Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Ten Things You Didn't Know About Jaws

Jaws (1975) is the stuff of legend. Notoriously troubled during production and plagued by problems, Spielberg cites it as his toughest shoot.

Naturally, nobody knew two years prior to release just how important it would become (smashing all previous box-office takings that summer and single-handedly creating the summer blockbuster); in fact, pretty much all concerned thought it was going to be a disaster, not least because of the oft-quoted stories concerning the completely unreliable shark effect, which Spielberg himself called 'the great white turd'.

I watched it again over the weekend and was amazed how well it all held up. Really, the shark isn't that bad - and of course, Spielberg's genius was to rack up that tension a good hour before we even see the beast.

There's lots of well-worn trivia about the mechanical creature, as well as John Williams' seminal score, but I thought it would be fun to jot down some facts less well-known. 

Here's my choice.

Ten Things You (Possibly) Didn't Know About Jaws

 

1. Blink and you'll miss it: As we approach the first night on the Orca, watch carefully and you'll see a shooting star rip across the sky, right behind Roy Scheider. (I'd never seen this until I watched the remastered version at the weekend - I read into it, wondering if it was a post-production effect, but apparently it is genuine.)


2. The role of Quint (Robert Shaw) was originally to be played by Lee Marvin, at least if Spielberg had got his way. Marvin turned the offer down, saying he'd 'rather go fishing'.


3. Chief Brody's son narrowly escapes getting chomped when the shark enters the shallow waters of Amity beach. He's held in hospital for the night, even though the nurse says he's only suffering 'mild shock'.


It's only when you see the sequence that didn't make the final cut that you realise the extent of the boy's trauma; the unintended victim of the shark attack puts himself in the path of the shark to save the child, holding the boy out of the way while the great white eats the man alive. Spielberg decided the scene was too gory and in 'poor taste'.
(The scene is available on the Region 2 remastered DVD release).


4. The movie is cited as the single biggest cause for a historic downturn in coastal vacations during 1975-76.


5. Spielberg was careful to avoid using the colour red (you'll not see anyone wearing it), so as to maximise the impact of blood on-screen when the shark attacks.


6. Quint's boat, The Orca, was so unseaworthy when production started - thanks to it's unfeasibly top-heavy design - that production staff had to quickly locate lead for ballast from the town of Martha's Vineyard, where Jaws was being shot. All they could find was lead lining due to go into a dentist's X-Ray room, which was rented for a high premium on a daily basis.

7. Author Peter Benchley disagreed about the ending of the movie so persistently, he was thrown off-set. His conclusion leant closer to that of Moby Dick, but Spielberg wanted a more cinematic 'punch'.  (Benchley now concedes the director's ending is the better of the two.)

8. Talking of Benchley - that's him as the television reporter, seen on Amity Beach during the 4th July scene.

9. One of the biggest shocks in the movie comes when a severed head rolls out of a wrecked boat. Unsatisfied with the initial audience screams, Spielberg re-shot the sequence in his editor's small home swimming pool, using a gallon of milk to muddy the water because he wanted his audience to 'scream louder'. It worked.


10. The bizarre, feral noise you hear as the shark carcass sinks to the bed of the ocean is the same effect used when the truck goes off the edge of the roadside during the climax of Spielberg's earlier Duel (1971).

21 comments:

  1. Jaws is in my top 3 favorite movies of all time.
    It never gets old. Love it. Love it. Love it.

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  2. You're right condo queen, it doesn't age! I love it too. Let's never talk of the sequels, it's quite easy to pretend they never happened.

    Thank you for checking in!

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    1. Gahh! Thanks Anon (I've FINALLY edited)

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  4. Hey folks -the 'falling star' you mentionis actually small cobwebs on the camera , not a falling star.

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    1. Seriously, cobwebs? Go stand in the corner & have a word with yourself, cobwebs....

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  5. John Williams did the score, not Jerry Goldsmith. The shooting stars (there are two: there's a second in long shot of the Orca) are not cobwebs on the camera lens.

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    1. Thanks again for pointing out this error, and apologies for not picking up on it sooner. The article is now corrected.

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  6. That is not cobwebs. It's clearly a falling star.

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  7. Enjoying the film now on AMC, Quint is about to smash the radio...thanks for the trivia tidbits, they are neat to read while enjoying this great film!

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  8. Actually their are 2 shooting stars. Shortly after the first one, the camera moves to a distant shot and you can see another one in the sky.

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    1. That's right. And the second one looks really choppy and unnatural, so I wonder if that one was added post production. I don't think it's the same shooting star from two different camera shots because the first one with Brody up close passes from starboard to port of the boat, and the second one in the shot immediately following passes from bow to stern or port to starboard (as best as I can tell from the angle.

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  9. Watching now on AMC, the two shooting star scenes just happened. Always thought they were added post production.

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  10. I don't want to nitpick, but for the sake of your nicely put together blog, I wanted to point out that where you wrote "sites" and later "sighted", you really meant "cites" and "cited".

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    1. Hello Anon - many thanks for your corrections. If only I'd had your keen editorial eye on hand six years ago when I published this article! That's a long time for such a woeful error to sit unchecked. Thanks for reading!

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  11. Just watched the movie once again last night for the umpteenth time and i'm still discovering new things every time i watch it! it truly is a timeless classic!

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    1. Hi Anonymous, thanks for your comment! Jaws is a movie I try to revisit every year - and you're right, it still surprises, thanks to so many little details. Another movie from that period is John Boorman's Deliverance - an equally arduous shoot, which makes watching the film so much more rewarding when you hear some of the stories. I urge you to check that one out also - or give the movie another chance if you've seen it before.

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  12. Timeless. I made the mistake of watching it on the boardwalk in Ocean City,New Jersey while in vacation. I didn't go in the water the rest of the week.

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    1. I had a similar phobia in the Canary Islands last week! The boardwalk screening sounds like a great venue for Jaws. Thanks for reading, Chris!

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  13. I've got a couple more: in the "remastered" DVD edition a few years ago the sound of the whale was changed (it sounded as bad as the "remastered" cry from Obi-Wan Kenobi in Star Wars when we first see him approach the injured Luke on Tatooine). Fortunately, the original sound was reinserted for the Blu-Ray release.
    Secondly, the shark was nicknamed "Bruce".... which I think most people know now anyway.
    Thirdly, in the Benchley novel, Hooper dies at the end (and has a brief affair with Mrs. Brody!)

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  14. Hi Lord Heath, thanks for your contributions! I wasn't aware of the 'remastered sound' but I'm glad they re-instated the original effects.
    Hooper was indeed supposed to die in the movie too - if memory serves, the footage of the shark attacking the cage (where Hooper gets it) was unconvincing and impossible to re-shoot. So Hooper simply vanishes until the last reel.
    As for Hooper cheating with Mrs Brody - the novel has it that she knew his older brother; an earlier scene in the movie suggests a rather permissive attitude we'd perhaps expect from those 'simpler' times ('let's get drunk and fool around' she says at one point to her husband - party girl!).
    She and Hooper meet in the novel on the sly in a seedy motel. I imagine Quint was fishing.
    Great additional information, LH!

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