WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: In the words of the legendary Mark Kermode, 'Jaws' is not about a shark. It's really about how commercial interests and people's obsession with money corrupts the people of a seaside town to ignore the danger of a man-eating shark over greed and personal interest. That's what makes it so much more than a simple high-concept movie, but what makes it a timeless and engaging experience is the way that Spielberg builds his characters. As virtually all of his subsequent works show, he's not only a writer/director interested in the extraordinary; he's also crucially obsessed with domestic life and the humanity of his characters, and here the Sheriff in particular gets plenty of development so that we really understand him and invest in his story. We get lots of time to see him at home with his wife and kids and we get to see how the shark and the town's indifference eats away at him, so when he finally goes on the hunt for the shark we're really longing for him to triumph. That's equally helped by a great performance from Roy Scheider of course, but it's also gripping because Spielberg - on top of being fully in touch with the humanity and the themes of his story - is also a director who knows how to engineer a properly smart set-piece. The tense moments with the shark deliver (helped of course by John Williams' masterful score) which is a marvel considering the budget, and the half of the film that takes place on the boat hunting the shark also works as the camera glides around the space to show the confinement and the trepidation perfectly. Couple that with some charming humour and in the end that you've got yourself a textbook summer film that shows Spielberg is a director to you be reckoned with as the master of so many trades.
WHAT I DIDN'T LIKE: Whilst the film signals Spielberg's strengths, it also shows off some of his small slights. He doesn't always know when a set-piece has run its course (the boat segment goes on a little long and looses touch with the story's themes), and there is a slight over-reliance on dialogue that's often a little grand-standing (a fact not helped by an over-the-top performance from Richard Dreyfuss either).
VERDICT: A film that shows Spielberg is a writer and director who can tackle theme and spectacle all without losing sight of his characters' humanity, 'Jaws' is a textbook example of bloody great filmmaking that keeps you engaged, interested and entertained from start to finish.