shallows

The Shallows

2016 | 86min

Jaume Collet-Serra

There is a subgenre inside animal attack movies where someone has to conquer grief by conquering a killer animal. The Requin (2022), Jaws: The Revenge (1987) and Bait (2013) are some examples where a shark attack is balm for the soul somehow. It’s a sort of conquering one’s self through conquering nature. Even where the main characters are women it’s still what Val Plumwood called a “masculinist monster myth.” Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows is very much one of these stories.

Nancy (Blake Lively) is a med student mourning the loss of her mother and taking a break from school. She and a friend take a trip to Mexico to visit a beach her mother did while she was pregnant with Nancy. The trip to the beach is good and funny with Nancy mangling both spanish and corrections to spanish from her ride who is humoring her. She’s the very mildly annoying and slightly racist tourist that wouldn’t leave an impression on anyone. Nancy browses her phone and wistfully remembers her mum before making it to the beach and going out for a surf.

Nancy eventually finds herself alone near a humongous whale carcass where a great white shark is feeding. This is where everything goes wrong for Nancy and the film. Instead of continuing to feed on the mineral rich marine mammal blubber that great white sharks thrive on and heavily favor as their preferred food, the shark goes and knocks Nancy off her board and for the remaining hour in the film, it’s Woman vs. Shark.

All this might not be a problem if most of what you know about sharks comes from shark attack movies. A lot of people know that surfing is an activity where many of the infrequent real world shark attacks take place. The film is gorgeously shot, well paced and Blake Lively’s performance is tremendous. There’s a lot to like and the plot makes sense at a very superficial level. But if you know even a tiny bit about shark ecology the film becomes odd quickly, and by the end farcical. By this I don’t just mean little things like how you can see the base of the dorsal fin above the surface several times but never any part of the tail fin.

The shark in the film appears to be around 16ft long so probably weighs around one ton. This means it needs around sixty pounds of food every few days. And it has been feasting on a whale carcass. So why would it even bother Nancy? Or kill three other people, presumably eating some of them at least. It’s not just that a shark wouldn’t do those things, it’s that it couldn’t do most of them. A shark cannot eat two and a half people over a period of hours. It’s simply not capable of it. An adult great white shark could not ram a huge whale carcass from the bottom and lift it into the air. The film shark continually circles the rock where Nancy is stranded. Why? The shark instantly goes after people as soon as they get in the water. Why? Sharks don’t, and often can’t, do any of this.

The big problem here is that the shark isn’t a metaphor nor is it a spirit haunting the bay as with folk horror. It’s supposed to just be a shark. But this isn’t a shark, it’s a monster. And because it’s a monster, Nancy cannot simply be rescued, she has to kill the monster. Collet-Serra can’t figure out how to create effective drama in an encounter between a giant fish that is, in very rare circumstances, actually dangerous to people and a surfer, so he has to enact a series of increasingly ridiculous scenarios to move the story forward. He takes a great performance, solid effects and good photography and wastes it.

Clean up in aisle 4!


2012 | 93min

Kimble Rendall

You know that old fisherman’s story? The one about the fisherman who, when trapped next to a car in an underground carpark, braced his feet under shark’s jaws, put his shotgun under its chin and blew the shark’s brains out? Haven’t heard that one? Clearly you don’t hang around the docks. What about the one where the fisherman flips into the air like a gymnast, latches his legs onto sprinkler system pipes then tases a breaching great white shark? Haven’t heard that one either? Well, no worries. It doesn’t matter that you’re clearly out of touch with the lives of ol’ salty sea dogs you drylander because Bait has all of the above and more for you.

Bait opens with Josh (Xavier Samuel), fresh off his buck’s night, too hungover to go check a buoy at an ocean beach where he works as a lifeguard. His future brother-in-law heads out to do it for him and then gets eaten, along with another fellow, by a great white shark. Fast forward to twelve months later and the engagement is long broken off and Josh is toiling at a supermarket, living in tortured guilt. Things aren’t going great then along comes an earthquake and tsunami and suddenly the store is flooded. With the ocean water comes a great white shark into the supermarket as well.

But it’s not just great white sharks, an earthquake, a tsunami and Josh’s ongoing depression. The tsunami interrupted both an armed robbery and, separately, petty shoplifting! Also Josh’s ex-fiance Tina is in the store! And so is her new boyfriend! And the shoplifter’s boyfriend works at the store! And also it interrupts some car sex in the underground carpark! And there’s another great white there! If this sounds like there’s a bit too much going on in this film, it’s because there is. And the convolution takes a lot of the fun out of what could have been a supremely silly creature feature or disaster film.

The basic idea behind Bait is: sharks are hunting people in a supermarket. No matter what you contrive in order to get there, that premise is fundamentally silly. You can lean into the silliness or you can play it straight and juxtapose the weirdness of what follows. What you cannot do is try to squeeze an emotional action-drama out of it. It doesn’t matter how good the performances are and, apart from a cartoonish robber, they are fine performances. When the script demands nonsense and silliness and you turn in a dramatic man’s conquest of nature with ninety-four subplots, you’re gonna flunk.

Like all shark attack movies, Bait fails to ask: could a shark even do any of this? In the opening scene the shark eats two adult grown men in under one minute. A shark couldn’t eat one of them in that time nor could it eat one of them entirely at all. An exceptionally large great white, stretching the boundaries of possibility, could possibly eat most of a globally average sized woman but it would take a little while. Once they’re in the supermarket, the shark, estimated in the film to be around 12ft long which means it weighs approximately 1000lbs, eats its body weight in people. It is a mark of both laziness and incompetence that filmmakers struggle to create effective drama around a human/shark encounter. Instead, they create monsters in the shark’s place. That doesn’t mean the film can’t still be fun or compelling around that monster. But it’s neither in this case. Just a bland, overstuffed turkey.

Haunted by a better idea

Ghost Shark

2013 | 87 min

Griff Furst

If you’ve ever seen competitive downhill skiing you know about the slalom. Skiers race down the hill while going in between a series of poles. The point is not to engage the poles, but to go around them. In Ghost Shark there are a bunch of good ideas and they are the poles in a slalom race. The filmmakers work hard to speed past all these good ideas without letting them affect their result.

Griff Furst’s film opens with a shark poaching a fish off some anglers’ line and the anglers avenging their lost catch by shooting the shark several times with a large pistol, a speargun and, finally, throwing a grenade in its mouth. The shark survives the grenade attack long enough to swim about a half-mile into a cursed cave where it dies. Some cave magic happens and from that point on it’s Shark’s Ghost vs. The People of Smallport.

The actual story isn’t worth going into much but we can hit some of the major points by lamenting what it could have been.

  • A shark needlessly killed is the hero avenging the violences against it? No, it’s still the bad guy.
  • The mass deaths via shark attack during the Middle Passage leave the sharks haunting the slavers’ descendents? Nope.
  • The violences inherent to settler colonialism that left, in this instance, also the early colonists who cursed the cave also dead haunt today’s settlers in the form of a shark? Nope. The early colonizers’ deaths are just a sad thing.
  • A man who murdered his wife and is never accountable haunts the town with his misogynist violence and sees a shark ghost everywhere? No, he’s just a sad drunk.

All of those would be much more interesting than what actually happens and could give a thin story depth. And the story actually touches three of the four but just breezes past them. Apart from the mediocre special effects the film is competently short and not boring visually. The performances are as good as the script allows apart from Richard Moll who overacts pretty badly at times. The big problem is that the film studiously avoids exploring any of the ideas or characters it presents (plus the one better one I added above lol). So nothing is ever fully developed and it just kind of goes through the motions of being a movie. Maybe I’m asking too much of a film about a ghost shark. But at least it could’ve been fun.

Jaws 4: Diminishing Returns

Jaws: The Revenge

1987 | 89 min

Joseph Sargent

Jaws 3-D, the prior film in the Jaws franchise, is the worst of the four Jaws films. But not because Jaws: The Revenge didn’t try to top it. The final Jaws movie (to date!) takes us back to Amity Island, the fictional Nantucket for another sharks vs. The Brody Bunch tussle. The Brody who carried the first two films though, Chief Brody, is absent from Jaws: The Revenge. As best I can determine from old press releases, Roy Scheider declined to reprise his role because he had dignity. Instead Lorraine Gary carries the lead as his widow Ellen Brody. Gary was wonderful in the first Jaws especially and she has a gift for emotive vocalizations and laughter. Some of that talent creeps into Jaws: The Revenge. Not a lot though.

Jaws: The Revenge opens with Brody’s youngest son getting eaten by a shark while he’s at work at the police station where his dad formerly reigned. The grieving mother joins the grieving brother (Lance Guest) in the Bahamas where he is a marine biologist studying a conch species. But wait, great white sharks do not frequent the warm, shallow waters of the Bahamas, the film tells us (which is true-ish). Will there be no great white sharks in Jaws: The Revenge? Not to worry. A shark has followed the Brody’s all the way from Amity Island. Because….sharks can stalk planes? Astral projection perhaps?

The film doesn’t get any more coherent as it goes along. Very little happens that makes any sense. Subplots are introduced only to be promptly abandoned. Michael Caine phones in a supporting role. A shark sinks a plane. Mario Van Peebles has an inconsistent accent. Ma Brody takes a sailboat on a suicide mission against a shark. The shark, which is seeking revenge for the time it was previously killed, is killed again…somehow. It’s not clear. It’s also not clear why I didn’t turn off the film well before it ended.

2-D humans vs. 3-D sharks

Jaws 3-D

1983 | 99 min

Joe Alves

Of the four films in the Jaws franchise, the third entry, Jaws 3-D is the only one that has no relation to the others. Two of the central characters mention Amity Island – the site of the prior two Jaws films and where the fourth one begins – but that’s the start and end of the connection. It’s just another shark attack film and shares nothing with the others in the franchise apart from some of the mood music. So either Jaws 3-D is the worst film in the Jaws franchise or it is an unrelated bad film from the mid-1980s. I leave the choice up to you.

Jaws 3-D opens at a Sea World animal prison where we can see droopy dorsal fins on both dolphins and orcas that indicate their depression and physical stress from lives in captivity. We meet Mike (Dennis Quaid), a structural engineer at the park and Kathryn (Bess Armstrong) an animal trainer, along with Calvin Brouchard (Louis Gossett Jr.) the park’s owner. There’s a little more to the characters than that but if the filmmakers don’t invest significant effort into the characters, why should this reviewer? Basically you’ve got a greedy park owner whose greed leads to Man vs. Shark.

Jaws 3-D exists primarily to cash in on the 1980s 3-D movie revival and the success of the two prior Jaws films. It was never anything but a gimmick that, with Gossett Jr. and Quaid, managed to get a couple big names attached. Because of this you’d think the effects would be better but they’re not. The sharks are inconsistent and even the basic underwater scenes look like badly integrated stickers placed onto the film, and that’s not even counting the 3-D imagery which is sometimes fun, but often shockingly terrible. In one major scene they forgot to even have the shark 3-D effect move, it just floats forward.

Like all shark attack movies, Jaws 3-D has a baseline silliness in that it never pauses to ask: Could a shark actually do any of this? Can a great white shark eat two adult men within two minutes? No. It would struggle mightily to do so over two weeks. Can a great white shark chase down water skiers? Also no. The only part of shark biology that they get right is when a great white dies almost immediately upon being placed in captivity. The filmmakers have to exaggerate the capabilities of sharks because they don’t understand that you can build drama around a 16-foot long predator with sharp teeth that can be, in very rare circumstances, dangerous to people. But they’re lazy. So they make up monsters instead.

From one point of view, Jaws 3-D is the third film in the Jaws franchise. But to get back to the point at the beginning of this review, it’s not really connected to any other Jaws film. Instead, let me suggest that it is the unintentional prequel to the 2013 documentary Sea World exposé Blackfish. Like Blackfish, Jaws 3-D explores the violences inherent in places like Sea World. Early in the film we see two dolphins ramming a gate and trying to escape. The film wants us to think they’re trying to escape proximity to the great white shark but Blackfish tells us that they’re probably trying to escape their horrible caged lives. This also changes the meaning of the film. If we know that the staff that gets eaten are cruel jailers and torturers, Jaws 3-D is a tragedy about villains hunting down a couple of noble sharks that are trying to free their mammalian neighbors from their jails. That framing certainly makes the film more interesting, but it’s still not any good.

The Monstrous Shark


124 min

Dir. Steven Spielberg 1975

Hidden among Steven Spielberg’s decades long schmaltz vending career are a few good movies. While his technical skills are always evident, as a storyteller Spielberg peaked with a couple of high concept creature features: Jaws and his two Jurassic Park movies. Both of the films spawned entire subgenres of copycats and knockoffs trying to tap into both the narrative and cultural success of the originals as well as launching successful film franchises. Jurassic Park was preceded by several ‘prehistoric monster’ films like King Kong (1933) and dinosaur movies like The Land Before Time (1988, with Spielberg as a producer), but Jaws very nearly launches the concept for the shark attack movie. Prior to Jaws, if sharks appeared in film, it was mostly as background hazards in adventure genre films with a few cameos elsewhere like in the James Bond film Thunderball (1965). And while none of the Jurassic Park derivatives outside the parent franchise have been particularly acclaimed nor commercially successful, Jaws inspired a whole slew of commercially successful films like Deep Blue Sea and The Meg as well as a few well reviewed movies like The Shallows. Jaws was and remains a cultural phenomenon. So what’s it all about?

In Peter Benchley’s novel, Jaws takes place off Long Island but in the film it’s Amity Island, a fictionalized version of Nantucket. The story opens with a drunk kid getting eaten by a shark. Chief Brody (Roy Sheider) searches for the girl and finds her remains. The medical examiner initially finds the girl died of shark bite which sets up the narrative fulcrum upon which the rest of the story, and most of the genre, operates.

Eager to stop news of a shark attack from hindering summer tourist business on the island, Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) convinces the medical examiner and then Chief Brody to declare that the girl was mangled by a boat propeller while swimming, not a shark. Without this decision, common to all levels of government in capitalist states, to protect capital accumulation instead of the population, the story cannot move forward because the beaches would be closed and there would be no further human infested waters where the shark could dine. But greed wins out, the beaches remain open and the bodies pile up, what’s left of them anway. This is a central point of the genre which usually finds either human greed or hubris – usually scientific – to be the basis that allows for killer shark stories in the first place.

After the death toll becomes politically untenable, a marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) convinces everyone it is a shark and the beaches have to close anyway, Mayor Vaughn approves the hire of a professional fisherman, Quint (Robert Shaw) to hunt down the fish. Quint’s subplot is more or less a Moby Dick Cliff Notes, especially his ending! Quint’s dockhouse is filled with mounted shark jaws of various sizes and his hunt becomes framed as personal revenge against the sharks that ate his boatmates after a Japanese submarine torpedoed the USS Indianapolis in World War II. His narrative arc is definitely Ahab’s. Quint and the biologist Hooper invoke Moby Dick again in their comparison of their prior injuries and scars from shark encounters. Quint, Hooper and Brody then quest to hunt down the great white shark that is munching on tourists and locals. 

The film becomes increasingly silly as the three leave behind the political economic intrigue that allowed for the shark attacks in the first place. By the incredibly low standards of shark attack movies, Jaws appears practically peer reviewed from a science perspective. It still requires a series of nonsensical decisions and pseudoscientific shark biology in order for the Man vs. Shark portion of the film to build suspense or seem plausible. The shark hunters have harpoons, explosives, fish hooks, pistols, shotguns and more. Any hostile interaction with the shark where the people are not submerged in the water can only plausibly end in one way. In short: people go fishing, fish do not go peopling.

Jaws is very nearly the only shark attack movie, and one of very few animal attack movies of any kind, where the Horror Animal does not eat impossible amounts of food. That the shark continually preys upon people is implausible but since it’s not clear over how many days the narrative takes place, the volume of soylent green (plus one black labrador) the shark eats only moderately stretches plausibility. Some shark attack movies have the shark eating over a year’s worth of food over the course of a day or two. Jaws is positively restrained in having the shark eat only a couple months of food over a week or two. Yet this exaggeration is still part of creating a monster where, in reality, there is only a shark. It’s a puzzle. The film already has capitalism as the monster, as the problem that allowed for all but the first person to be eaten by the shark. Why does it need a second monster? Why can’t the shark just be a shark? Is an animal that does, on very rare occasions, kill and eat people so insufficiently terrifying that it must be exaggerated? And how does killing the shark solve the political problem that put people in harm’s way?

Jaws succeeds as a film for a lot of different reasons. Spielberg does his career best pacing and speeds up and slows down the film at several moments without rushing or dragging. The special effects would mostly pass muster today, unlike its sequels. And most of all, terrific performances from the four lead characters. Sheider, Shaw, Dreyfuss and Hamilton are all stellar with Shaw especially good in bringing to life what could have been an empty archetype. Hamilton as a politician only interested in the tourist economy is wonderful. You can feel the hollow salesmanship when he says, “Amity, as you know, means friendship,” while trying to distract a news crew from the shark attacks they’ve come to cover.

Jaws basically invented the nature horror subgenre of the shark attack movie and remains one of its best examples even after nearly fifty years and dozens of imitators. It is also a film that repopularized sharks as villains and probably plays some role in mass shark slaughters though commercial fishing was already doing that before Spielberg was born because, just as in the film, capitalism is the real monster, the one that magnifies all harm.