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Wednesday, August 29, 2012

More on Jaws

Written by Kirk Baird

Following up yesterday's post about Jaws on Blu-ray...

Jaws is arguably the most effective film of all time. Consider that more than 35 years after the release of the first true summer blockbuster, how many of us still suffer an almost irrational fear of sharks?

The film’s legacy of fright was hardly surprising to its co-screenwriter Carl Gottlieb, who recalls in a documentary included in the new Blu-ray release of Jaws that he recognized the lasting impression it would have with audiences when production began on the movie.

“I said that we have the chance to make a movie that’s going to do for the ocean what the shower scene did for Psycho in terms of affecting a generation with kind of a fear of water. And to this day when people come up to me and know that I’ve worked on the screenplay for Jaws and talked to me about it, inevitably one of the first things they say is, ‘You know, that whole summer I didn’t go swimming,’ or ‘I’ve been afraid of the water ever since that movie’ or ‘I’m still afraid of sharks.’” The film remains a monster of merchandising as well, with legions of fans collecting authentic movie props, along with vintage and new toys, games, posters, magazines, books, puzzles, towels, T-shirts, Halloween costumes and everything else with a Jaws logo or name slapped on it.

Jaws was Hollywood’s first modern-day blockbuster, a film that changed the landscape of the industry upon its release in the summer of 1975, as just as Star Wars did two years later.

But did you know…

Jaws was the first film to break the $100 million mark — it took only a three-month span to do it — on its way to becoming the biggest film of all time. It now has a lifetime gross of $260 million domestically, according to, which is good enough for No. 60 on the biggest films list. Adjust for inflation, though, and Jaws leaps back to No. 7, with a gross of $1.027 billion, behind Gone with the Wind ($1.620 billion), Star Wars ($1.428 billion), The Sound of Music ($1.142 billion), E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial ($1.137 billion), Titanic ($1.087 billion), and The Ten Commandments ($1.050 billion).

Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, and Richard Dreyfuss will forever be linked in their iconic roles as Chief of Police Brody, shark hunter Quint, and marine biologist Hooper, but Scheider and Shaw were not the original choices. Sterling Hayden and Lee Marvin were initially offered the role of Quint, and Robert Duvall was the first choice for Brody; he turned it down for fear the film would make him famous. Dreyfuss also politely declined the role of Hooper, but fear of a flagging movie career after seeing his performance in The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz convinced him he should take the offer while it was still there.

In the novel Jaws, written by Peter Benchley, and in the version of the film’s script he turned in, the massive great white shark dies from a combination of exhaustion from towing three floating barrels attached to it, as well as wounds from a harpoon. Director Steven Spielberg, who was only 27 at the time and making only his second theatrical release, felt the shark’s death was anticlimactic and opted for a more visceral and dramatic ending, with Jaws being blown up by a scuba tank detonated by a bullet. Benchley hated the ending but after seeing the film, he agreed with Spielberg that the director’s ending worked much better.

Jaws was first shown to a test audience in a Dallas theater. The filmmakers knew they had a hit from the first collective scream from the moviegoers when the shark first attacks. But Spielberg thought there was one scene – when Hooper discovers the head of Ben Gardner in a wrecked hull – that didn’t elicit enough surprise and fear from the audience, so he reshot the sequence in a swimming pool and paid for it himself. It worked: the next screening, audiences screamed louder at that “scare” than anything else in the film.

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