Carcharodon carcharias

Whatever else you think about sharks, they have top-notch PR. Here we are, eighteen years after Spielberg’s fascinating and informative documentary Jaws, and you still see all kinds of misinformation about them floating around. Things like:

  • Most sharks feed on fish, and won’t go out of their way to attack humans.
  • Eighty percent of shark species are unable to harm humans.
  • It’s very unlikely that you’ll be attacked by a shark.
  • Great Whites are a rare and even endangered species of shark.
  • Humans kill more sharks than sharks kill humans.
  • Sharks are not as smart as humans, and are only concerned with swimming and eating, swimming and eating.
  • Sharks lack any sort of global organization dedicated to eliminating humanity, one swimmer at a time.

I finally got around to seeing Jaws for the first time yesterday afternoon, at the very spiffy AFI Silver Theatre. My dreams last night were only moderately shark-infested, and while no power on earth is going to get me to go into the ocean when I’m at the Outer Banks in a few weeks, I imagine that after a year or three I’ll be ready to swim again, as long as the water is crystal-clear and I have a harpoon gun.

The genius of the movie isn’t the big-ass shark. It’s partly the music. But mostly it’s something that every summer action flick should have and almost none of them do. The recipe is so simple, and yet so rare: Come up with three truly memorable characters. Get truly good actors to play them. Give them truly witty lines. If you can do that, it doesn’t matter if your movie is about undersea killers or asteroids or vampires or blue-skinned aliens — you’ll have a blockbuster. (Alternatively, you can put Angelina Jolie in your movie. It may not guarantee critical success, but at least it’ll guarantee that I’ll go see it.)