“You’re gonna need a bigger boat!”
Summertime in Martha’s Vineyard, off the coast of Massachusetts: Breaking away from a hippie beach party, a young woman flirtatiously dashes along the sand, a new friend in amorous pursuit.
“Where are we going?” he asks. “Swimming,” comes the reply. Night is falling, moonlight sparkles on the surface of the sea – and a leviathan killer waits in the deep to bring a tragic end to this smiling summer night.
Above all other scary movies of the 1970s – and there were many – Jaws went way beyond . . . touching on deep fears in each of us and making us scared to death (to this day) of the deep blue sea.
After Spielberg’s box-office blockbuster was released, most people had problems even swimming in the deep end of a pool, especially alone.
Jaws was heavily pre-sold and took off in a most spectacular way. It frightened its summertime audiences off the beaches and into cinemas. Within six weeks of opening, one person in eight in America had seen it!
The movie is basically the tale of a White Pointer shark (Carcharodon carcharias) hunting human prey off the coast of a Long Island (NY) summer resort and the three men sent to catch and kill it.
The stars of the film were Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw . . . and of course, the 25-foot mechanical shark.
The mechanical shark was nicknamed ‘Bruce’ by the cast and crew (after director Steven Spielberg’s lawyer, Bruce Raimer), while the “shock” scene in which a head suddenly appears in a submerged boat was actually shot in the swimming pool of editor Verna Fields.
The life-size mechanical shark malfunctioned repeatedly during the production of the film, which forced Spielberg to hide it from the camera for much of the time. Yet this problem actually worked in the film’s best interest as the great white remains hidden beneath the waves for most of the movie – unseen but imagined . . .
Shaw plays an expert shark hunter, Dreyfuss is an ichthyologist (look it up), and Scheider is the town’s aquaphobic police chief. The unlikely trio ultimately set out to sea for a showdown with the rogue Great White.
Adapted from the novel by Peter Benchley, the movie Jaws dropped the sexual subplot which runs through the novel, and no doubt made Benchley a very rich man.
Jaws set the record for Universal’s largest marketing budget at that time. $700,000 was spent on TV advertisements alone, reaching 211 million homes.
To his credit, Steven Spielberg resisted studio pressure to make a sequel to Jaws. Sequels were considered déclassé, and for all his commercial inclinations, he was too much of a child of the 70s to sully his hands.
Universal went ahead without him and Jaws 2 (1978) became the first example – quickly followed by the Rocky films – of a practice that would fly in the face of all that the new Hollywood stood for.
The last casting from the original Bruce mould is located in the Aadlen Brothers’ U-Pick Parts junkyard in Sun Valley, California, where it has been on display since 1992.
Chief Martin Brody
Mayor Larry Vaughn
Jeffrey C. Kramer