Thirty nine years ago this weekend, a little known actor was releasing a big fish story from a major film studio, and so goes the birth of the summer blockbuster...
In 1974, Steven Spielberg was a little known director with one major film, The Sugarland Express with Goldie Hawn, and a made for TV movie, Duel with Dennis Weaver, under his belt. Because of their experience working with him on The Sugarland Express, Zanuck and Brown had faith that he could bring the novel JAWS to life on the big screen. By all accounts the process of making the movie was challenging for a multitude of reasons: screen actors guild strike, a mechanical shark that didn't work, filming in an ever moving environment (the sea), and a location that really did not want to be taken over by a film crew for as long as shooting lasted (Martha's Vineyard). All of these challenges forced the innovative director to work hard to keep his cast together and keep film production going whatever the cost.
The end result, a classic film that began the phenomenon known as the summer blockbuster. The creation of a film that caused fear of the water and the slaughter of many sharks. It also inspired a generation to take interest in studying the environment and made it cool to be a marine biologist.
As the remake of Godzilla is in theaters now, I have to say that I am glad that thus far no one has discussed remaking JAWS. I think any remake of the movie would not do it justice. The shock and blood and gore that CGI could provide would do nothing to enhance the well developed characters and well developed da-dum, da-dum suspense of the summer of 1975. I was three that summer, and was taken to see JAWS as a family theater outing with my Mother, Brother (and his girlfriend) and Sister. After all, it was rated PG. I was so excited because I was getting to go somewhere with my brother and my sister, they were both teenagers. I remember wanting to sit near my brother. When Ben Gardner's head popped out the bottom of the boat, I jumped over my brother, his girlfriend, and my sister and landed in my mothers lap - where I stayed for the rest of the movie.
That summer, JAWS was everywhere. I remember being scared to go in the toy department because of the game. I remember being scared to close my eyes in the bathtub because I was "in the water." I remember going to the beach and sitting in the sand where the waves could lap over me but refusing to "go in the water." I remember hating the JAWS towels at the local pool. My Dad wished my Mom had never taken me to see the movie because of the fear of what was in the water that it put in me. For years, I couldn't look at pictures of sharks without freaking out.
Thirty nine years later: JAWS is a classic, Steven Spielberg is an international superstar, I do go to the beach and will go in water up to my waist, I watch Shark Week every August, and I have shark art by marine artist Paul McPhee in a majority of the rooms in my home. So enjoy the first weekend of summer, take in a movie, and come on in - the water's fine!