If you’re holed up in small town America this long weekend with access only to a video rental store or you’ve already seen the summer blockbusters released so far and you’re looking for the perfect Fourth of July weekend movie, I’ve got a recommendation for you.
Unlike all the TV stations this weekend, I’m not recommending you watch Independence Day. Sure it’s a fun summer flick, but there’s no real tie to the actual Independence Day. It’s not a classic like Groundhog Day was for Groundhog Day or John Carpenter’s Halloween was for Halloween. In fact, I’d say the only non-Christmas holiday film that fits its holiday spirit and stands up to repeat watching each year is Groundhog Day or Halloween. Well, except for my recommendation. But if you haven’t seen Independence Day, go for it. It’s a fun sci fi blockbuster. But see my recommendation first. It’s much better.
And I’m not recommending Born on the Fourth of July. I actually have liked every Tom Cruise movie I have ever seen–and I have missed some, like Magnolia and Vanilla Sky, simply because I never like those kinds of movies. But Born on the Foutrth of July is like a lot of other big films, like Saving Private Ryan, and Forrest Gump, and Titanic. You pretty much can watch them once and they don’t stand up for repeat viewings. So there’s a hint, my recommendation stands up to repeat viewings.
Now I could recommend Yankee Doodle Dandy, starring James Cagney. But it’s pretty old and your video store probably doesn’t have it. That said, no other film says America in music and spirit like Yankee Doodle Dandy. So track that one down later and make sure you see it. I could also recommend Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. That’s a good, solid movie about America. But it’s summertime and I’m thinking Mr. Smith is a better stuck-in-the-house-in-the-winter movie.
So what’s the recommendation? The ultimate Fourth of July movie: Jaws. Huh? Trust me. You’ll thank me later.
On the weekend before the Fourth of July in the summer of 1975, Jaws was what everyone was talking about and what everyone was going to see for the weekend. I remember my local movie theater had a giant cardboard standee of the now classic poster cover of the swimmer and the big old great white. I could not even stand near it. It was terrifying.
Jaws was the first summer blockbuster. And it all made sense. We take Steven Spielberg for granted today, but he was early in his career and came from nowhere to nail the perfect movie, despite a Waterworld‘s worth of production problems, from disastrous filming schedules, delays, broken prop sharks and a cast full of great actors and equally great egos. But like a lot of other big films, the preparation was well worth the result–the result is the perfect movie, from the opening shot to the rolling of credits at the end. Jaws was based on the bestselling novel by Peter Benchley that was out just the prior year in 1974. The public was clammoring for a movie version and Spielberg got the movie together fast. Pressure must work for Mr. Spielberg.
I can’t even remember a world before the time of lines of people wrapped around a theater waiting for a premier showing. This movie was the start of all that. The posters and trailers and buzz had a lot to do with it. Marketing movies was coming of age.
If you haven’t seen Jaws, I envy you, because you’re in for a great ride. But why the Fourth of July? Check out the image from the film in the billboard above. In the quiet little beach front town of Amity, police chief Martin Brody, readies for a relaxing Fourth of July weekend. But that just ain’t going to happen. Some of the most classic scenes and some of the best lines in movie history came from this classic film about a not-so-ordinary Fourth of July weekend: “Don’t go in the water.” “You’re going to need a bigger boat.” “That’s some bad hat, Harry.” The singing on the boat after a few too many drinks. And that speech by Robert Shaw. And just like Diehard 2: Die Harder is a Christmas favorite (yep, that one takes place in Washington, DC at the airport on Christmas Eve), Jaws is the ultimate Fourth of July thrill ride. Think summer, hanging out on the beach,the hot beating sun, and that little hint of hesitation every time you step into the ocean. There’s a reason you’re hesitating. This movie is that reason.
And while you’re watching, keep an ear out for that soundtrack. Oh, yeah, everyone hums the shark theme. But the score was composed by John Williams, before all his other greats like Star Wars, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and every other big film through Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and beyond. You won’t find a creepy little soundtrack like standard horror film fodder. It’s actually the soundtrack for a cheery, summer romp. It’s that juxtaposition of mood that causes those little bumps to show up on yours arms and those hairs to stand up on the back of your neck.
So have fun this Fourth of July. And it’s 36 years since Jaws entered the national psyche so it’s probably OK to go back into the water now.
Or is it?