Wednesday, November 26, 2014


"Ocean is more ancient than the mountains, and freighted with the memories and the dreams of time." HP Lovecraft
When I was a kid, I was obsessed with Treasure Island. It was the book that inspired me to be a writer in second grade and still holds a place of honor in my heart. It also inspired an interest in the sea and it's mysteries and danger. As a story location, I find the ocean far scarier than outer space or just about any place else. It feeds my nightmares; the isolation, the unknown, the exhaustion at trying to stay afloat, lungs filling with undrinkable water, and then all the things that will eat you. Funny, though, I've never been to a beach in my life. I've been to the harbors in Boston and New York City and taken the ferry to the Statue of Liberty on a freezing and rainy day, but I've never been to sea.
For a while I toyed with the idea of moving to Seattle for a summer to work on a fishing boat, but I couldn't even afford to drive there, so that went no where.
I still have a weird affection for the sea, despite all my years of not stepping foot in it. I seek out metal bands who have a nautical theme, like Ahab and Sea Bastard. I got into Mastodon because of their album Leviathan. 
Reading Moby Dick was a literary work out similar to reading the Bible for all it's complexities, beauty, and bits so tedious you wonder how many people actually skim or skip them. Legendary monsters of deep always catch my attention and when I had cable I tuned in for shark week. (However, you can keep your sharknadoes and sharktopuses.) There's HP Lovecraft's creatures from the depths, which inspired the Stuart Gordon adaptation of Dagon.
And of course, there's Jaws. If I could pry open my subconscious I might find that my ocean obsession really starts with Jaws. I watched it on cable several times when I was little. It was my first monster movie and I never get tired of watching it.
One of the scenes that I always look forward to is the night time on the boat when the three heroes are huddled around the little table, drinking and telling stories. Quint's war story of being ship wrecked out on the open water with his fellow survivors being devoured by sharks while they wait to be rescued is the scariest part if the whole film for me. It's the actor Robert Shaw’s performance, his command of the material, the way he tells the story there's no doubt that this really happened to him and as he describes the sharks' eyes you can tell he's right back there in the water with no hope of rescue, just fighting for his life against the coldest, cruelest if predators.
This is Speilberg's finest scene he's ever filmed, to me anyway. I anticipate that scene from the opening moments, then ride out that dread and horror to the closing credits. Dreyfus and Scheider are two of my favorite actors, based on Jaws alone. Sure they've had plenty of fine moments through their careers, but if they never did anything else I'd still hold them in high esteem. In fact, I think the cast deserves an immense amount of credit for elevating Jaws from just another nature run amok B-movie, to one of the great American classics.
Spielberg did the best with what he had, primarily a mechanical shark that didn't work, and delivered a work of dread with really good jump scares that's not easily forgotten. While it may be light on gore it's still a lot bloodier, darker and violent than it's PG rating would lead you to believe.
Jaws 2 is great, better than it should be anyway, but I don't have any love for 3 and 4. And I'll just leave those right there like that and move on.
Ron Howard has a sea epic, that was the supposed inspiration for Moby Dick, called Heart of the Sea, and based on the trailer it may well wind up being my favorite movie of 2015. It stars Thor and some other great actors and the CGI in the trailer doesn't look any more offensive than anything in the Avengers. I'm not a Ron Howard "fan" unless your talking about his role as Opie Taylor, but he knows how to make a movie. I'm just not crazy about the stories he chooses to tell. 
I have a great sea epic in me somewhere, I just know it and someday I'll get around to writing it. Hopefully I'll even be able to see the ocean from the deck of a ship someday, but as I get older, poorer, and in worse shape, I'm not holding my breath. So it goes.

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