Forty years ago today, the foundation was laid for the summer blockbuster movie. Universal Studios released Jaws in a little more than 400 theaters on June 20, 1975 and quickly became the highest grossing movie ever at that time.
Based on the novel of the same name by Peter Benchley, the movie was scary, not because of what was seen, but what was only heard. The now famous John Williams musical arraignment that signaled the shark probably left many a kid afraid to sleep at night. Even today, people who were not even born when the movie came out knows that sound when they hear it.
I read the book when I was in the 5th grade, and it really helped me understand the movie that much better. I was not one to venture off the shore at the beach anyway, and that movie and novel cemented that bit of protectionism in me.
If you read or know the history behind the shoot, you know about “Bruce”. Bruce was the name given to the mechanical shark that didn’t work most of the time. That’s why you don’t actually see the shark until more than halfway through the movie. This movie and novel also helped to bring the story of the USS Indianapolis back into the minds of those who had long forgotten about her and her crew.
It has been said, though, that the delays caused by the sharks actually helped the movie. Certain scenes, according to early scripts being worked with at the time (it was constantly refined and improved upon), called for more overt use of the models but, because they often weren’t ready or weren’t in a condition to appear on film, Spielberg would have to improvise, using barrels to represent the shark’s location or shooting just the dorsal fin. This contributed to the suspense that one feels when watching the final film and forced the director to rely more on other parts of his production team. Perhaps that’s how John Williams came up with the two notes — an E and an F — that would go on to become a classic piece of suspense music. Played by Tommy Johnson on the tuba, those two notes — dun-dunh, dun-dunh — have the “effect of grinding away at you, just as a shark would do, instinctual, relentless, unstoppable,” Williams would later say, according to Lester Friedman’s Citizen Spielberg.–from The Atlantic, Shark Week: Remembering Bruce, the Mechanical Shark in Jaws
After typing this, I’m going to go pop the DVD in and watch Bruce do his thing in Martha’s Vineyard. Thank you Peter Benchley, Steven Spielberg, Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, and everyone else that scared the beejeezus out of this little kid back in the day. As many have said this is one of the greatest movies ever made, it is undoubtedly one of the top three in my personal all-time favorites.