Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb
Based on the 1974 novel Jaws by Peter Benchley
Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
Budget $9M Box Office $470.7M
IMDb 8/10 Rotten Tomatoes 97% Metacritic 87/100
Okay so, EVERYONE in the horror community knows about the movie Jaws. If you don’t, you’ve been living under a rock, it’s just that simple. Even the newest generations know of this movie as it still gets attention by various marketing companies as the make spoof t-shirts and magazine covers and such off of the original movie poster image. And everyone knows that classic theme song sound, that parade of single notes one after the other that can let anyone know that, just like with the Halloween theme song, nothing good is about to happen.
This film is also very near and dear to my heart. This was a favorite of my father’s and mine that we used to watch any chance we got. I know the majority (if not all) of the dialogue and because of a special trip I was lucky enough to get to take with my job years ago, I actually got to go to the back lot of Universal Studios in Hollywood and go to the dock area where they filmed some snippets of this movie. I got to get my picture taken next to the shark they “think” is the killer shark, the one they caught and bragged about near the beginning/middle of the film (it’s the one Hooper says the bite radius doesn’t match and he says it’s a Tiger shark). I also got my picture taken with the Amity sign, the one that gets defaced by the “little paint happy bastards” the Mayor wants “hung up by their Buster Browns”. (For you really young folks, that was a brand name of shoe back in the day.)
Now, everyone knows this is a killer flick. I have to be honest with you all and admit I have NOT read the novel by Peter Benchley…but I am ordering it and I am going to. The reason is simple…Spielberg had to leave a lot of the subplots out of the storyline in order to focus the film on the shark. The bulk of what we see in the film is really only about the last 120 pages or so of the book. So, we are missing quite a bit. I’ll do a comparison once I read it but, for now, moving on to the classic film itself.
The story in the film is very, very simple. Amity Island is a tourist community that gets the vast majority of their yearly income from the tourists that come to the beach every year over the summer. They depend on their summer business for their very livelihood.
Early in the season, just as the warm weather is beginning to hit, a group of local teens gather at the beach for a nighttime bonfire party. After a bit of drinking and flirting, two teens run off to get their groove on down by the water, well, in the water actually. Now, the chick is much more in control of her faculties and has no trouble stripping down to her bare ass and jumping into the ocean. The guy she’s with however, gets about halfway to naked and then drops in the sand because he’s too drunk to be of any use to anyone, especially a female. While she’s out swimming, something grabs her form below the waterline, violently jerks her from side to side and then pulls her under, all the while her screams for help being muffled by splashes of water going in her mouth and going unheard and unanswered. The next day, what’s left of her is found washed up on the shore.
At first, her death is ruled a shark attack by the medical examiner/coroner (whatever it is they have in such a small town) but, then there seems to be a meeting of the political minds of the town and that cause of death is quickly changed to boating accident.
Enter Chief Martin Brody. Brody moved to this small island from New York. He figured small town, low crime, easy life for him and his family which includes his wife and their two sons, Michael and Jordan. Ironically, Brody hates the water. In fact, he fears it…completely. I don’t think he’s even willing to wade in the water unless it’s absolutely necessary…like when he has to pull his son Michael out of the water after a shark attacks a boater near him and he falls into the water, the shark swims by him and he goes into shock. Even then, the kids Michael was with pull him to the shore and THEN Brody gets in the water only up to his shins to pull Michael in the rest of the way.
So, by now we’ve had two shark attacks. The Mayor can’t seem to get it through his thick skull that they need to close the beaches and hire someone to kill the shark until the second attack happens and only then does he agree because HIS KIDS were on the beach too. (What an ass! Only when YOUR children are at risk are you willing to close the beach??? The town should have hung HIM up by his Buster Browns…or whatever shoes he was wearing with that god awful anchor covered suit…yuck!)
Now, we’ve closed the beaches. And now, we meet Quint and Hooper. Quint is a shark hunter. He’s very rough, not just around the edges but, all the way through. He has a mouth like a sailor which fits since he later tells a story about being on the USS Indianapolis, which was a real event in American history. But, I will get to that later. Quint has offered his services to the town to hunt down and kill this shark.
Matt Hooper is an expert from the Oceanographic Institute that was asked to come out to the island to help determine what exactly they are dealing with. Hooper is a smart guy with a lot of money. This is something that really pisses off Quint. He sees Hooper as a rich kid playing fisherman. But Matt is no newbie and spends a lot of the movie proving himself to Quint, along with throwing some sarcasm and attitude at him when he gets the chance. It’s obvious Hooper knows his worth, even if Quint doesn’t.
So, these three guys load up on a little boat called The Orca to travel out into the unknown of the ocean where this giant and perfect evolutionary machine (that’s what Hooper calls it) awaits their arrival. The rest of the movie is about them hunting for and killing the shark, which they do. No everyone makes it home though. And of course, Jaws isn’t the ONLY Great White in the ocean.
Now, normally this is where I would tell you whether or not I liked the film and if I thought the actors pulled off their characters well or if it was filmed well, etc. However, this time is gonna be different since I already told you in the beginning I love this movie. Instead, I’m going to give you a lot of random information about the film you may or may not already know. But first…
Yes, I love this movie. Yes, the actors were incredible. Yes, it was filmed magnificently, especially for the time. Now, I’ll move onto what I consider to be the COOL stuff.
This was the very first horror film to be released at the box office in the summertime. It was also the first time a filmmaker had ever dared to film on a live body of water, like the ocean, and not in tanks and pools at the studio back lots. Both of these things were unheard of in 1975 when this movie was made.
Spielberg was still a very young and somewhat green director. As he began filming this movie, he and his crew ran into one obstacle after another. Nobody had ever used that kind of very expensive (and very heavy) film equipment actually IN water. So they had to figure that out. What they ended up doing was they had a guy (a genius for the times really) build a waterproof camera box for each camera so that when water filming was required the camera and its entire apparatus could be completely submerged in water without damage. He also rigged a device to keep the camera equipment steady in the strong current of the ocean water. This man’s name was Bill Butler. (And the current IS strong. If you’ve never been swimming in the ocean, I’ve been off the west coast in SoCal, it doesn’t take but getting out a few hundred feet from shore before the undercurrents really start pulling at you. And then there’s the tides. So, being actually OUT ON THE WATER in boats, that current is something wicked, even though it always looks so peaceful in pictures and from a distance.)
But, before that, they had to find a coastal area that looked small town enough to fit the idyllic Amity Island but would also be okay with an entire Hollywood film crew, cast and everything and everyone that comes with movie production being there. That’s not a small request. I mean, you’re talking probably at least 100 people coming in and taking over a town. There were 40 people involved just in building the various sharks used in the movie alone, plus taking 14 people just to operate them. That’s over 50 newcomers right there. Then you add the cast, the camera crew, sound crew, all the guys nobody ever thinks of like the boom operators, makeup team, hair stylists, costuming, the people who find housing for everyone, the clapperboard person (or persons), the list just goes on and on.
So, where could they go and peacefully disrupt an entire town’s complete way of daily living? Martha’s Vineyard. At first, the residents were okay with it as they were told the crew would only be there for 55 days. Instead, they were there 159 days. By then, the townspeople were at their limit with these Hollywood bozos. And going over on production days was just the beginning of the problems for Spielberg.
One of the biggest problems with filming on actual live bodies of water was that you have no control over, well, anything. Martha’s Vineyard is not only a residential town but, it too is a tourist place. But, it is home to a number of wealthy people who, they themselves, love the water and sail and picnic and do normal beachfront property owner activities. Now, you can’t, as a film crew, just go into some town and say, “Okay, um, we’re from Hollywood and we’re making a movie in a way that’s never been done before so, uh, if you all could just not come to the beach or get in the water in ANY WAY unless WE ask you to, that would be great, thanks.” Yeah, that’s not going to work. So, there were many, MANY times during filming that they needed a clean and clear horizon shot in the background and all of a sudden a sailboat would pop up out of one side of the shot and start slowing putzing through. And just as that boat would be almost out of shot, a yacht would come into the shot. Sometimes they’d have to wait for three or four boats at a time to get out of the shot. By then, the natural lighting is all wrong for where they are at in the story and that, of course, sets them back in filming. And that didn’t just happen ONE DAY. This was a repeated problem…or shall I say nuisance.
The original budget for the film was $3 million but, after all the delays in filming and the mechanical and design issues with the sharks, etc., it ended up costing $9 million. Now, as a young NEW director (Spielberg had only directed one other theatrical film at this point) this is NOT GOOD. The bigwigs at Universal eventually start calling Richard Zanuck (a producer) and start chewing on his ass about why the film is taking so long, what the issues are, they gotta wrap it up, they’re not gonna keep losing money…blah blah blah. Zanuck was the voice of reason and the go-between amidst Spielberg and the studio. This led to a lot of tension resting on Spielberg’s shoulders and he often stayed up until the wee hours of the morning or all night working on the script or notes or effects issues for the next day’s shooting.
Then there were problems with Bruce. That’s the mechanical shark. The shark was named Bruce by the crew after Spielberg’s lawyer (I actually find that hilarious, I know some lawyers personally). In reality, there were three full-size sharks made for the film. One was what they referred to as “a sea-sled shark” which was a full bodied shark except it had no underbelly. This is where the mechanical mechanism was that ran from the shark all the way to the ocean floor and was used to propel the shark through the water. Then there were two other sharks built. Each was full size but only one half of the shark from mouth to tail, first the whole right side of the shark, then the whole left side of the shark. All of the sharks that were fabricated were pneumatically powered, meaning they were moved by a mechanism that used a series of hoses and blasts of pressurized air and/or gas to propel movement.
But practically every day, every single day, there were calls over the little handheld radios (walkie-talkies is what we called them in the 80s, millennials if you don’t know what those are, use Google…THAT is something that I am just not willing to explain, to me it seems pretty self-explanatory but, these days I am finding that nothing is self-explanatory) that there was something wrong with the shark, that it wasn’t working, etc. Sometimes it would be that they couldn’t get the shark to swim or that it only swam in circles, sometimes its mouth wouldn’t open, other times they couldn’t get the propelling system to push it up out of the water. There were so many mechanical issues with the famous Bruce that they actually ended up cutting the shark out of a number of scenes. That’s why we see so little of the actual shark and instead, we get little tidbits and a lot of implying of the shark’s presence and the danger it imposes.
Spielberg and his team also came up with a brilliant filming technique for the film to really pull the viewers into the depths of the ocean with the characters. They filmed with the camera at the waterline for a number of shots, especially shots where danger is supposed to be felt, instead of filming at eye level or from above. This put the viewer right smack dab in the heart of the danger zone with the shark…that they couldn’t see. And we always fear more what we cannot see versus what we can. Then, Spielberg asked that during certain “attack” shots there be no red in the background or in the shot itself. This made the blood of the victims the only red the viewers would see, thus making it so much more impactful.
The gal that played Chrissie (the girl that dies in the very beginning), Susan Backlinie, was actually hooked up to a pulley system that violently yanked her from side to side and up and down to simulate the shark swimming around with her in its mouth and pulling her under. It was operated by two men, one on each end. She has said in interviews that is was very hard work and it WAS painful to go through that process. Also, Spielberg was so concerned about the last final tug of her going under being just right that he himself yanked her under for the last pull into the water down to her demise on film. At the time this film was made, it was very difficult to find a pretty girl who was young that was athletic with stunt experience and willing to do a full nudity scene on camera.
Now for something I find incredibly interesting. Richard Dreyfuss was completely miserable during the making of this film. He had no faith in it whatsoever and he just knew his career would be over before it even really got started. He had only done a handful of films and though some of the titles were big titles, he either went uncredited, didn’t have a big part as a credited actor, didn’t do well or the film didn’t do as well as expected. There were a number of times during filming he called his agent very upset and angry about taking this role. (He had just done The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitzand was once again convinced everyone would hate it. After seeing the screener, he called Spielberg and asked for the part of Hooper, which he initially turned down.) Richard was certain the whole film was going to be a total bust, that the critics were going to hate the film and him and that he was surely never going to work in Hollywood again. He felt his character was never really developed and that because of that, he was not able to give a full performance worthy of his true talent. He has been quoted as saying, ”We started the film without a script, without a cast and without a shark.”
There were problems with the cast at times as well. They didn’t always get along. Especially as time kept dragging on and tensions kept running higher and higher. Shaw had a drinking problem and an attitude with Dreyfuss. Dreyfuss had an attitude about his confidence in the film and his character…and career. A lot of the cast and crew got sea sickness during filming. I mean, how pleasant does that sound?
Now for the USS Indianapolis speech. This is a key moment in the movie. And one of the most famous. Quint and Hooper are getting drunk and bonding over sharing shark bite/injury scars. As they are going back and forth talking about what seem like some pretty close calls, Chiefy looks at his stomach to see his one and only scar…from his appendectomy. That doesn’t quite qualify for the very friendly pissing contest they got going on here. Then, as the two shark-boys are about to toast to their legs (watch the movie), Brody asks Quint about a scar on his arm. Quint says it’s a tattoo he got removed. (I don’t know about how it is now but, old school military, especially Navy, got tattoos, usually representing a wife, a woman, a mother or the ship they were assigned to. After a couple smartass jokes from Hooper, Quint reveals it’s a tat from the Indianapolis. Hooper immediately knows what that means, Brody does not. So, Quint tells a brief summary of the tragedy at sea.
The truth: In July of 1945, the USS Indianapolis was a Portland-class heavy cruiser that our Navy sent to deliver bomb parts that would later be assembled into the first nuclear weapon used in war to the Island of Tinian to our Air Force Base there. That nuclear bomb was the bomb used in the attack on Hiroshima the following month in August. On July 30, on their way to their next assignment they were torpedoed by a Japanese submarine. The entire ship sank in about twelve minutes. With it into the water went almost 1200 men…our soldiers. About 300 men died with the sinking of the cruiser. The other approximately 900 men, they were left floating in the water with lifejackets, very few lifeboats, no food or water and left with the dangers of exposure to the elements, saltwater poisoning and shark attacks. After an awful and intense nearly five days helplessly at sea only 316 were rescued.
On August 19, 2017 an independent investor hired a search team to locate the wreckage of the Indianapolis. It was found at the explosion location, at a depth of about 18,000 feet.
On December 20, 2018 the entire crew of the USS Indianapolis was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal for their service and sacrifice to their country.
Quint’s version: Quint tells pretty much the same story except it is, of course, dramatized emotionally for the movie and embellished for impact. Quint says they weren’t even listed overdue for a week. That’s not true. They were sighted four days after the cruiser sank. Quint also never mentions any lifeboats. However, there was a huge screw up, or I’m going to say series of screw ups, by the US Navy that, had they not occurred, could have very well saved hundreds of lives.
Now, because Quint is super drunk in this scene when he gives this speech, Robert Shaw, who plays Quint, thought that the only way he could really do this scene right would be if he too were drunk. It didn’t go as he planned. Shaw fouled up the scene so many times that they eventually called it quits and waited for the next day. On that next day of filming, Shaw showed up stone cold sober and nailed the speech the first time.
A few extra tidbits about the speech…
Roy Scheider was the one who came up with the line about sharks having eyes like a doll’s eyes.
The speech went from an original three quarters of a page recollection to a four-page monologue into the concise intense story we see on screen.
Multiple cast members, the script writers and Spielberg contributed to the final speech we view in the film.
Okay, so who IS Peter Benchley anyways right? Well, if you watch the movie, on the first day the beaches are open to tourists there’s a reporter doing a story about what’s been going on in Amity as of late. He’s got dark hair and glasses and he’s wearing a suit on the beach with a microphone in his hand. THAT is Peter Benchley. He re-wrote the screenplay for the movie three or four times before he handed it over and told the studio and filmmakers that he’d done all he could with it and the rest was basically on them.
Spielberg wasn’t the first director offered this film. The first director basically quit and Spielberg had to ask for the film because he happened to see it on the desk of someone at the studio, I believe it was Zannuck’s desk but, I can’t be 100% on that one.
Spielberg was in constant fear throughout the making of this movie that he was going to not only be fired but, probably cast out of Hollywood forever as the worst director of all time.
The end scene where the shark explodes was a one-chance/one-take shot. They filled the shark with real raw fish, calamari, chum, etc. to simulate the actual bloody guts of the shark being blown up.
Spielberg did not go to the set on the last day of filming. He flew back to Hollywood early. He was so afraid the cast and crew were going to do something to him, like footballs players dumping Gatorade on the coach but worse, that he cut out in order to avoid his impending doom. To this day he says he still does not go to the set on the last day of filming out of tradition and possibly, superstition.
In the scene where Mrs. Kittner slaps Chief Brody, Roy Scheider was slapped over 25 times before they got it done the way Spielberg wanted it. Roy has said it was very difficult to brace yourself for a smack in the face you knew was coming without looking like you knew it was coming.
The theme song, as I said in the beginning, a classic parade of single notes back and forth is deemed by Spielberg to be responsible for half of the film’s success. He feels that had it not been for that specific iconic tune, the movie wouldn’t have been near as successful.
Several big name actors such as Robert Duvall and Jon Voight were considered for main parts in the movie. But they were either not receptive to what parts were being offered or Spielberg thought they might be too big for the movie, period, and steal the show from the shark, such as actors like Charlton Heston, who wanted to play Quint.
When Hooper is underwater in the anti-shark cage, there are two interesting things they did to make this scene so believable.
Finally, probably the most famous line in this film is, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” It is said by Chief Brody when he’s throwing out chum and the shark jumps out of the water at him and scares the crap out of him. Originally, this line was said immediately after the shark appears. When the screening was first shown and they were gauging what was working in the film and what wasn’t, the screams of the audience when the shark appeared COMPLETELY drowned out Brody’s famous line. Spielberg felt this line was crucial, instrumental to the scene and the film as it added a certain amount of levity to such an ominous situation. So, after the screening, they changed it to what we now see, where Brody stiffens up, walks straight backwards into the galley and THEN tells Quint “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” They also raised the volume level of that particular line in the film versus the rest of the dialogue. By doing that, the audience had settled enough that the line could be heard and have its comedic impact.
Also, the scene where Hooper is looking at Ben Gardner’s boat underwater and the head pops out at him, that was added after the filming at Martha’s Vineyard. Spielberg just wanted one more scare for the viewers. It was filmed in a pool at someone’s house. They added powdered milk to the water to try to match the murky waters of those at Martha’s Vineyard and shot it in Hollywood in a personal pool, not even on the backlot at the studios. Spielberg even used $3000 of his own money to do so. (What a guy!!!!)
And one last thing…Jaws was the first film to hit over $100M at the Box Office (they call it theatrical rentals) ever. It surpassed The Godfather which only grossed $86M. The Jaws record was beaten by Star Wars just two years later but Jaws was the first to hit the $100M. (Atta boy Spielberg, and you thought you were dead in the water, tsk tsk tsk.) Within the first two weeks of release all production costs had been covered and the rest was all profit from that point forward. They also did a much larger nationwide theatrical release than what was normal for the time. They released on June 20, 1975 in North America in 464 theaters, which was just unheard of and by the middle of August, the film was in over 900 theaters. This totally went against everything the studios thought would bring in viewers. But, they were wrong. People were lined up to see this movie all summer long, around the blocks of theaters all over the country, not to mention when it went international. It has been revered as such a classic that is has been re-released in theaters in 1976, 1979 (this is also when it first aired on television getting the second highest viewing audience in history at the time, only being beaten out by Gone with the Wind), and then again in 2015 on two different dates.
So, there you have it. That’s the bulk of the information I have on the film Jaws…in a nutshell. I can’t imagine someone NOT liking this movie and I pray that Hollywood doesn’t do a remake/reboot/redux F&!@ UP on what might very well be ONE of the most perfect horror films ever. We are talking about a cataclysm of blunders and misfortunes, mind changes and matters of naïve genius, perfection and patience, egotism and humbleness, all smashing together in a catastrophic way to bring us something that could never be recreated again. This was magic on screen in a way that they just don’t do anymore. These days everyone relies so much on CGI that nothing you see on screen seems to have been done by hand. REAL special effects used to be an actual art form. It’s such a shame that with all this technology we’ve gotten to the point where we feel the need to do EVERYTHING electronically, digitally. And don’t get me wrong, I understand that CGI is also an art form. I truly do. But there’s something about being able to build something with your hands and make it look as realistic as possible versus everything being done on a computer program. Maybe I’m just old school. I don’t know.
And these guys didn’t have that CGI option. And while the newer generations look at the film quality, see vintage or the date of 1975 and immediately think NO WAY and move on, they have no idea what kind of skill, talent and manpower it took to make a movie like this. It took six months just to build the three sharks, built by 40 men, by hand. Not some computer. Filming took like 159 days instead of the scheduled 55. They had every problem you could imagine and all the ones you can’t. They were breaking new ground in this film. I feel like this gets lost somewhere along the line. I mean, really, even if we do let computers do everything, who’s gonna fix the computers when they break? Another computer? And when that one breaks? You need humans in there somewhere people. You can’t replace all human action, activity and skill with a computer. No matter how hard you try. Technology is supposed to aid us, not replace us.
So, for some good old fashioned summer horror, this is the go to flick. Not a whole lot of blood but, there is some. Not a lot of gore, except for that whole Quint dying thing. Not a lot of foul language. Only a small spot of brief nudity. But totally loaded on suspense and thrill. A personal favorite and a true classic. Jaws wasn’t just a MOVEMENT in the horror film industry. It was a REVOLUTION. A movement suggests something that goes for a distance and then stops and sort of dies off. A revolution seems to cycle back around again and again. And Jaws…will never die.
Behind the Scenes