Steven Spielberg is arguably my favorite director. Blockbuster movies have always been my bread and butter and Jaws was the first, and still is easily one of the best, summer blockbusters to ever grace the big screen. Since I hadn't seen the unquestioned masterpiece for a number of years, I recently decided to revisit the adventures of Brody, Hooper, Quint and Bruce the shark. Only, this time, I did so by actually watching the movie while floating on the water on Friday the 13th.
Over the past couple of years, the Alamo Drafthouse has been sponsoring a Rolling Roadshow event called Jaws on the Water. It's exactly what it sounds like. You go to a beach and enjoy what that has to offer, then just before sundown you get in inner tube and float around while the movie is projected on a massive screen surrounded by others in the dark, just bobbing around on the water. Sure, there weren't any sharks in that particular body of water, probably, but this clearly adds something to the experience which is why the event has become a success and why it was well attended. Adding the extra layer of it being Friday the 13th, a notoriously spooky day, was just throwing sprinkles and some fancy edible chocolate decorations on an already thoroughly iced cake.
Jaws, by most definitions, isn't an outright horror movie. However, it's more horrific than many actual horror movies are and it gets to the root of some very basic fears that most people have, which is why it's so effective even today. Wouldn't it suck extra hard if your wonderful beach day was ruined by a bloodthirsty killing machine we can't see until it's too late? You bet! And that's the genius of watching Jaws on the water.
I showed up to the event early to take in what a place called Beachside Billy's had to offer. There was a nice beach, a great little beachside bar, some great food, people enjoying themselves in boats, folks tanning and there were even a couple of waterslides. What could be better? It's just like the kind of excellent beach day that the people of Amity might find themselves enjoying in Jaws. And that's where something like this sinks its teeth in. For a couple of hours, you kind of forget what you're ultimately there to do. A drink or two with friends, some laughs, the usual beach day stuff. But then the sun starts to go down and the mood changes.
People slowly begin to make their way to the enclosed area, surrounded by a dock, with their tubes to go stake out a spot on the water to do what we came to do; watch Jaws. The event lulls you into a sense of calm and fun, the exact kind of fun one would be having before being eaten by a shark. Then you get on the water, where sharks live, and watch the greatest, most terrifying movie ever made about sharks eating people. It's impossible for that environment not to have an impact on the viewing experience.
Before sort of discussing the specific influences that has on the viewing experience, as I mentioned, it had been some time since actually watching Jaws. It's astonishing how perfectly this movie holds up. Steven Spielberg, even this early on in his career, was a master craftsman the likes of which we hadn't seen before and probably won't ever see again. He just has a knack for knowing how to entertain people, using whatever story he's trying to tell at that time, while staying true to the deeper elements at play. This movie still looks great, it's still funny, it's still paced beautifully and man is it still scary. I've seen countless death scenes in movies and I will always contest that Quint, played by the brilliant Robert Shaw, has the most brutal and gut-wrenching death scene ever. It sticks with me for days after I watch this movie. Enjoying this movie on a couch with some friends would be perfectly wonderful. No doubt about it.
That said, watching this movie in the dead of night actually on the water does something to your mind. After settling into the beach vibe for a couple of hours, being on the water, gentle waves moving you around, not exactly knowing what's below you (I was able to verify that at least three very sharp rocks were down there), it gets into your head. Then people start screaming. Every once in a while a woman, and in a few cases a grown man, would just scream out. Several times because of what was happening on screen, in other cases it was a friend sneaking up on them for a cheap jump scare. In any case, that certainly adds to it. It's impossible, silly as it may be, not to sort of get a little suspicious of the water while doing this. That constant, added element lingering in the back of your mind only adds to the enjoyment. And yes, it's impossible not to think of it being Friday the 13th as well. Why not throw a little extra gas on the fire?
Really though, what struck me the most about this experience was just how much more fun I, and those around me, had. As opposed to if they just watched Jaws at home, or even at a theater in town that might have been showing it. Even though it was certainly different, this reminded me of going to the drive-in when I was younger. My stepdad hated going to the theater, but getting to laze around in the back of his truck with some beer while we watched not one, but two movies in a row worked for him. Those who have enjoyed a drive-in know that the environment changes the experience, often for the better, or at the very least as sort of a change-up from the norm. Jaws on the water is like that but sort of cranked to eleven.
It's no secret that watching movies at home has become ridiculously more enjoyable and easy these days. You can rent a new movie at the click of a button, most everyone has very high-definition TVs and pretty good sounds systems in their homes and you don't have to actually go anywhere. Why go to the movie theater and spend all of that money? Jaws on the water is much more than watching a movie. It's a tailor-made, perfect experience centered on a great movie. They literally set off fireworks when Brody kills the shark. How great is that? I walked away, well, swam away, from this experience wanting more unique experiences. Give me Clerks in a convenience store. Give me Star Wars in a planetarium. Give me Friday the 13th at a camp by a lake. Similar experiences would be worth the time and money. No question.
In a word, watching Jaws on the water on Friday the 13th was awesome. I see a lot of movies. It's my life in many ways. But I rarely can say I have this much fun while doing it. So, if the Alamo Drafthouse, or another motivated group or theater chain, decides to bring Jaws to a body of water near you, I recommend you go.