Jaws (1975)

Peter Benchley’s novel, Jaws is pure (but extremely readable) pulp: a zeitgeisty cautionary tale about commercial interests vs. safety, the paranoia about environmental threats spiced with middle-aged sex scenes. Spielberg took what could have been turgid B-movie fare and turned out a masterclass in suspense. It was a massive success – from a budget of $12M US its total gross was well over $400M – and began the era of the modern Hollywood blockbuster. It was the first film to exceed $100M in box office receipts. Jaws built on the mainstream appetite for horror created by films such as The Exorcist, but gave us a monster that was, uniquely, neither human nor supernatural nor the result of mutation. Sharks are real. They’re out there, swimming around, snacking on swimmers, right now. The movie’s success is rooted in this terrifying premise, as well as in the inspiration taken, in terms of marketing and distribution as well as content, from the big monster movies of the 1950s.

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King Kong (1933)

“I am about to show you the greatest thing your eyes have
ever beheld. He was a King and a God in the world he knew. But now he comes to civilisation, merely a captive, a show to satisfy your curiosity.”

Merian C. Cooper, the visionary behind the chest-thumping giant gorilla atop the Empire State, was a remarkable man. An old school adventurer, he could list World War I flying ace, POW, journalist, explorer, airline owner and Oscar-nominated documentary-maker on his resume before he came to make King Kong, and he continued his adventurous way until his death in 1973. He was part of the first generation of US film-makers, those who saw creating a movie as the latest in a line of thrilling technological challenges. These pioneers of the Machine Age seized movie cameras in the 1920s with the same enthusiasm as they had grabbed the controls of airplanes a decade earlier. King Kong shares the dashing spirit of its producer, and epitomizes his fascination with technology. After all, Cooper plays the pilot of the plane that kills Kong, the very embodiment of twentieth century machinery’s triumph over Nature. Continue reading “King Kong (1933)”

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