And the man who uttered those memorable, and for me so very relevant words, is gone. Roy Scheider passed away at 75. Jaws is high on my list of favorite movies, and one I can watch time and again. In fact, it is what I consider essential mid-winter viewing, keeping me from climbing the walls while the river’s frozen, the docks pulled, and Annabel Lee is wrapped beneath her cover awaiting spring. Jaws has some of the best ‘on the water’ scenes of any movie, and the Orca is a beautiful example of an old wood fishing boat. As a kid, all I ever wanted was a boat like that. I think I’ve come pretty close.
But what makes Jaws truly outstanding, what elevated it beyond a mere ‘monster’ movie is what you DON’T see. You know there’s something out there. You’re shown a thrashing girl, a limb, a chewed up boat and more. You know the shark will appear but you don’t know when. It does at last, only to slip back out of sight, raising your anxiety even further. The key to this, for anyone who knows the history behind the movie, is that ‘Bruce’, the mechanical shark, was malfunctioning through much of the filming. But there were tight schedules to keep so they worked around the shark’s scenes with hints of its presence. Docks destroyed, towed floats and barrels, and of course, the music. Watch the movie and see how often you know the shark is present but unseen. It wasn’t deliberate at the time but ended out more terrifying. And it also focused the plot around the small group of people involved, people you come to understand as you see them responding to this unseen threat lurking beneath them.
Among the notes posted over my computer is “Leave the mechanical shark off screen.” As I write, I deliberately keep the scary stuff lurking just out of sight, and let the reader sense its presence through other means. I want you to focus on the characters, care about them, know they’re in danger, but not what it is or what the hell will happen next.