“I’m only trying to say that Amity is a summer town. We need summer dollars…”
When a rogue great white shark gets a taste of the waters near Amity over the 4th of July weekend, fear and politics create a dangerous mix for the island’s inhabitants.
Starring Roy Scheider as Sheriff Martin Brody, Robert Shaw as Quint, Richard Dreyfuss as Matt Hooper, Lorraine Gary as Brody’s wife Ellen, and Murray Hamilton as Mayor Larry Vaughan, Jaws is directed by Steven Spielberg based on the best-selling novel of the same name written by Peter Benchley.
The somewhat beleaguered production of Jaws is legendary. After reading the novel by Peter Benchley, producers Richard D. Zanuck and David Brown (Universal Pictures) bought the film rights to the story in 1973. The book had not yet been published. For Benchley, it was the beginning of a frenzy over Jaws, as the book went on to dominate the best-seller list for 44 weeks. By the time Jaws debuted on the big screen in June 1975, 5.5 million copies had sold domestically.
To say the stakes were high for Universal Pictures is to put it lightly.
“We started the film without a script, without a cast and without a shark,” said Richard Dreyfuss (who plays Matt Hooper) when asked about the troubled production of the film.
Despite issues with the screenplay, issues with casting, issues with the mechanical shark (known as “Bruce”), Jaws became the first true Summer blockbuster. It’s success was so surprising (ka-ching!) that it was re-released in the Summer of 1976 and again a few years later. Jaws spawned a film franchise, a musical, and two theme park rides.
Obviously, Jaws benefited from a mostly untested, and therefore untrusted, wide release. In the weeks and months leading up to its release, Universal poured tons of marketing dollars into the lead-up advertising campaign for Jaws, to the tune of $1+ million.
It paid off.
That year, Jaws went on to break the box office record, becoming the highest-grossing film in history (up to that time and for two years after), and has made more than $470M worldwide since its release.
Prior to screening this film for the purpose of this review, I hadn’t seen Jaws since the early 80s when, one Summer, my family vacationed with an Uncle at his home on Neah Bay. It proved an ideal setting for what amounts to one helluva fish tale. My father and I spent day after day fishing on a small skiff, bobbing on the white-tipped waves of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.
My father was amazed that, at the age of 6 or 7, I had the patience to fish at all, let alone for the length of time our little trips required. But I loved it. I loved being on the water and I loved casting my line. That my father was there and I had uninterrupted face time, albeit very little was ever said, made the time that much sweeter.
One evening, after a long day on the water, we were all of us (maybe ten in total, all the cousins and such included) crammed around my uncle’s small television set watching some – by all intents and purposes – boring movie about an old guy who moves to an island. The movie was a rare treat. My uncle was, and remains to this day, a strict Catholic. But, Jaws, which was rated PG, was deemed appropriate enough material for us kids.
I remember so clearly the feeling of being almost asleep in the moments leading up to the attack of Chrissie. But, then it happened and she’s screaming and flailing and the camera pans back to the beach where her suitor has passed out and where no sound of her distress can be heard. I was captivated I was horrified. We all were. Sure, I’d heard of sharks, but this?
This was altogether, up to that moment in my life, the most terrifying thing I’d ever seen or imagined possible.
I didn’t go back in the water for the rest of the trip. After some gentle persuasion, my father got me back on the dock. But, for the most part, Jaws killed my passion for the ocean that Summer. Jaws created an indelible image of something so primal, so base that its own true nature was only revealed when it was actively pursuing the destruction of others. It was the first time I realized – truly realized – nature is to be respected and understood. Barring that, I was suddenly very interested in being prepared. I joined the Brownies (Girl Scouts) shortly after.
That’s the power of storytelling. At it’s best, a story can captivate the imagination, instill beliefs, and change lives.
Jaws was really, when you get down to the heart of it, the result of an incredibly collaborative effort on the part of Spielberg, Benchley, the actors, and Carl Gottlieb. An effort whose effects can be felt to this day.
Listen to John William’s Legendary Theme to Jaws:
BBC: In the Teeth of Jaws:
Bruce: the mechanical shark
Ron & Valerie Taylor, underwater photographers, talk about their experience working on Jaws:
The Taylor Footage from Jaws:
Wiki facts: Jaws
Is Jaws rotten or fresh?
How did Jaws do at the box office?
Watch or buy Jaws on Amazon
 ”Jaws (film)” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 26 Feb. 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaws_(film)>
 ”Jaws (novel)” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 26 Feb. 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jaws_(novel)>
 ”Shark tale that changed Hollywood” BBC News. BBC News. 3 June. 2005. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/4600557.stm>
 ”Jaws (1975)” Box Office Mojo. IMdB. 26 Feb. 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://boxofficemojo.com/movies/?id=jaws.htm>