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Martin Brody, the new Chief of Police in the New England resort community of Amity, is called one summer morning to the beach where the mangled body of a young woman has washed ashore. The medical examiner tells Brody she was likely the victim of a shark attack, but Mayor Larry Vaughn, afraid that a shark panic will kill the island's 4th of July weekend tourism boom, tells him to say publicly that it was a boat propeller. When a young boy is killed in the crowded waters at a popular beach, it is obvious to everyone a predator is in the ocean off Amity. New Yorker Brody must overcome his fear of the water to join crusty old seafarer Quint and ichthyologist Matt Hooper on Quint's boat, Orca, to find and destroy the shark.
Director: Steven Spielberg
Producers: David Brown, Richard D. Zanuck
Screenplay: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb, based on Benchley's novel
Cinematography: Bill Butler
Editing: Verna Fields
Production Design: Joe Alves
Original Music: John Williams
Cast: Roy Scheider (Brody), Robert Shaw (Quint), Richard Dreyfuss (Hooper), Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody), Murray Hamilton (Vaughn)
Why JAWS Is Essential
Purely as a cinematic experience, Jaws is one of the great thrill rides, a scary, tense, funny movie that still has the power to grab hold of audiences, even those who have seen it over and over again (and there are many), and shake them about like an unsuspecting swimmer on a dark...well, you get it. It's also one of those rare cases of the movie being much better than the book it was taken from. After Peter Benchley, author of the best-selling novel, completed his first shot at adapting the story, it was taken on by several hands, including credited scenarist Carl Gottlieb and the uncredited Howard Sackler, John Milius, Robert Shaw (honing his chilling USS Indianapolis monologue), and director Steven Spielberg. They streamlined the plot, losing unappealing and unnecessary subplots, getting rid of some characters and refining others, and above all, putting the focus where it belonged-on the shark.
Is that enough to land this picture on an Essentials list? Maybe, maybe not, but for all of Jaws superlatives as a movie, what secures it a place in cinema history are the reverberations it has had for the entire industry. For one, this is the movie that gave birth to the summer blockbuster. Prior to its release, studios tended to dump their less expensive and lower profile projects in the hotter months, thanks to the standard wisdom that only kids went to the theaters in the summer. Jaws took the cheapie "monster movie" usually popular with the summer youth audience and notched it up a hundredfold in terms of budget, talent, marketing, and distribution strategy. Ticket sales went through the roof, thanks in no small measure to an unprecedented advertising campaign, as well as Universal's decision to open it wide. Up to this point, major releases were usually "platformed," opening in key cities first, then going out later across the country to secondary markets. Jaws was released nationwide on the same day with saturation booking in more than 400 theaters, creating a runaway box office that took hold early on and held throughout the season.
This also marked the beginning of the importance of merchandising to a film's success. Soundtrack albums, stuffed sharks, baseball caps, action figures, T-shirts, etc. not only brought in more money for the studio but kept the picture large in the public consciousness. And because the monster in this story was a real animal, it resonated with people's primal fears like no "creature feature" before it had done.
Today, we can turn on any television entertainment news show or pick up a number of popular magazines and get the inside scoop on the making of most motion pictures-how much they cost, how they were cast, what kind of problems were encountered on set and between the filmmakers and the guys in the front office-the kind of information once primarily the province of industry workers. Jaws changed how we think about, talk about, read about movies, creating a hype and hoopla long before it even hit the screen. Stripped of all that, this is still a fun-filled, scary adventure story that knows just how to get inside moviegoers and keep us enthralled. Steven Spielberg may have had his long and productive career without this mega-launch, and quite likely some executive or producer or director eventually would have figured out all these details that brought about the sea change (gulp!) in the film industry. But Jaws, for better or worse, was there first and biggest, and that secures it a place as an Essential.
by Rob Nixon
Okay, who has not imitated John Williams' shark-attack theme at any tense or potentially threatening moment? The music has been spoofed, referenced, and just plain ripped off in many movies and television shows. Richard Dreyfuss was haunted by it when he hosted Saturday Night Live in 1978. Sylvester Stallone hums it in Tango and Cash (1989). It's one of the most recognizable and quoted musical themes in cinema history.
The early days of Saturday Night Live, which debuted just a few months after Jaws was released, featured a recurring skit about a "landshark" who eats people, disguising himself most often as a door-to-door Candygram deliverer. The attacks, of course, are accompanied by a version of the shark theme.
The film's advertising image/logo-a woman swimming above an open-mouthed shark-was the basis for a number of political cartoons of the time.
The number of allusions to the movie in television shows and other films is too numerous to mention, from The Simpsons and Sanford and Son to the comedy Clerks (1994) and the drug drama Blow (2001).
Just as Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho (1960) had made showers a new source of fear years before, Jaws created a terror of sharks that continues to this day, evidenced by the popularity of such pop culture events as the Discovery networks "Shark Week," a series of programs dedicated solely to the sea animal. Reduced beach attendance in 1975 was attributed to the anxiety caused by the movie, along with an increase in shark sightings. It is still regarded as responsible for ongoing negative stereotypes about sharks and their behavior and for leading to what has been known as the "Jaws effect," inspiring scores of fishermen to kill thousands of the animals in shark-fishing tournaments. This last aspect was documented by David Fleshler in a 2010 article in the Fort Lauderdale, Florida, Sun Sentinel, noting that one-third of the world's sharks, skates, and rays were facing extinction. Conservation groups cite the movie as the reason it's so difficult to convince the public to protect the animals. Even Peter Benchley, years after the release, admitted he would not have written the novel if he had properly understood what sharks are really like in the wild.
Many films followed built around man-eating, often aquatic animals, among them Orca (1977), Alligator (1980), and Piranha (1978), which Spielberg declared "the best of the Jaws rip-offs." An Italian-produced horror movie, Great White (1981), was so similar it inspired Universal to sue the producers. The studio won the case, pulling the film from North American distribution and preventing it from ever being released on DVD here.
In addition to the imitators, Jaws spawned three sequels, each with vastly diminishing returns in box office and thrills: Jaws 2 (1978), Jaws 3-D (1983), and Jaws: The Revenge (1987). Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, and Murray Hamilton returned for the first sequel, written by Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler (both worked on the original), again produced by David Brown and Richard Zanuck. Williams' score was used for this sequel. Gottlieb also worked on the script for the 3-D version, directed by Joe Alves, the production designer of the original. Lorraine Gary came out of retirement to appear in the final sequel. Spielberg had nothing to do with any of them.
Spielberg's comedy 1941 (1979) spoofs the opening scene of Jaws by having the original movie's doomed swimmer, Susan Backlinie, encountering a Japanese sub instead of a shark. John Williams' score for this scene is strikingly similar to his shark theme in Jaws.
Leaving the shoot before the film's final shot became a tradition with Spielberg that he carried through his next six productions. He reasoned that since Jaws was such a success, maybe the practice was a good luck charm.
by Rob Nixon
John Milius said that after the success of Jaws and the considerable money he made from it, Spielberg bought a beach house in Malibu and used to express concern that the sharks were out there waiting for him to get into the water because they knew he had done a great injustice to them by making the movie.
According to Spielberg, his original idea for introducing Quint was to show him sitting in a movie theater laughing at the special effects of the whale in Moby Dick (1956). The film's star, Gregory Peck, who also owned the movie's rights, refused to let Spielberg use any footage from it, allegedly because he hated his performance in the picture and didn't want it seen again.
Spielberg and Richard Dreyfuss became friends on this production. The director said he expected they would have a similar relationship to the one between director Francois Truffaut and his muse, Jean-Pierre Leaud, but Dreyfuss has actually been in only two other Spielberg movies as of this writing: Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and Always (1989).
Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody) has been married to entertainment industry executive Sidney Sheinberg since 1956. She retired for eight years after making Spielberg's 1941 (1979) but returned to the screen to make Jaws: The Revenge (1987). That performance, her last as of this writing, earned her both a Razzie (aka Golden Raspberry) Award nomination as Worst Actress and a Saturn Award nomination from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films as Best Actress.
According to writer Carl Gottlieb, the line "You're gonna need a bigger boat" was not scripted but improvised by Roy Scheider.
Howard Sackler, who had done uncredited work on the script, later got screen credit for Jaws 2 (1978). Carl Gottlieb, the credited writer (along with Benchley) on the original, also got credit for the sequel.
The track-in zoom-out shot of Brody when he realizes the boy has been eaten by a shark is similar to the zoom-in track-out shot first used in Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo (1958).
After the release of the movie, the average summer tourist population of Martha's Vineyard tripled.
The crew began to refer to the movie as "Flaws" because of all the technical problems.
The mechanical sharks were named "Bruce" after Spielberg's lawyer Bruce Ramer.
Scriptwriter Carl Gottlieb plays local newspaper editor Meadows. Novelist Peter Benchley has a bit as a reporter.
Peter Benchley (1940-2006) was the son of author Nathaniel Benchley and grandson of Algonquin Round Table wit Robert Benchley.
Ron and Valerie Taylor, the Australian photographers who provided underwater footage of a real Great White Shark, worked on the documentary that is a precursor to Jaws in terms of creating a terror of sharks, Blue Water, White Death (1971), which contains the first 35 mm footage of a Great White ever captured. Ron Taylor was also the co-director of an Australian documentary, Shark Hunters (1962).
Special effects wizard Robert Mattey created the giant squid in the Disney movie 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954).
Memorable Quotes from JAWS
VAUGHN (Murray Hamilton): Fellows, let's be reasonable, huh? This is not the time or the place to perform some kind of a half-assed autopsy on a fish. And I'm not going to stand here and see that thing cut open and see that little Kintner boy spill out all over the dock.
VAUGHN: I'm only trying to say that Amity is a summer town. We need summer dollars. Now, if the people can't swim here, they'll be glad to swim at the beaches of Cape Cod, the Hamptons, Long Island...
BRODY (Roy Scheider): That doesn't mean we have to serve them up as smorgasbord!
HOOPER (Richard Dreyfuss): This was no boat accident!
QUINT (Robert Shaw): I'll catch this bird for you, but it ain't gonna be easy. Bad fish. Not like going down the pond chasin' bluegills and tommycods. This shark, swallow you whole. Little shakin', little tenderizin', an' down you go.
QUINT: Front, bow. Back, stern. If ya don't get it right, squirt, I throw your ass out the little round window on the side.
QUINT: So, eleven hundred men went in the water; 316 men come out and the sharks took the rest, June the 29th, 1945. Anyway, we delivered the bomb.
HOOPER: That's a twenty-footer.
QUINT: Twenty-five. Three tons of him.
BRODY: You're gonna need a bigger boat.
BRODY: Smile, you son of a bitch!
Compiled by Rob Nixon
Peter Benchley was inspired by several real-life incidents in writing his novel Jaws, such as the 1916 Jersey shore attacks that left four people dead over the course of twelve days. Producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown bought the rights for $175,000 prior to its publication in February 1974, raising its profile and helping propel it to more than forty weeks on the best seller list.
When Steven Spielberg first encountered the story that was to become his first big screen success he was just 27 years old with a handful of television episodes and made-for-TV movies to his credit, including one acclaimed TV production, the thriller Duel (1971), and one theatrical feature, The Sugarland Express (1974). The latter, a Goldie Hawn vehicle, had done poorly at the box office but got him the attention of executives at Universal, the studio that produced it. While in post-production on The Sugarland Express, he stopped by the office of one of the film's producers, Richard Zanuck, where he saw galleys of Peter Benchley's as-yet unpublished novel Jaws sitting on a coffee table. He asked if he could read it. Zanuck said he would love to have Spielberg look at the book, but that they already had a director attached to it.
Zanuck and his production partner, David Brown, bought the book before its publication from Mike Medavoy at ICM with the understanding that a certain ICM client (Zanuck never identified who) would direct. A meeting was set up with Benchley and the potential director, who kept referring to the central nemesis of the book as a whale. After the meeting, Zanuck and Brown said they wanted another director.
Brown later said they would have never bought the book if they had read it twice. "How would we have acquired a book that required a shark to leap on the stern of a boat and swallow one of our actors?"
Spielberg thought the story was very commercial and would make a good monster movie, a "sci-fi potboiler" in his words. Despite Spielberg's aim to make "films" as opposed to "movies," Brown convinced him to take it on by pointing out that a huge commercial success would enable him to make the more serious films he aspired to.
Zanuck went to Lew Wasserman, the head of Universal, and suggested Spielberg to direct. Wasserman liked Spielberg but wondered if he was too inexperienced to handle a picture with so many potential technical and logistical problems. Zanuck convinced him that an unseasoned director like Spielberg would bring something fresh to the project and turn out more than just an ordinary action-adventure movie.
Once he was on board, Spielberg wanted to adapt the book. Benchley's deal with Universal was that he would write the script himself. The draft he turned in was lacking, so Spielberg took a crack at it, turning out an entire draft in two weeks. He later said his script had some very good scenes "and some really awful, horrible ones," bad enough that he felt embarrassed having wasted two weeks of preproduction time working on it. Clearly he needed another writer.
Brown suggested having Howard Sackler, who had written the play The Great White Hope, winner of a Pulitzer Prize and a Tony Award and the basis for the 1970 film. Spielberg's initial reaction was positive: "Hey, Great White Hope, Great White Shark, perfect casting." His enthusiasm proved well founded. Spielberg liked that Sackler lost the book's love affair between Chief Brody's wife and Hooper the ichthyologist and added the famous Quint speech about the real-life shark attacks on the 900 sailors who had survived the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 1945. "It wasn't the Jaws that we made, but it was, I'd say, about 65 percent of what was in the movie," Spielberg said. "It definitely moved me forward into saying, 'I'll direct the movie.'" According to Spielberg, Sackler did not want any screen credit. Also uncredited was Spielberg's friend and fellow director John Milius (Dillinger, 1973; Conan the Barbarian, 1982), who expanded Quint's monologue from Sackler's three-quarters of a page to a brilliant but unwieldy ten pages. The speech was eventually trimmed to shooting length by the actor cast to play Quint, Robert Shaw, who had written the play The Man in the Glass Booth.
Joe Alves, the art director for The Sugarland Express, was brought in to the project for his first assignment as a production designer. While script work continued, he and Spielberg decided against filming in studio tanks or with miniatures and optical effects, a decision he later called "naïve," in light of all the problems encountered shooting on the open sea with a full-size shark model.
Spielberg loved the special effects created for the Disney movies The Absent-Minded Professor (1961) and its sequel Son of Flubber (1963). The creator of those effects, Robert Mattey, was hired to tackle the very big issue of the mechanical shark. The veteran craftsman worked at home to come up with a prototype of what would become the submersible platform that would control all the movements of the shark. His small wood-and-metal model showed how the platform could be sunk by pumping water into it and surfaced by filling it with air.
Three full-scale drawings were made of potential mechanical sharks. Like Goldilocks trying out beds in the Three Bears house, Spielberg decided the 18-foot version was too small, the 36-footer too big, and the 24-foot version just right.
David Brown asked Peter Benchley who he would cast in the movie, and the author replied, "Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, and Robert Redford." Brown, however, knew the movie required no stars: "The star of this movie was a fish."
Spielberg first considered Jon Voight for the part of Hooper, then Timothy Bottoms. He later said he may have also spoken to Jeff Bridges about it. "But when I met with [Richard] Dreyfuss, his energy was so kinetic, I thought he was perfect for Hooper." Dreyfuss said Spielberg had told him not to read the book and told him instead the story he wanted to shoot. Dreyfuss thought it was great but didn't want to do it, mostly because he was wary of the difficult shoot that lay ahead. After he saw his most recent film, The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974), Dreyfuss thought his performance was terrible and called Spielberg to beg for the job as Hooper. Dreyfuss said he was finally signed after production began.
Spielberg's first choice for Quint was Lee Marvin, then Sterling Hayden; both of them said no. Robert Duvall was interested in the part of Quint early on, but Spielberg (wrongly, he later admitted) thought he would be best as Chief Brody. Duvall, who didn't want a leading man type of role, turned him down. That's when Zanuck and Brown suggested Robert Shaw, whose work they had admired in their production The Sting (1973).
Spielberg thought Joe Bologna would be a great Brody, but he couldn't get Zanuck or Universal COO Sid Sheinberg (who had brought Spielberg into the company) on board with that. The director met Roy Scheider at a party and, based on his performance in The French Connection (1971), decided he was right for it.
There was some question of who would play Mrs. Brody. Zanuck wanted his wife Linda Harrison to play it; Sid Sheinberg won out, securing the role for his wife, Lorraine Gary. Spielberg said he had seen Gary in a TV movie and thought she was very natural. "Of course, Sid Sheinberg had given me my first job, but I really cast Lorraine because she was right for the part. There were a lot of people I couldn't convince, but that was the truth."
by Rob Nixon
There was a lot of pressure to get the movie into theaters by summer 1975, so the prep time was incredibly short for such a complex production. Principal photography was scheduled for May 1974, which Spielberg said was far too early, especially for special effects expert Robert Mattey to have the shark finished. Richard Dreyfuss said the picture was begun "without a script, without a cast, and without a shark."
One of the first scenes shot was the opening, in which the young woman swimming at night is eaten by the shark. Because of the method used for making it look like the swimmer is being thrashed about by the shark, Spielberg knew he needed a stuntwoman for the role and cast Susan Backlinie, a stunt performer who specialized in swimming scenes. She was fitted with a harness connected to a 300-pound weight that had ropes coming out of each side. Crew members on either rope ran first one way, then the other, to create the illusion of the swimmer being dragged back and forth in the water.
Three mechanical sharks were created for the shoot, collectively referred to as "Bruce." One was open on one side for left-to-right movement, another open on the other side for right-to-left shots, and the third fully covered for frontal shots.
According to production designer Joe Alves, the platform that operated the shark needed a minimal change in tidal depth, about 25 feet, and the downwind side of an island for protection. Locations were first scouted at Montauk and Sag Harbor, Long Island. Martha's Vineyard, an island south of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, proved to have all the right elements.
The first two months of the production were one disaster after another. Hoses burst, mechanisms malfunctioned, one of the three mechanical sharks ran aground. Zanuck and Brown witnessed the accidental sinking of the platform, rig, and shark. One of the biggest problems for realism and continuity was getting the shark's tail to move back and forth because the force of the water against the device was too strong. Everything really fell apart when they realized the shark had been designed for use in fresh water, not salt water. The number of technical problems forced the company to shoot everything they could without a shark until the kinks could be worked out.
The shark problems had an upside, too. Scheider said it gave all the actors a chance to know each other better and evolve as a team. "It made for a small repertory company over a period of five or six months." Spielberg agreed, noting that the cast was the best behaved he's ever had "because we were soldiers against an unseen enemy."
Spielberg said that the mechanical difficulties forced him to rethink how much of the shark would be seen throughout the movie, shifting it from "a Japanese Saturday-matinee horror flick to more of a Hitchcock, the-less-you-see-the-more-you-get thriller." In his original storyboards, the shark appeared three times more than in the finished film.
The script was reworked practically every night in improvisatory sessions involving Spielberg, writer Carl Gottlieb, the three male principal actors, and editor Verna Fields, who would walk them all through the consequences every change would bring about.
Despite the overwhelming difficulties, the company enjoyed the time on Martha's Vineyard, especially the actors, except Dreyfuss who was an up-and-coming young actor ready to get on with more projects. Spielberg said Dreyfuss used to half joke: "What am I doing here? I should be walking into Sardi's to applause and acclaim."
Apparently one of the elements responsible for keeping people more accommodating during the very long shoot was alcohol. Shaw was a heavy drinker, and he and Zanuck would get into fiercely competitive ping-pong games that even held up viewing the dailies from time to time. Zanuck said Shaw once proposed a wager on a game-his $200,000 salary against Zanuck's five percent of the profits. They played well into the night, quite drunk, long after everyone else went home. The bet was never settled. Sometimes the matches between these two hot-tempered men almost led to fistfights.
Dreyfuss said the only truly bad thing that happened to him on Martha's Vineyard was the cruel treatment he received from Robert Shaw. Although Shaw could be very nice to him in private, such as the time he read Dreyfuss his entire play, The Man in the Glass Booth, while the two were sitting in the hold of the Orca (the name for Quint's boat), publicly he was brutal to him, telling him things like he thought Dreyfuss would only have a career "if there's room for another Jewish character man like Paul Muni." In turn, Dreyfuss would antagonize him by throwing Shaw's liquor into the water. At one point, Shaw, remarking loudly on what he said was Dreyfuss' cowardice, dared him to climb to the top of the Orca's mast (about 75 feet) and jump off into the ocean, for which he would pay him upwards of $1,000 (the price rising with each taunt). Spielberg finally intervened by telling Dreyfuss, "I don't care how much money he offers you, you're not jumping off the mast, not in my movie."
The night before shooting the Indianapolis speech, Shaw called Spielberg and asked if he could have one drink before filming and do at least one take with no cuts "because this [speech] is the reason I made the movie." Shaw showed up on set the next day with substantially more than one drink in his system and had to be helped into the boat. He started it brilliantly but after a minute he stumbled on his lines and began rambling about his own personal life until the film ran out. Spielberg sent him home and shot inserts the rest of the day. The following day Shaw came in and did the whole monologue brilliantly.
The Orca was a 29-foot trawler that had to carry the weight of more than 20 cast and crew members at any given time. For several shots, the boat had to rock as if being struck by a huge shark from below. To accomplish this, there was a speedboat with a rope attached to it that ran under the Orca's hull and hooked to the other side. It would be gunned at full speed, causing the Orca to rock violently and everyone on board to fall, which is what they wanted. After doing that three or four times, a hole broke open in the Orca's hull. With safety boats rushing in and people yelling "Get the actors off the boat," the vessel sunk in about three and a half minutes.
Although he displayed enormous self-confidence on location, Spielberg began to have doubts about his ability to finish the picture. On top of that, Universal was starting to come down hard on him, badgering editor Verna Fields about the lack of action sequences, threatening to pull the plug on the Martha's Vineyard shoot and move the whole production to the calmer waters of the Bahamas. When the picture was already two months behind schedule, Universal boss Sid Sheinberg flew to the location to try to resolve the difficulties and was horrified to see that script work was being done every night. At some point, there was talk of re-shooting in a studio tank, which Spielberg was very much against. To his credit, Sheinberg stood by the young director, and the studio pressure and threats abated, even though it took another 40 days to complete shooting.
Most of the third act of the film, with the three men out on the sea to kill the shark, was handheld, occasioning Spielberg's comment that Jaws was the most expensive hand-held movie ever made.
In the final scene (after Quint has been eaten by the shark and Hooper has escaped the damaged shark cage and hidden at the bottom of the ocean), Brody is left alone on the Orca, where he uses a rifle to shoot the scuba tank lodged in the shark's mouth and blows the animal up. The first shot called for the shark to leap out of the water and land on the transom. It took a half day just to prepare the shot. One camera was placed on the back deck, one inside the cabin to get Brody's point of view, and one on top of the cabin. The mechanical shark cooperated beautifully and Spielberg yelled "Cut." But the boat (not the main Orca but a lighter "prop" one designed to be destroyed and sunk) was so damaged it began to sink. The two lower cameras went into the water and Scheider dove over the side. Operator Michael Chapman dove over and caught a camera that was about to fall 20 feet into the ocean, saving the magazine from sinking. Butler acted quickly to save the waterlogged footage by placing it in a bucket of fresh water to keep it wet but without the damaging salt. A crew member had to fly to New York with the bucket and have the film developed immediately.
A scene of Brody's son's life being saved from a shark attack by a man, who then dies a gruesome death in the shark's jaws, was filmed but not included in the final film. Spielberg thought it was far too gruesome.
Underwater shots of a real shark were provided by Australians Ron and Valerie Taylor, well known for their underwater and shark photography.
By September, the people of Martha's Vineyard, at first curious and welcoming, were fed up with having the production on their island.
The blowing up of the shark was scheduled for the last day of the shoot. Four cameras were trained on it. Spielberg, however, was not there. He decided that before the crew did any kind of wild prank on him to mark the end of principal photography, he would just leave quietly. He and Dreyfuss were on a plane to Boston when the actor turned to him and asked how the final shot went. When Spielberg answered, smiling, "They're shooting it now," Dreyfuss began laughing hysterically.
When composer John Williams played the low, minimal notes of the shark theme for him, Spielberg thought he was joking. But after hearing it a few more times, the director began to like it, eventually saying the theme became the soul of the movie and gave the shark "an identity, a personality, a soul."
Spielberg has also given much credit to editor Verna Fields, one of the greats of her business, earning her the nickname Mother Cutter. Fields worked diligently to match the shots as closely as possible, despite weather conditions changing from shot to shot with the sea calm for one take and swelling for the next.
After the Dallas preview audience screamed only once in the picture (near the end when the shark first surfaces near the Orca), Spielberg decided to re-shoot the scene in which Hooper/Dreyfuss goes under water to dig a shark tooth out of a boat that has been attacked. As originally shot, he shines his light into the hole in the boat's hull and sees a dead face inside, but the preview audience didn't react very strongly to that. Spielberg asked Verna Fields if he could borrow her pool in Los Angeles. He put milk into the water to make it cloudy, ground up aluminum foil to simulate floating silt, and shoved the dead man's head out through the hole very suddenly into Dreyfuss' face.
Most reports say the production was budgeted at $4 million, which doubled by the time the picture was completed. Producer Richard Zanuck explained the rather more complicated process of budgeting Hollywood movies like this: "Our final budget was only $10 million. We started off with a very unrealistic $3.5 million, and it came up to around $8.5 million, and then they added some overhead and it was about 10."
by Rob Nixon
In some ways, Jaws (1975) is responsible for changing the direction of filmmaking and film marketing in Hollywood. For better or worse, this film, which kept scores of people from taking a dip in the ocean during the summer of 1975, was also the first motion picture to break the $100,000,000 record in box office rentals, bypassing such previous champions as The Sound of Music (1965) and Gone With the Wind (1939). As a result, studios began to produce more big event entertainments like Star Wars (1977), Grease (1978), and Superman (1978) with aggressive ad campaigns designed to produce record-breaking opening weekends. So, if you want to know why Hollywood produces fewer movies like Taxi Driver (1976) and Coming Home (1978), you can blame Jaws which started a trend that has become the standard for success in the film industry.
While Jaws might not qualify as art, Steven Spielberg's suspenseful adaptation of the Peter Benchley best seller is a superior commercial entertainment. Spielberg was only 26 at the time he was hired to direct this modestly budgeted film ($12 million) but he was no novice. In fact, he had already created quite a buzz within the industry thanks to his work on two technically sophisticated and visually dynamic action thrillers - Duel (1971) and The Sugarland Express (1974).
The casting of Jaws was a crucial factor in its success. Robert Shaw initially thought the script was terrible and didn't want to be upstaged by a mechanical shark. But Shaw's wife recognized the potential in the script and encouraged the reluctant actor to play Quint, the tough-as-nails sea captain. Richard Dreyfuss, who was just beginning to attract favorable critical notices for his performances in American Graffiti (1973) and The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz (1974) accepted the role of Matt Hooper, the marine biologist, even though he suspected that Jaws would be "the turkey of the year." Roy Scheider, an Oscar nominee for his performance in The French Connection (1971), played sheriff Martin Brody, and would be the only actor in the trio to repeat his characterization in the sequel, Jaws 2 (1978). By the way, look close and you'll spot author Peter Benchley in a cameo as a reporter.
For the filming of Jaws, Spielberg insisted on realism, which meant shooting on location in Martha's Vineyard (identified as Amity Island in the film) as opposed to filming in a studio tank. Although the residents of Martha's Vineyard were not so happy about the idea of a Hollywood movie crew disturbing their privacy, their objections were soon silenced by MONEY.
The other main obstacle was finding a trained 20 foot great white shark. Eventually, Spielberg hired special effects wizard Robert A. Mattey (His claim to fame is the giant squid in Walt Disney's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, 1954) to create the title menace and Mattey came up with three hydraulically operated creatures which were nicknamed "Bruce." Weighing over a ton each and requiring at least thirteen scuba-geared technicians to manipulate them, these shark stand-ins were occasionally camera-shy, breaking down at inopportune moments. But Spielberg prevailed and the final result had people hiding their eyes and screaming in unison in movie theatres across the country, particularly during the ship-smashing climax. Jaws also set off a wave of shark hysteria in which countless sightings of the telltale fin were reported all along the East and West coasts.
At the 1977 Academy Awards ceremony, Jaws was in the running for four Oscars including Best Picture and won three of those - Best Editing (by Verna Fields), Best Sound, and Best Music Score. Verna Fields had previously worked with Spielberg on The Sugarland Express as well as several of his talented peers like Peter Bogdanovich on What's Up, Doc? (1972) and George Lucas on American Graffiti (1973). Strangely enough, Jaws would be her final editing assignment. (She died in 1982).
For composer John Williams, Jaws marked a major turning point in a film career that already included one Oscar for the orchestration of Fiddler on the Roof (1971). His collaborations with Steven Spielberg and George Lucas on future projects like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Star Wars (1977), and Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) would make him the most famous and sought-after composer in Hollywood.
Producer: David Brown; Richard D. Zanuck
Director: Steven Spielberg
Screenplay: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb
Production Design: Joseph Alves Jr.
Cinematography: Bill Butler, Rexford Metz
Film Editing: Verna Fields
Original Music: John Williams
Cast: Roy Scheider (Chief Martin Brody), Robert Shaw (Quint),Richard Dreyfuss (Matt Hooper), Lorraine Gary (Ellen Brody), Murray Hamilton (Mayor Larry Vaughn), Carl Gottlieb (Ben Meadows), Jeffrey Kramer (Deputy Hendricks).
by Jeff Stafford
The picture was previewed at the Medallion Theatre in Dallas, Texas. Director Steven Spielberg was too nervous to sit and stood in the back of the theater. The equally jittery producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown holed up in a bar across the street. Spielberg was pleased the audience seemed attentive, tense, and noted positively there were no walkouts. Then, just after the little boy gets attacked on the raft, one man in front got up and Spielberg thought, "Oh my God, I went over the top with that blood." The man then began to run, alarming Spielberg even more. When he realized the guy had just run to the bathroom to throw up and then rush back to his seat, "I knew we had a hit." There was only one scream from the preview audience, but it was a good one. When the shark surfaces while Brody/Scheider is chumming, the whole audience let out a scream, throwing their popcorn and other things into the air. The preview cards revealed the screening to be a smash. "The MCA [Universal's parent company] stock went up several points the next day based on that preview," Brown said.
In spite of the preview's success, Spielberg wanted another big scream moment in the picture, so he re-shot the scene of Dreyfuss discovering a dead man in a boat that has been attacked (see Behind the Camera) for the preview in Lakewood, California. The new footage got just the effect he wanted-more so, in fact, as this scream far surpassed the other one. Most of the Universal studio brass was there and got so excited at the audience response they immediately started rethinking the release plan for the movie.
Universal decided to give Jaws a wide release, contrary to the usual practice at the time of "platforming" new pictures, i.e., opening them in key cities first, then putting them out across the country to secondary markets. The movie opened nationwide on the same day, with saturation booking in 409 U.S. theaters and 54 in Canada, creating a runaway box office total. As a result, Jaws "opened big," in industry parlance, bringing in about $14 million in its first week and $25.7 million in its first 13 days of release, according to Universal reports in summer 1975. That would have been enough of a phenomenon, but the picture proved to have major staying power, remaining big for months, disproving the notion that the public-particularly adult audiences-didn't go to movies in the summer. Thus, the summer blockbuster was created..
The movie's success is also attributable to what Universal claimed was the most extensive advertising campaign ever on primetime television for a feature film. The studio reportedly bought more than 25 half-minute spots on many major TV shows just prior to the picture's June 20, 1975 opening. Clark Ramsey, Universal's vice president for advertising and publicity, said a total of $1.8 million was spent on promotion before the opening.
Jaws was the first film to break the $100 million box office mark, the highest-grossing film to that date. Without taking inflation into account, it beat out previous record-holders The Godfather (1972), The Sound of Music (1965), and Gone with the Wind (1939).
In 2001, Jaws was selected for preservation in the National Film Registry as one of the films deemed culturally, historically or aesthetically significant.
Jaws lost the Academy Award for Best Picture to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975) but did bring home Oscars for Verna Fields' editing, John Williams' score, and Best Sound.
Verna Fields was also awarded by the American Cinema Editors.
John Williams took home the film's only British Academy (BAFTA) Award. It was also nominated for Best Film, Director, Screenplay, Actor (Richard Dreyfuss), Editing, and Soundtrack.
Williams' score also won a Golden Globe. The Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which sponsors the awards, also nominated Jaws for Best Motion Picture-Drama, Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb for Best Screenplay, and Spielberg for direction.
Williams also won a Grammy for his score.
Steven Spielberg was nominated by the Directors Guild of America for Outstanding Directorial Achievement.
Benchley and Gottlieb were nominated for their adaptation of Benchley's novel by the Writers Guild of America.
As a measure of the film's significance as both a motion picture and as a marketing and distribution phenomenon, Jaws won awards for Outstanding Film of 1975 and for Best Advertising from the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Films.
"We've really, I think, made a better movie than Jaws is a book." - Steven Spielberg, interviewed by David Halpern, Take One magazine, 1975
"Getting right to the point, Jaws is an artistic and commercial smash. ... There are three stars: Roy Scheider, very effective as the town's police chief torn between civic duty and the mercantile politics of resort tourism; Robert Shaw, absolutely magnificent as a coarse fisherman finally hired to locate the Great White Shark; and Richard Dreyfuss, in another excellent characterization as a likeable young scientist. The fast-moving 124-minute film engenders enormous suspense." - A.D. Murphy, Variety, June 17, 1975
"It's a noisy, busy movie that has less on its mind than any child on a beach might have. It has been cleverly directed by Steven Spielberg for maximum shock impact and short-term suspense, and the special effects are so good that even the mechanical sharks are as convincing as the people. ... Mr. Spielberg has so effectively spaced out the shocks that by the time we reach the spectacular final confrontation between the three men and the great white shark, we totally accept the make-believe on its own foolishly entertaining terms." - Vincent Canby, New York Times, June 1975
"What this movie is about, and where it succeeds best, is the primordial level of fear. The characters, for the most part, and the non-fish elements in the story, are comparatively weak and not believable." - Gene Siskel, Chicago Tribune, June 20, 1975
"Steven Spielberg's Jaws>/B> is a sensationally effective action picture-a scary thriller that works all the better because it's populated with characters that have been developed into human beings we get to know and care about. It's a film that's as frightening as The Exorcist (1973) and yet it's a nicer kind of fright, somehow more fun because we're being scared by an outdoor-adventure saga instead of by a brimstone-and-vomit devil. ... All three performances are really fine. ... Probably the most inspired piece of casting in the movie is the use of Richard Dreyfuss as the oceanographer. ... Jaws is a great adventure movie of the kind we don't get very often any more. It's clean-cut adventure, without the gratuitous violence of so many action pictures. It has the necessary amount of blood and guts to work-but none extra. And it's one hell of a good story, brilliantly told." - Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times, June 1975
"Steven Spielberg's mechanical thriller is guaranteed to make you scream on schedule (John Williams's score even has the audience reactions programmed into the melodies), particularly if your tolerance for weak motivation and other minor inconsistencies is high." - Dave Kehr, Chicago Reader
"This is the most cynically manipulative movie [Spielberg's] ever made (although it's deepened by some telling points about the tensions of contemporary masculinity), and it must be seen for its unexpected editing, driving score, and careful build toward shock images so big they feel like they're jumping into your lap." - TV Guide
"It may be the most cheerfully perverse scare movie ever made. Even when you're convulsed with laughter you're still apprehensive, because the editing rhythms are very tricky, and the shock images loom up huge, right on top of you. The film belongs to the pulpiest sci-fi monster-movie tradition, yet it stands some of the old conventions on their head. ... Steven Spielberg sets up bare-chested heroism as a joke and scores off it all the way through the movie." - Pauline Kael, 5001 Nights at the Movies (Henry Holt, 1982)
"Love Jaws. How can you not love Jaws? I think Jaws is [Spielberg's] second-best movie, after Schindler's List . What I love about it is, it's a real primal movie." - writer-director John Milius, a couple of decades after the film's release
by Rob Nixon