“I’ve heard two things about Jaws: If you’re afraid of sharks today, or if you like summer blockbusters, it’s because of this movie.”

By Ohi Ahimie

Over the past couple of weeks, I decided to enrich my pop culture education and watch a few classic movies for the first time. I watched: Jaws, The Breakfast Club, and the original Star Wars. Yes, I hadn’t seen Star Wars, I know.

Jaws is one of the movies that made Steven Spielberg Steven Spielberg. It’s also a thriller about a killer shark terrorizing a sleepy beach town one summer, making the waters dangerous to use. Frankly, I’d be surprised if you didn’t know this already. I know what you’re thinking, but me not having seen it and a person not having even heard of it are two very different levels of weird.

I’ve heard two things about Jaws: If you’re afraid of sharks today, or if you like summer blockbusters, it’s because of this movie. Allow me to elaborate on the blockbuster line. In 1975 when Jaws released, movies expected to do well were not released in the summer, because people would be doing activities outdoors. Who would go see a movie when the sun’s shining? Across multiple releases, Jaws made 472 million dollars at the box office. Adjusted for inflation, that’s over 2 billion. Yup.

So, is it any good? The story follows police chief Martin Brody as he tries to get the mayor and townsfolk of Amity Island, NY to take the threat of a shark in the waters seriously. The issue is that it’s the beginning of summer, and a town like Amity makes most of its money in the summer months. The other issue is that this is no regular shark. Not only is it bigger and more vicious than usual, it’s also more like a serial killer than a wild animal.

The story is perhaps more topical than ever, with people ignoring scientists and thinking shortsightedly when dealing with a dangerous problem. I don’t just mean Covid, I’m referring to things like climate change as well. I thought it was interesting that I would see such parallels with elements of my own life in a 50-year-old film about sharks. But I guess that’s the mark of a well-made film; people will always be able to resonate with it.

 The other thing I didn’t expect out of Jaws was a legitimate feeling of suspense. I think I assumed that all old movies are cheesy and campy, and so I wouldn’t feel any real tension when the obviously fake shark was onscreen, gobbling up over-the-top actors. I was wrong.

Once the public understands the magnitude of the shark problem, Brody and a few other characters take a boat out to sea to hunt the shark. The serial killer psychopathy of the shark does a lot of work here—the shark lures them farther out than they planned to go before going on the offensive. If you think about it, it’s not realistic, but in the moment, you won’t care. All you can think about is the next time the shark is going to attack. This film knows how to be slow in all the right places, really making you dread the next time the shark appears. In that time, we get some nice development of the characters, getting to know what makes them tick before returning to the hit-and-run tactics of the shark. I won’t say how it ends, but it’s thrilling and the characters are driven to a very desperate place.

Next, The Breakfast Club. The Breakfast Club is a movie that is often said to be the coming-of-age teen movie, and some say the quintessential 80s movie. We’ll see.

The film was released in 1985 by director John Hughes, who you should know about by this movie, Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, and Home Alone. As that list just showed, Hughes has created many popular and iconic films from the 80s, especially about the experience of being a teenager. His movies are fun and comedic romps with lovable and relatable characters. So why don’t I like them?

Well, it’s not that I don’t like John Hughes movies, it’s more that I think they’re overrated. The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller were before my time, but I saw Home Alone a few times when I was young. I love Home Alone. Who doesn’t love Home Alone? But perhaps the fact that I saw it young and with no expectations is part of why I enjoyed it. The Breakfast Club and Ferris Bueller are movies that people won’t shut up about. That’s a little harsher than I mean, but what I’m trying to say is that they’ve been talked up a great deal. I would probably have enjoyed both movies more if I went into them blind.

The Breakfast Club is about five teenagers sentenced to an all-day detention one Saturday. They come from different groups and walks of life, being described as “a brain, an athlete, a basket-case, a princess, and a criminal”. Needless to say, they don’t mix very well. But with time, the teens bond over feelings of being misunderstood and judged by their parents and teachers. They also realize their own assumptions about each other aren’t fair either.

I think that’s all you need for the story, many of the actual plot events are just conversations and various hijinks ensuing.

The characters are interesting and relatable and it’s (mostly) entertaining to watch their dynamics at play. In one scene, the rest of the kids are covering up for the criminal, who got moved for being disruptive but snuck out. The criminal is hiding under a desk and bumps his head, so the others make noises like clapping the table and sneezing to disguise the sound. As much as the kids don’t like each other, they dislike the authority figures in their lives more. It’s also fun to watch the kids give the teacher comments clearly toeing the line between outright resisting him and trying to not get in trouble.

“I heard a ruckus”, says the teacher. “Could you describe the ruckus, sir?” the brain responds

 This movie was fun, but it probably gets my lowest rating of the three just because it didn’t quite live up to its legendary status for me. I also have to mention the thing I hated the most about this movie before I move on. The criminal harasses the princess, sexually and otherwise, a lot throughout the movie. It’s not great, and I was particularly uncomfortable during one scene that has a panty shot. It’s actually the scene I described above; it’s the princess’ desk that the criminal hides under. Not a fan.

Finally, Star Wars.

That iconic yellow text crawl.

The music.

The lightsabers.

“Use the Force.”

When I watched Star Wars, I felt like I was watching something legendary. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Star Wars, released in 1977 and directed by George Lucas, is a sci-fi epic about a young farm boy who is thrust into the war between the evil Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance. I really don’t think I need to explain this one. It was a huge hit, to the surprise of Fox, its distributor, and spawned one of the largest and most beloved media franchises ever. There have been sequels, books, comics, games – everything. There has been a Star Wars everything. One struggles to come up with better examples for the word ‘phenomenon’.

By virtue of living in western civilization, I know some things about Star Wars, despite never having seen it. Farm boy, Luke Skywalker, meets his wise mentor Obi-wan Kenobi, some rogues: Han Solo and Chewbacca, and the Princess Leia. They go on an adventure fighting the empire, and in the end, Luke blows up the Death Star.

I was surprised that the movie was actually quite slow paced in the beginning. We spend about a half hour following C-3PO and R2-D2 getting separated from Leia to accidentally ending up in Luke’s possession. As much as I wanted the movie to hurry things up a bit, I realized that the movie was a technical showcase at the time of release and was probably showing off the effects a bit. It was probably doing some worldbuilding as well, introducing a few alien races and robots, easing the audience into the world.

The trailer for the first Star Wars (1977), renamed Episode IV as subsequent movies told the back story

The movie really picks up about halfway through, when the gang ends up tractor-beamed onto the Death Star. There’s a lot of exhilarating action here, as Han and Luke don Stormtrooper disguises and get into a few blaster fights, rescue the captive princess, and avoid being crushed in a trash compactor.

The gang escapes and flees for the rebel base, seeking reinforcements. The movie is well paced at this point especially, as we get a break from the action to gear up for the final battle. I’ve seen diagrams describing the shape of a story with a rising action and climax, and now I can see why Star Wars is always the example.

The final battle is at hand, and the rebel squadron launches into space to strike at the Death Star before the planet is destroyed. We get exciting scenes of spaceships dogfighting and the different squadron groups attempting bombing runs on the Death Star’s weak point. Again, good pacing. We see some of the pilots we’ve met try and fail to deal the final blow while the clock ticks down. I was on the edge of my seat by the end. Finally, with most of the squadron destroyed and no time left until destruction, our heroes prevail. Turns out Star Wars is pretty good, who knew?

Overall, watching these movies was a good experience for me, and with another Covid summer coming up, I think digging into your watch list is a great idea to pass the time.

I’d especially recommend you go out of your comfort zone a bit, whether it’s with movies from a time or genre you don’t typically watch, or anything you think isn’t really your type. You might be pleasantly surprised.