Posted June 13, 2012 by Chris Suffield in Features
 
 

Jaws


The original summer blockbuster, Jaws, is swimming back into cinemas for a limited time on June 15th. Chris Suffield looks at the evolution and lasting legacy of a movie classic.

The
original summer blockbuster, Jaws, is swimming back into cinemas for a limited
time on June 15th. Chris Suffield looks at the evolution and lasting
legacy of a movie classic.

Steven
Spielberg
had only directed one feature film (Sugarland Express) and a TV movie (Duel) before he was handed Peter Benchley’ best selling novel.

Universal Pictures entrusted $4m to the young
filmmaker – a budget that would more than double by the time the film finished
its production. Filming at sea presented its own unique challenges including
the famously unreliable mechanical shark which struggled in salt water and kept
breaking down and sinking.

“This
is not a boating accident”
Hooper

By today’s standards, a $9m film can be considered
low budget, but back in 1974 this was a risky venture for a relatively unproven
director.

Mixing real life footage and a mechanical shark
called Bruce (named after Steven Spielberg’s lawyer), created one of the most
terrifying cinema experiences of its time. This movie would reshape the horror
genre, and the floodgates for countless riffs on this concept would be seen on
big and small screens for years to come.

Finally released on Blu Ray this September as part of
Universal Pictures centenary, Jaws has undergone a complete restoration to make
this classic look and sound better than ever before.

“You
yell ‘Barracuda,’ everybody says ‘Huh? What?’ You yell ‘Shark,’ we’ve got a
panic on our hands on the Fourth of July”
Mayor Larry Vaughn

So what is it about Jaws that has seen it leave such
a lasting impact on audiences and the film industry?

The
Score
John
Williams
and Steven Spielberg fit together like hand and
glove. The Academy Award winning composer has scored almost every Spielberg
movie in addition to creating some of the most well known movie themes of all
time.

The haunting score would go on to strike fear into
the hearts of all swimmers, and contributed to a drop in beach attendance in
the summer of 1976. That dark foreboding tone still sends shivers down the
spines of cinema-goers everywhere, and has become synonymous with fear.

Less
Is More

Jaws taps into our primal fears: in the water,
mankind is not the dominant species. The problems Spielberg faced during
filming turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Instead of seeing the shark
throughout the movie, he was forced to tease with a fin or suggest the
creature’s presence with a shark point of view shot.

The opening sequence, featuring a late night swimmer,
managed to terrify audiences without ever revealing the shark. Spielberg also
used several innovative techniques to replace Bruce; the broken pier chasing
the fisherman and the yellow barrels Quinn fires into the shark to act as an
early warning sign.

One
More Scream

The famous sequence where Hooper finds the severed
head of fisherman, Ben Gardner, was only filmed after test screenings.
Spielberg admits he was “greedy for one more scream” but when the studio
refused to pay for the reshoots, he put up $3000 of his own money to film it
and did so in editor Verna Fields’ swimming pool.

Bruce:
The Shark That Didn’t Work

The mechanical shark might have only worked half of
the time, however the glimpses we see of Bruce are shockingly convincing. Had
Bruce worked properly, then Jaws
would have been a very different movie.

“You’re
going to need a bigger boat”
– Chief Brody

Comparing
Scars

Far at sea, laced with a few drinks, the three
intrepid shark hunters compare war stories and scars. All Brody has is an
appendix scar, but Quint regales them with a haunting story (based on the
events after the sinking of the USS Indianapolis) of being lost at sea while
sharks pick off the stranded men. It’s impossible to hear “Show Me The Way To
Go Home” without thinking of this scene.

“Sometimes
that shark looks right into ya. Right into your eyes. And the thing about a
shark is he’s got lifeless eyes. Black eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes
at ya, he doesn’t even seem to be livin’… until he bites ya, and those black
eyes roll over white and then… ah then you hear that terrible high-pitched
screaming”
Quint

A
Classic Cast

The casting made the movie a real ensemble work. Both
Roy Scheider as Brody and Robert Shaw as Quint are fantastic in
their roles. Richard Dreyfuss, as
marine biologist Matt Hooper, adds some much needed light relief. In fact, Jaws
was the first of Dreyfuss’ collaborations with Spielberg. 1977’s Close Encounters Of The Third Kind would prove another
lasting classic, and 1989s underrated love story Always should be held in better regard.

That
Zoom Shot

This beach dolly zoom shot is the stuff of legend
among film fans. Spielberg
constructed this now famous scene in a spectacular nod to Alfred Hitchcock and it works beautifully.

The
Legacy

Jaws set a benchmark for horror films to come. Even Ridley Scott’s seminal movie Alien was pitched to 20th
Century Fox as “Jaws in Space”.
Despite being labeled as an expensive B movie at the time, the end
result was a master-class in suspense and terror from a filmmaker who would
build a career on big event movies and personal projects.

“You
go inside the cage? Cage goes in the water? You go in the water? Shark’s in the
water? Our shark?”

– Quint

There were three Jaws sequels, all of which saw a
continuing drop in quality and plausibility. Countless modern attempts, from Shark Night to Deep Blue Sea, have tried and failed to recapture a fraction of
what Spielberg accomplished almost 40 years ago.

Jaws
is released on Blu Ray September 6th and the restored print is in
cinemas on June 15th.


Chris Suffield