Few may recall a film that left them feeling joyful or patriotic, but ask someone which movie scared the bejesus out of ‘em and they’re quick to answer because it’s a feeling you don’t forget.
That’s a testament to effectivity of the cinematic visceral chill — the experience of being in a dark room completely at the mercy of the plot and more subtly, the score.
I asked Andy Smith about the film “Jaws,” which his Gray Duck Theater is screening this weekend, and if the iconic Steven Spielberg thriller triggers any terror for him, as it did for many since its 1975 release.
“I was already scared by the film before I saw it,” he said. “I knew the iconic score, the famous legs in the water scene, and quotes like ‘You’re going to need a bigger boat’ before I even saw it. The power of the film, however, is that nothing can prepare you for actually seeing the story play out. From my first time I just remember the tension I felt, while at the same time having a complete blast.”
The film, based on Peter Benchley’s best-seller of the same name, was an early collaboration of Spielberg and composer John Williams. Its iconic tuba solo (!) is probably one of the most recognizable snippets of all time.
In the film, Roy Scheider is the sheriff of a small New England beach community terrorized by a great white shark that threatens the town’s livelihood at the apex of tourist season. Consequently, they offer a bounty which attracts an oceanographer (Richard Dreyfuss) and a crusty old sea captain (Robert Shaw).
Showing with “Jaws” is another Spielberg classic: 1993’s “Jurassic Park,” based on Michael Crichton’s similarly-named book which, legend has it, Spielberg learned of as he and Crichton broke for lunch one day during the production of Crichton’s TV series, “ER.” Spielberg asked the former medical student what he was working on next and Crichton described the tale of reconstituting dinosaurs from their DNA harvested from mosquitos preserved in Jurassic-era amber. Spielberg was stunned. “THAT is the one we should be working on.”
“Jurassic Park” works on multiple levels by splicing plausible science and tangential ethical issues which manifest in some of the most salient dialog like that of Jeff Goldblum’s rockstar mathematician Ian Malcolm who posits, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”
Fair point. Velociraptors in the modern world; what could possibly go wrong?
Best of all, it is a smart film that doesn’t underestimate its audience. The protagonists are a chaotician, a paleobotanist, and a girl who is a UNIX whiz. Thanks to “The Big Bang Theory” that may be ubiquitous now, but back then, that much science was heady stuff.
I take that back, it’s still awesome.
It’s also highly quotable and I asked Smith what one was his favorite. “Easy: ‘Life finds a way.’ It defines the whole film and betrays the deep themes behind the fun spectacle,” he answered. “That said, I still get a little misty every time Richard Attenborough says ‘Welcome to … Jurassic Park’ while John Williams’ score swelters in the background.”
Smith said he wanted to have a well-known, classic summer blockbuster to kick-off the summer season at Gray Duck, “So we actually put a poll out on Instagram and Facebook,” he said. “I think these two films communicate well our desire to bring a well-rounded film experience to Rochester. Yes, we like to screen foreign, independent, and documentary film, but we also love all kinds of movies, including feel-good popcorn flicks.”
Coverage paid/sponsored by Gray Duck Theater & Coffeehouse.