In my mind the average Spielberg movie is mostly fine but it has a few spots that rankle me enough that I end up downgrading the whole movie, so I wouldn’t call myself a Spielberg fan. Still, I try to check myself before saying anything too negative about the man, because he did direct at least three perfect films and that’s no small feat. Jaws is one of those perfect films. (For the record, the other two are Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List; any claims made against those movies would just be pedantic.)
Not only does Jaws still hold up today, it easily outshines many of it’s children. Unlike a lot of modern blockbusters it doesn’t have a formula that feels predictable; you don’t get a sense that the shark is going to start attacking any second now because it’s been too long since something exciting has happened. It is a PG rated horror film, but it doesn’t feel as compromised as modern PG-13 movies, because while there’s nothing exceptionally graphic about it, the violence still has consequences. When Jaws attacks people suffer; it doesn’t feel as dumb as when Wolverine stabs people through the throat and then they instantly die and disappear.
It’s also funnier than you would think, but not in the “we hired a team of writers to do punch-ups to give our hero a bunch of situationally appropriate one liner” way that a Fast and the Furious movie is funny. There’s a scene where Quint and Hooper are comparing scars they got from dangerous manly pursuits, and Brody briefly pulls up his shirt to reveal an appendectomy scar before he decides against entering into their conversation. I still laughed at even though I knew it was coming, because Roy Scheider’s face in that scene is priceless.
But the ultimate thing that Jaws does right is that it’s paced well. It starts off with a bang, but unlike Saving Private Ryan, which also starts off with a bang, it doesn’t feel anticlimactic after that opening scene is over. It sets the table quickly, then it builds and builds its tension unrelentingly. In the last half hour of the movie it goes full in on the shark hunt, and it’s a long payoff, but it isn’t padded and it isn’t too short, either. It’s just the right amount of combat; any more and the shark would have felt too supernaturally smart, and any less and it wouldn’t seem like the baddest shark on the earth. Like I said: a perfect movie.