Jaws is not a perfect film, like some say -- I tend to agree with Peter Benchley that any dummy should know that a compressed air tank will not explode like an oil refinery if punctured by a bullet -- but flaws aside, Spielberg's masterpiece is, I believe, a rather important and uniquely American work of art. The idea of a small-town flatfoot realizing that his duty requires him to step on a boat and head off to sea is a metaphor that not only resonated with WWII veterans in the 70s, but still resonates today with anyone who's had to leave the comforts of home to go confront a threat. Also, with its entire story circling down to that amazing moment when the grizzled old seadog Quint has gotten a look at the beast he's going to be confronting and decides to unpack and assemble a fearsome harpoon, the film strongly echoes Melville, as well as all the other literature and art that's been inspired by America's centuries-long quest to tame the Atlantic ocean. This is one of our touchstone movies that won't go out of style until people have lost their fear of sharks, the ocean, drowning and the unknown in general -- in other words, never.
Respect for Jaws from the opinion makers in film academia has not come easily, however. The AFI's list of the Top 100 American Films, compiled in 1998, gave Jaws the questionable ranking of #48, behind such titles as the dated anti-war film The Best Years of our Lives and the entertaining but not exactly earth-shaking Bogey-Hepburn adventure The African Queen. Since then, the astronomical growth of the Internet and the general democratizing of cultural taste-making that it brought has allowed for a rebellion of sorts against Jaws' place of relatively low esteem in film theory. Case in point: the website Jawsmovie.com, which went live in 1995, and has since grown into a sophisticated forum for legions of Jaws fans of all stripes to come and express their love and admiration for the film. Now, the creator of Jawsmovie.com, together with three other producers, has taken things to another level, producing The Shark is Still Working, an epic documentary about all things Jaws -- the making of, the fan community, the legacy, the whole damn thing.