It really doesn't matter how many times you've seen it. There's nothing like Jaws.
(Spoilers. But c'mon, you haven't seen it yet?)
The Wildey Theater in Edwardsville, Ill. has an awesome tradition: $2 Tuesdays. Classic movies of all kinds - Raiders of the Lost Ark or Narnia, Marnie or Enter the Dragon, Casablanca or Animal House. This week it was Bruce the Shark chomping on 1970s haircuts and that's one bad hat, Harry.
Most of the audience was made up of older folks who likely remembered the original run in 1975, and young kids - much younger than I'd think of for a decidedly R-rated flick. There weren't a lot of folks in between - the movie was released the year I was born, so I've always felt a connection to it. There, I admitted my age.
But old or young, everyone jumped when Ben Gardner's head appears in the broken hull. Everyone screamed when Bruce shoved his snout up in Brody's face. And everyone breathed a sigh of relief when the shark died. It's a cathartic ending most movies can't quite manage.
As usual, it's different seeing it on the big screen, and not just the gory details. You see things you might miss on the living room TV, such as the shooting star over the Orca, or the claustrophobia of Hooper in the shark cage.
It's a brilliant film, and always one of my favorites. Somehow I've never gotten around to writing about it, even though I'm a huge fan of both Bruce the Shark and the book version. The differences between book and film have been detailed many times: some were necessary to streamline the story, and some were actively intended to change and in most cases improve it for motion picture audiences. I'm not a purist, and while I miss the richness of Peter Benchley's novel - his candid analysis of the symbiosis of tourist towns, the three-dimensional characters of the island and his obvious fondness for the ocean - the movie focuses on what we need to know: man vs. shark.
There's something powerful about practical effects, whether it's Indiana Jones sliding under the truck during the big Raiders chase scene or Bruce swimming past the Orca. CGI effects can be absolutely amazing, but they just don't have the same realism and power of practical effects. We all know that the reason the shark doesn't appear for most of Jaws is that the mechanical shark kept breaking down during production. It's one of those happy accidents, creating so much tension that by the time the shark appears, he has become something monolithic, mythical, a force of nature that can't be controlled.
The funny thing is, the theater was full all the way to the balcony. Just like it was full for Raiders of the Lost Ark and Casablanca, no matter how many times we've all seen them.
As I was leaving the theater, I remembered seeing a standup at the regular theater this past weekend: it was Ben-Hur, the remake. And it returns me to the same bizarre question: Why do they keep remaking movies? If they were so sacrilegious as to remake Jaws, they'd bring in young dashing heroes, the shark would be CGI and probably leaping out of the water from the first moment, and they'd definitely put back the affair between Hooper and Ellen Brody. And it would suck. Just as Ben-Hur 2 is likely to suck, and we won't even talk about The Haunting, Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Psycho and oh holy Hera The Stepford Wives.
But if the Wildey's crowds on Tuesday nights are any indication, Hollywood doesn't need to spend millions remaking the classics. Just re-release them into the theaters, and apparently we'll still show up.