As a huge fan of Jaws that sadly is too young to have seen it on the big screen when it was released back in 1975, I will of course jump at the opportunity to see my favourite film given the full cinematic treatment. In August 2016, I finally got the chance to do just that, as the Prince Charles Cinema in London was showing it as part of a double-bill with Spielberg’s 1993 classic, Jurassic Park (another film I was too young to see on the big screen - sorry I’m just rubbing it in now, I know!). Now I am a fan of Jurassic Park, don’t get me wrong, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say the main reason I was attending was to see Jaws, and really seeing Jurassic Park as well was just an added bonus.
Of course seeing Jaws on the big-screen for the very first time was completely thrilling for me, but what I didn’t expect was just how well the double-bill would work, and how watching these two Spielberg classics back-to-back both enhances and elevates both, to the point where you’ll wonder how you ever watched one without the other! With around 18 years between the two films, the progression and finesse of Spielberg as a director is remarkably evident, but it is also clear to see how Jurassic Park simply wouldn’t be able to exist if it wasn’t for Jaws.
Jaws was undoubtedly influential on Spielberg himself, and shaped the direction he would take later in his career, but as the first “big summer blockbuster”, it also completely changed cinema and the movie going experience. Just two years later Star Wars (1977) was released, and not to say that wouldn’t have been a success without Jaws, but it was the story of three men, a boat, and a great white shark that introduced the idea of these types of blockbuster films to audiences, allowing films like Star Wars to pull in the big summer crowds. Even today, the summer cinema season is prime-time for the big blockbuster releases, the effects heavy action movies, the latest in the various superhero franchise, and the other “big draw” films.
Back in 1993, Jurassic Park was also one of these films, and owes an awful lot to its shark counterpart! There’s undoubtedly lots of similarities between Jaws and Jurassic Park, not just that they are both Spielberg classics, but both feature an iconic score from John Williams, both have a focus on “monsters” if you will, and both feature a steady slow build of tension before all-out chaos ensues! The clear difference between the two is of course the latter utilises technologies which simply were not available when Jaws was made, but it is interesting to see the progression from mostly practical effects and mechanical sharks, to incredibly sophisticated computer effects, both of which still hold up well to this day. It is interesting to ponder what Jaws could’ve looked like if it was a computer generated shark, and what Jurassic Park might’ve looked like if it featured mechanical dinosaurs that were slightly averse to wet conditions!
The magic of Jaws is of course in the fact that good old Bruce the shark was a little unreliable, so the dramatic tension had to be generated without actually seeing the shark. In Jurassic Park, the dinos were slightly more reliable, but the famous scene of the water glass and the thundering sound of the T-Rex shows that Spielberg never lost the knack of creating fear and tension before the thing itself is seen. It means that like in Jaws when we finally see the shark, the payoff is absolutely worth it because your imagination has been allowed to fill in the gaps before seeing the thing itself. It is a lesson many blockbusters, and particularly “monster” movies could learn from both of these, in that less is so often more, and sometimes the fear created without seeing the thing itself, is vastly more effective than having the thing paraded endlessly in front of you.
In terms of the characters, there is also some interesting parallels between the two films. In Jaws we have the three main characters, all of which have very different reasons for wanting to find the shark; Quint is a hunter in search of his prize, Hooper is a man of science with a great affection and love for the creatures, and Brody is bound by a sense of duty and responsibility. Similarly in Jurassic Park, we have Grant and Ellie who have studied and greatly appreciate dinosaurs, Hammond who has a fondness and affectation for them, Gennaro the lawyer who is duty bound to give the go ahead on the park, Dr Malcolm who is there to back him up on this but mainly for sass and quips, and the kids Tim and Lex who, well, they’re kind of just there for fun really. Having these various characters across both films is undoubtedly effective in that it lets you place yourself within one of the characters viewpoints, giving you a plethora of options to decide which is the one you most identify with. What so many “monster” movies get wrong is having nothing but one-note characters who all just flee in terror from whatever it is that is hunting them, but Spielberg gives you a dynamic which is wholly more interesting and helps to cement both of these films as classics.
Whilst I would recommend watching these films back-to-back if you have the DVDs at home, I cannot recommend seeing both of them back-to-back on the big screen as well. It is an unreplicable experience, one which will make you fall in love with both of these films (but especially Jaws!) all over again. Having now attended this double-bill twice at the PCC (they repeated it at the end of December 2016), I am already looking out for the next time they put it on, and you should be too, I promise you, you won’t regret it!
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