Jaws ... is a prime example of Hollywood entertainment at its best, a pitch-perfect balance of style and spectacle, of great storytelling combined with visceral filmmaking, a splendid marriage of art and commerce. It is, as I have said many times before, a perfect movie. This is not to suggest that the film does not contain plot holes, logical errors or just good old-fashioned movie mistakes (including that Spielberg “favorite” of showing the shadow of the cameraman). Not at all. Jaws is “perfect” for what it was intended to be. It is not “perfect” in the sense that it is free of mistakes. In fact, the film is loaded with them, but Jaws is that rare kind of product where even the mistakes seem to improve the film rather than detract from it. Every creative decision made for this film was exactly the one that needed to be made. Any other movie could have only 1/100 of the “mistakes” contained in Jaws and still not be 1/100 as terrific a film. In art, there is a difference between doing the “right” thing and doing the “correct” thing.
As an admirer of Spielberg, but not a true fan, I've always thought that Jaws is the best of his movies, and one reason (among many) is precisely the quality of perfection that Arlyn identifies - the fact that "every creative decision made for this film was exactly the one that needed to be made." Which is another way of saying that it's the rare Spielberg film that doesn't include at least one jarringly bad creative decision. I suspect the pulpiness of the underlying story, in part, kept him from from the maudlin (or just plain strange) excesses that mar everything Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan and Munich to A.I. and Minority Report; on the other hand, I looked forward to War of the Worlds because I thought the source material was pulpy enough to keep Spielberg honest, and he ended blowing that one but good.
But maybe it's just that the young Spielberg, as is often the case with artists, had better instincts than his older self. Consider that he made five movies between 1975 and 1982, and four of them (Jaws, Close Encounters, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T.) arguably outclass most of what he's done in the twenty-five years since. Jaws and E.T., in particular, feel like mirror-image bookends on a period of astonishing creative fertility: The killer from below and the messiah from above; the dismemberer versus the healer; the heroic parent who's the only one to see the danger versus the heroic child who's the only one not to see it; the East Coast ocean versus the West Coast desert; and so on. I've liked a lot of Spielberg movies since, and both Catch Me If You Can and Schindler's List deserve a place alongside his early work, but as a one-two pop art punch it's awfully hard to top the shark and the extra-terrestrial.
Meanwhile, Arlyn's thoughts on Quint's U.S.S. Indianapolis speech are also worth your time, as is - no matter how many you've seen it - the thing itself: