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Jaws (#110 of 15)

The 10 Best Shark Movies of All Time

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The 10 Best Shark Movies of All Time

Dimension Films

The 10 Best Shark Movies of All Time

Let’s not fool ourselves: There’s only one truly great film with a killer shark at its center. And that’s not likely to change anytime soon, or until we see a film about Katy Perry’s Super Bowl XLIX halftime performance, or one about those mysterious sharks that live inside that active underwater volcano in the Solomon Islands (and that are being investigated by robots!). This week marks the release of 47 Meters Down, the story of two sisters (played by Mandy Moore and Claire Holt) who get into a shark cage off the coast of a Mexican beach and subsequently find themselves having to contemplate if swimming toward a limited-edition vinyl copy of Radiohead’s The Bends is worth it if it means avoiding being eaten alive by a school of sharks. [Editor’s Note: The bends, also known as divers’ disease, is a condition that occurs in scuba divers or at high altitude when dissolved gasses come out of solution in bubbles and can affect any body area, including the heart and brain. Also, Radiohead’s album is pretty great.] Before catching up with the adventures of these two white girls who put way too much trust in two hot Mexican dudes and shark-watcher extraordinaire Matthew Modine, join us in revisiting some of the more impressive appearances in cinematic history. Alexa Camp

Summer of ‘88: Caddyshack II

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Summer of ‘88: <em>Caddyshack II</em>
Summer of ‘88: <em>Caddyshack II</em>

Given that the majority of this reviewer’s lifetime income has been earned hauling golf clubs in the suburbs of Chicago, my giving an opinion about Caddyshack II is like a fisherman talking about the sequels to Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, or a boxer the sequels to the Oscar-winning Rocky.

All the nuance and affection for the profession of caddying that made the original’s one-liners so honest and funny (like “Hey! Lama! Hey! How ’bout a little something, you know, for the effort?”) is gone. What’s left is a floating Baby Ruth of a cinematic abomination that just about everybody from the first film was either ashamed of or absconded from (like Harold Ramis, who wanted his screenwriting credit removed, or Rodney Dangerfield, who backed out of the agreement he’d made to repeat his role as the loudmouthed real estate developer Al Czervik). Instead we have Jackie Mason doing an unfunny impression of Dangerfield, Dan Aykroyd whiffing mightily as he tries to recreate Bill Murray’s role from Caddyshack as a Vietnam vet turned golf-course groundskeeper, and Chevy Chase actually back in action as Ty Webb, this time sporting a diamond stud in his left ear.

Jurassic Park as a Means of Discussing Fractals, Chaos Theory, and Scary Movies

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Jurassic Park as a Means of Discussing Fractals, Chaos Theory, and Scary Movies
Jurassic Park as a Means of Discussing Fractals, Chaos Theory, and Scary Movies

With the arrival of the 20th anniversary, 3D re-release of Jurassic Park, what I’d like to convince you of is that the film watered down, significantly, the soul of the novel from which it was based (and we’re talking about a Michael Crichton page-turner for Christ’s sake). Instead of being the kind of decadent, lost-in-the-jungle, labyrinthine cinematic fever dream it could’ve been—one in which the production of the film would’ve eerily re-enacted and factually re-performed the hallucinatory chaos of what it was trying to fictionally record (a la Coppola’s Apocalypse Now or Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo, and their respective making-of docs, Hearts of Darkness and Burden of Dreams), Spielberg’s Jurassic Park instead played it safe, and did so in a way that was slick, corporate, and patronizing to its audience. And one of the ways it punted artistically was to almost entirely purge from Crichton’s novel its heavy theorizing about chaos theory and fractals, which, in those days (the late ’80s/early ’90s), had just made its way into the intellectual mainstream. I’d like to briefly make the point that this was a grievous mistake (for the movie), because chaos theory and fractals have everything to do with scary movies, and horror and terror and the kind of man-eating monstrosities Spielberg and his team put so much goddamned time and money into making look realistic.

Minority Report at 10

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<em>Minority Report</em> at 10
<em>Minority Report</em> at 10

Some of cinema’s most awesome sights are those that envision our future. Movies have routinely taken a look at where we’ll be decades, sometimes centuries, from now. And while these visions have captured our imaginations (from Metropolis’s towering skyscrapers and lumbering archways suspended thousands of feet over ground to Blade Runner’s perpetual rainfall over neon-lit urban decay), their accuracy has been sketchy. To be fair, not all of these movies necessarily tried to foster authentic versions of the future. Nevertheless, the near-deficiency of believable futuristic settings in the cinema speaks to the slippery slope of anticipating cultural, technological, and architectural components that are in constant flux. It’s with some bit of irony, then, that a movie about visualizing the future has produced a vision of society decades from now that continues to gain legitimacy, even as the work itself slips further into the past.

New York Film Festival 2011: Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

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New York Film Festival 2011: <em>Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel</em>
New York Film Festival 2011: <em>Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel</em>

For a film that reveres the down-and-dirty independent filmmaking ethos that legendary B-movie producer Roger Corman exemplified, it’s ironic that the talking-heads interviews in Alex Stapleton’s documentary Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel feel so self-conscious. Where did Stapleton get his ideas about framing shots, The King’s Speech? Interview subjects—including Corman himself—are often pushed to the sides of cinematographer Patrick Simpson’s frames, with lots of negative space to look at; it’s as purposeless and distracting as all those stupidly arty shots cinematographer Danny Cohen pulled off in last year’s very un-Corman-like Oscar-winner (unless Simpson really, genuinely thought he was doing something original and, well, “rebellious”). And what’s up with Stapleton’s decision to go to the French electronic-pop duo Air, of all people, for the film’s odd score?

But I would imagine no one goes to a documentary like Corman’s World expecting cinematic interest. We go expecting, if not necessarily insights into the man himself or his work, at least a good overview of his life and legacy. For the most part, that’s basically what we get here. From his younger days starting out as a script reader at 20th Century Fox, to his frustration at getting no credit for his successful script revisions for 1950’s The Gunfighter, which him to leave Fox to produce and direct films for American International Pictures, to his eventual founding of New World Pictures and its eventual flameout as Jaws and Star Wars changed Hollywood forever, Corman’s World briskly—as briskly as Corman made movies—hits the highlights of his career.

The Conversations: Jaws

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The Conversations: Jaws
The Conversations: Jaws

Ed Howard: The sudden resolution at the end of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is one of those great, absurd movie moments that makes me really giddy, that never fails to put a grin on my face. It’s a (literally) explosive climax to a film that, despite its reputation as a nonstop fright-fest, isn’t liberal with these kinds of grand, cathartic gestures. I realize that’s maybe an odd thing to say about a movie that’s credited with being one of the very first summer blockbusters. In 1975, buoyed by a massive national marketing campaign and one of the earliest applications of the “wide release” distribution strategy, Jaws quickly achieved unprecedented commercial success, becoming the highest grossing film of all time. Although Jaws’ record was surpassed just two years later by George Lucas’ Star Wars, another harbinger of a changing Hollywood, the success of Spielberg’s film was a big factor in shifting movie distribution from slow release patterns and word-of-mouth hype to huge marketing pushes and national saturation.

In retrospect, Jaws the film (as opposed to its marketing) is an unlikely candidate for such an important place in movie history. It is a thrilling, scary, often darkly funny movie, a great and entertaining movie, but its sensational content aside, it doesn’t have a whole lot in common with what we now think of as summer blockbusters: grandiose effects spectacles with massive budgets, amped up as loud and fast as possible. In comparison, Jaws feels like a very classical film, a taut thriller where the first half is a succession of build-and-release suspense/horror sequences, and the second half is exclusively about three men in a boat, alternately bullshitting in the cabin and chasing a killer shark. The special effects are rough, the shark is often unconvincing, and indeed Spielberg and his crew were plagued with problems involving the mechanical sharks. The effects limitations led to what turned out to be a brilliant aesthetic as well as practical decision: the shark is often not shown, especially in the first half, where the briefest glimpses of a fin or a tooth-filled maw, coupled with indirect evidence of the beast’s viciousness and tremendous size, are sufficient to induce dizzying terror.

This is a long way from Transformers: technologically of course, but also in spirit. Although Jaws wound up ushering in an era where bloody, explosive spectacles dominate the summer moviegoing season, Spielberg’s film is clearly working on a much smaller scale. The film is rooted in Hollywood classicism, populated with idiosyncratic characters who have plenty of room to speak and interact in between the action/horror set pieces. About the closest the film comes to modern blockbuster territory is the improbable mayhem of the climax, but by that point a moment of excess after two hours of simmering tension and restraint feels more than earned. That climax can still make me giddy, over thirty-five years after the film debuted, because it’s a true catharsis, a product of an era before blockbuster filmmakers strove to make every moment seem cathartic and overpowering. Unlike successors that pummel viewers with nonstop “thrills” for two hours or more, Jaws modulates its violence and action with Hitchcockian suspense and quiet character moments, and as a result its bigger notes (like that irresistibly grin-inducing final showdown) hit that much harder.

Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel

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Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel</em>
Full Frame Documentary Film Festival 2011: <em>Corman’s World: Exploits of a Hollywood Rebel</em>

Roger Corman has had as much influence over modern Hollywood as Spielberg or Scorsese. And for good reason: Without him there likely wouldn’t even have been a Spielberg or Scorsese. This director/producer of hundreds of low-budget horror, sci-fi, and exploitation films is remembered (rather unfairly) as a B-movie hack, but Corman’s aesthetic sensibilities have come to dominate the franchises we now call “tent poles,” and his protégés number among the most influential people in cinema. He’s enjoyed every minute of it.