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Partly this is due to a shrewd adaptation. Peter Benchley's novel spent too much time on dry land, plodding around Irving Wallace country, reinvestigating such tired phenomena as the uneasy marriage, the adulterous wife, the snaky seducer. In the movie, most of this lallygagging is eliminated. Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) must still fight the town's mayor, who is fearful that closing the beaches after the first shark attacks will ruin his resort's economy. He still joins forces with Quint, the professional shark killer (Robert Shaw, employing an ornate accent of indeterminate origin), and a youthful ichthyologist named Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), all theory and wisecracks. Scheider is occasionally too recessive for his own good, while Shaw is too excessive for the good of the film. Dreyfuss, however, is perfect. With a cheeky charm he manages to humanize the picture while stealing it.
This perfectly ill-assorted trio sets out in the Orca, Quint's leaky craft, to bring the marauding great white to his reward. Ideal adversary that he is, the shark proves stronger and more wily than anyone suspected. The men go after him with rifles. They try to slow him down with barrels, fight him, tire him, tow him. In desperation Hooper descends below the surface in a shark cage (the sequence for which Carl Rizzo was hired), armed with a poison gun that will get the job doneif he can shoot it directly into the creature's mouth. The shark is not daunted by any of this, but his fury increases. The final battle is literally explosive.
Jaws contains classic sequences of suspense. In the first shark attackson a skinny-dipping adolescent and a little boy bobbing serenely on his air mattress the audience is in possession of information the characters do not have. It knows the danger but cannot shout effective warning to the innocents on the screen. This is Hitchcock technique in a context the master has never explored. Steven Spielberg, 27, one of the top young directors around, is no Hitchcock yet by a long shot. For one thing, his characters lack the quirks and little guilts that make Hitchcock's creations stay in the memory. Spielberg works self-effacingly, with subtly correct camera placement and meticulous editing. He twists our guts with false alarms, giving us the real thing with heart-stopping suddenness. Spielberg is confident not only of his material but also of the virtues of simple, straightforward moviemaking. His attitude toward frenzy is reserved and objective. His is a rather oldfashioned, very American way of making a movie.