Remembering ‘Jaws’

Robert Shaw Quint Jaws
Robert Shaw as Quint in Jaws

If you’re a hardcore cinema fan you might have taken a few moments recently to reflect on the 35th anniversary of the release of Jaws.

June 20, 1975 was the day a young director named Steven Spielberg unveiled his troubled production on movie audiences. Based on the best selling novel by Peter Benchley, it was a film plagued with production problems, and inadvertently became a benchmark in cinema history.

Distributing it in a wide release pattern by releasing it to hundreds of movie screens at once was unprecedented, especially during the dead season of movies – in the middle of the summer. The gamble paid off however making Jaws a cinematic phenomenon.

The film was the first to gross over a $100 million in ticket sales, it would be nominated for four Academy Awards (including Best Picture) it made Spielberg a name director, John Williams a composer to remember and proved that the summer time might not be such a bad place to release audience pleasing entertainment.

The problems on the set have almost become common knowledge among movie fans. Simply said, the shark just didn’t work.

Looking back, it was blessing in disguise. The malfunctioning shark forced Spielberg to get creative and use other ways to give the audience the idea the shark was actually under that swimmer or circling the boat. This major problem with the lack of a shark and the ways Spielberg made his way around it, gave the film more tension and uneasiness.

Jaws could have easily become a monster-type movie, with a mammoth shark showing up all the time; instead it became one of the most inventive suspense films ever. Jaws did for sharks, what Psycho did for showers. It cemented the fear and fascination with sharks in popular culture. During the summer of ’75, beach attendance dramatically dropped, which was attributed to the release of the film. Today hearing the Jaws theme is a signal that something dangerous is lurking about.

the cast of Jaws
Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfss

Fortunately the shark never got a chance to overshadow the characters who were forced to deal with it. Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw are all just as memorable as anything in Jaws.

When the shark is off-screen you don’t get impatient to get back to it because Chief Brody, Matt Hooper and Quint are so much fun to watch interacting together. Whether they’re comparing scars, getting seasick, recounting the sinking of the USS Indianapolis, talking about bite radius’, singing old sailing songs – the characters in Jaws leave just as much of an impression as the shark attacks.

Naturally, after seeing the impact Jaws had on audiences and the success it had had, sequels were inevitable. Of course it was impossible to duplicate it, but that didn’t stop filmmakers from trying. In 1983 the nifty allure of seeing the shark in 3-D couldn’t overcome all the well done components that the original had. By 1987’s Jaws: The Revenge (which has since been ranked by many as one of the worst films ever made) it was thankfully decided to leave Jaws alone.

I’ve watched Jaws countless times and every time it’s always a satisfying experience. Sure I know where all the ‘scare moments’ are, but it’s such a well done film the scares are not the only thing it has going for it. The acting, directing, editing, music, the story, the characters – all of it continues to make it a real thrilling film to watch. Despite all the great films Spielberg has been a part of since Jaws, in many ways I think it continues to be his best film.

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