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Shark Is Still Working, The
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by David Cornelius

"The head, the tail, the whole damn thing."
4 stars

One way to get a group of film geeks excited: make a movie about one of their all-time favorites. When fellow critic Marc Kandel asked the EFC/HBS staff, “Hey, anybody wanna see a movie about ‘Jaws’?”, the answer was pretty obvious. And so “The Shark Is Still Working,” a three hour-plus documentary on the cultural impact of Spielberg’s breakthrough blockbuster, is currently making the rounds among your favorite online writers ever since Marc discovered it in its pre-release state and offered to share the wealth.

We’re glad he did. “The Shark” is a gigantic valentine to the movie that made many of us love movies, and that love shines through in every frame. It’s inarguably the most comprehensive study of the film (and its fans) ever compiled, and while such a broad scope often leaves it with a lack of focus, it also makes it everything a “Jaws” fanatic would ever want in a documentary.

With Laurent Bouzereau’s “The Making of Jaws” remaining the official go-to doc on the movie’s history and Carl Gottlieb’s book “The Jaws Log” held in high regard as the Bible of behind-the-scenes lore, director/photographer Eric Hollander and writer James Gelet (both also co-edited and co-produced) make the right decision to limit the actual “making-of” segment to the first thirty minutes. Other behind-the-scenes anecdotes, many never captured on film before, appear throughout the rest of the massive running time, but the straightforward conception-to-release timeline rundown is tackled quickly, the assumption correctly being that anybody watching a movie about “Jaws” already knows the basics. (We do, of course, get Richard Dreyfuss telling once again his stock “the shark is not working” story, because Dreyfuss is contractually obligated to tell that tale in every interview he gives. But we love it anyway.)

Even with all this familiar material, the movie manages to bring a freshness to it all, thanks to a high energy not just on the part of the filmmakers, but also the interviewees. “Jaws” holds a special place in the hearts of those that made it, and everyone seems more than happy to keep talking about it. New interviews with Spielberg, writer Carl Gottlieb, producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown, and just about every cast member still alive give us classic anecdotes with a surprisingly fresh verve - everyone’s so thankful to be a part of movie history, despite the pains it took to get there.

But “The Shark” doesn’t just give us the hows of the tale. We also go deep into the whys. An analysis of how the fake shark’s mechanical problems led to Spielberg’s best choice - to show the beast as few times as possible, thus allowing for more inventive, more psychological thrills - has been the stuff of critical rundowns for decades now (although it’s great to see it get so much attention here, too). Less discussed in “Jaws” talks is the distribution plans the producers had. “Jaws” is credited with beginning the blockbuster craze, but it’s often ignored that the film was intentionally limited in its theatrical run, with the studio cutting back on screens in order to increase ticket demand - the point being, as Brown tells it, “the best advertising is people standing in a line.”

The first half of the film (dubbed “The Impact”) is its sharpest, with the presentation of a mountain of jaw-dropping material. Fans have long heard about the infamous telecast of Spielberg and friends watching the announcement of the Oscar nominations, the director’s feet knocked out from under him on live TV when he and his picture were snubbed in multiple categories. “The Shark” actually finds that footage and lets it play out in its cringe-inducing entirety. It’s a treasure trove of bits just like this, holy grail footage bound to make fans scream with delight.

Part two (“The Legacy”) is more of an odds and ends section than a fully realized discussion, sliding from point to point with little rhyme or reason. (In one long segment, running from Spielberg’s cabin to a Quint impersonator, the movie flows perfectly. For its scattershot second half, this connectivity is a rarity.) It’s here the filmmakers examine the “Jaws” fan base, showcasing the 2005 JawsFest convention at Martha’s Vineyard, interviewing various collectors and website operators, and so on. A trip to a house once owned by editor Verna Fields reveals her old Moviola left behind. Footage of fans sneaking onto private property for a chance to touch one of the actual boats used in the film details the insane adventures some fans will cheerily attempt. Fan films, fan art, and even a musical showcase the movie’s lasting cultural impact.

It’s all amusing in a hodgepodge sort of way. More compelling are the meetings with the supporting actors and other folks who never became the household names of “Jaws,” yet are well loved by fans. Most of the extras and smaller roles went to local residents, many of whom are eager to share their stories. (An archival interview with the man who became Shaw’s inspiration for Quint is a highlight.) Everyone who had anything to do with “Jaws” gets a moment to shine, the filmmakers’ way of saying thanks.

It’s all of this that helps “The Shark” become more than just some making-of fluff piece that might wind up as a DVD bonus feature. It is instead an exhaustive (yet never exhausting) look at “Jaws” through the ages, an attempt to explain why it’s become an obsession for so many. At such a mammoth running time, it seems to be too much, yet I can’t think of anything actually worth cutting. And while it may ramble from point to point with the frenzy of a geeked-out admirer, it’s an intelligent, loving ramble. “The Shark” is a wondeful treat for any “Jaws” fanatic and a terrific explanation to non-fans as to why Spielberg’s classic remains so well loved over three decades later.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=16160&reviewer=392
originally posted: 05/31/07 18:18:06
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5/24/07 Rhia " great film ,funny inparts 5 stars
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