Monday, August 13, 2012

Quick Review: The Shark is Still Working - The Impact and Legacy of Jaws

 If you're the kind of person who reads about movies online (and I certainly hope you are, because otherwise you wouldn't be reading this), you've probably heard about The Shark is Still Working: The Impact and Legacy of Jaws. Chances are you heard about it a few years ago, wondered if and when you'd get a chance to see it, forgot about it, heard about it again, then forgot about it again, and then recently heard it was going to be an extra on the 37th Anniversary Blu-Ray Special Edition of Jaws: The Movie That Ruined Summer Movies Forever.

 Is that a fair characterization of Jaws? Not really, but since it comes up almost every time people mention the slow decline in quality of "Summer" movies, in large part because people get tired of talking about George Lucas and Star Wars, which was the other movie where marketing and promotion factored in as much if not more than the film itself. Of course, Jaws and Star Wars are both entertaining movies that make movies like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones look like the garbage they are. I chose those two films coincidentally, of course. If I had seen a Transformers film one could argue I should substitute that for either film listed above, but I haven't and won't.

 So before you badger me about getting off on a tangent about the relative quality of "Summer" movies today vs. 30+ years ago, it is worth noting that this exact argument figures into The Shark is Still Working. Not in great detail, because there isn't much in The Shark is Still Working that approaches the phrase "in great detail," but it is a fun and comprehensive overview of Jaws. And by comprehensive I mean that it covers nearly everything you might have ever wondered about Jaws.

  That includes a brief look into the making of (with some discussion of Laurent Bouzereau's The Making of Jaws), voice-over actor Percy Rodrigues' role in the trailer narration, Peter Benchley's book, the poster art, the locations used in the film then and now, the story behind the U.S.S. Indianapolis monologue, Steven Spielberg's reaction to not being nominated for Best Director, interviews with nearly every surviving cast member, crew member, and Universal pictures executives, Jaws Fest, memorabilia collectors, John Williams explaining the shark theme, a beach that uses the theme to warn swimmers to get out of the ocean, the film's impact world-wide, the marketing, what happened to The Orca (and The Orca 2), what happened to Bruce the Shark, how CGI would ruin Jaws, interviews with fans including Eli Roth, M. Night Shyamalan, Greg Nicotero, Tom Savini, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, and Bryan Singer, and tributes to Martha's Vineyard locals who appeared in the film (both living and deceased).

 This doesn't cover everything you see in The Shark is Still Working, which is narrated by the late Roy Scheider and features Steven Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss, and Scheider prominently. It's quite impressive for a fan made documentary to manage to bring together nearly everyone involved in the film (especially since quite a few major subject are no longer with us) but I had the distinct impression that there was so much to cover but not enough time to give it all proper attention. As a result, The Shark is Still Working jumps around from subject to subject before viewers really have time to settle in on the significance of what's being discussed.

 Now, I'm not saying that The Shark is Still Working should be Never Sleep Again: the Elm Street Legacy. That's a four hour overview of the entire Nightmare on Elm Street series that covers nearly anything you can think of in detail. The Shark is Still Working is 101 minutes long and manages to cover many bases, and much of what director Erik Hollander and writer James Gelet find was new to me. I don't wish to diminish what The Shark is Still Working accomplishes, but my honest reaction was that it covers as much Jaws ephemera as humanly possible but generally speaking doesn't go into depth about most of it. It's a very entertaining documentary and has some fantastic interview subjects, and the footage of Spielberg watching the Academy Award Nominations is worth the price of admission alone. (Spielberg tries not to be upset that Jaws is nominated for Best Picture but not Best Director, and his faux-disappointment masks the face of a 27 year old genuinely feeling slighted for his efforts).

 Getting back to where my review begin, the concept of Jaws laying the groundwork for Summer Blockbusters (including the repeated statements of Smith, Roth, Singer, and Shyamalan that emulating Jaws' impact weighed heavily on their own careers) is in The Shark is Still Working. But like many other elements of the Impact and Legacy of Jaws that bear more investigation, it only touches on the issue. The Shark is Still Working may not end up as the "Be All, End All" documentary about Jaws, but it is a fine conversation starter. Considering that you get this and Bouzereau's The Making of Jaws as extras on the Blu-Ray for a movie you should be buying anyway, that's a pretty good way to see The Shark is Still Working after all these years.

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