The small town of Amity comes under attack from a Great White shark in a film that sealed Steven Spielberg's talent as a master entertainer.
The principal character is Roy Scheider who plays the slightly unheroic local sheriff battling between his instinct to shut the beach for safety reasons and the cost to the local tourist economy if he does.
What is perhaps most surprising about "Jaws" is the lack of screen time given to the ferocious shark. Rather than fill the modestly budgeted film with gratuitous effects, Spielberg relies on other tools to build tension and atmosphere. This includes a fearless use of long shots (not popular in Hollywood) which helps convey both isolation for the victims and endows the shark with seemingly god-like hunting powers. And then there's the soundtrack.
If ever there was an important example for how music can enhance a film it is "Jaws". John Williams' memorable score is used sparingly but its tone of impending terror is more responsible for the power of the film than the sightings of the beast itself.
"Jaws" does seem a little slow in comparison to equivalents today like Spielberg's relentlessly noisy but influential, "Jurassic Park". His style for "Jaws" is calm and steady; building to a climax, which combined with the music, is very much reminiscent of Hitchcock, particularly "Psycho". This confident direction combined with clever editing, lulls you into relaxing at precisely the wrong moments to great effect. Being able to calm the viewer only to wrench into their most primeval fears when least expected is the essence that lies behind the ability of "Jaws" to shock and entertain.
Read about the making of "Jaws".
Read about "Jaws" imitators.