Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Reviewiverse : JAWS

                      Jaws : A Retrospective
                      Kevin Scott Bolinger

Movie Poster

   The word blockbuster is used to describe any film , usually shown in the summer months, that makes over 100 million in the domestic box office. Many famous films have had that distinction. Films like Star Wars, and its sequels, and prequels, Terminator 2 : Judgment Day, Independence Day, the list goes on and on. All these films owe their moniker of blockbuster to the film that started it all. The first ever blockbuster, 1975’s Jaws.

   Jaws, directed by a then very young Stephen Spielberg, was originally a novel by Peter Benchley . Set in the small town of Amity Island, a fictitious beach resort just off Long Island in New York State. It is simply a tale of a monstrous great white shark attacking the community and causing havoc as the Fourth of July holiday approaches. The book was a hit, but would pale in comparison to it’s celluloid offspring.

   Many changes were made turning the novel into a screenplay. For one, the Brody’s had three children in the book, while the film it was just two. A plot where Matt Hooper and Ellen Brody had an affair was dropped completely. Also, Hooper did not survive the book, his fate was far different. And as for the shark hunter, Quint, he did not use a harpoon gun, and his fate was closer to Captain Ahab. Even the shark itself met a different fate, simply dying of exhaustion from the chase, the barrels harpooned into it finally taking its toll. It was, how they say, anti climatic.

   The film itself was mainly shot on Martha’s Vineyard, NY. It was plagued by production problems, delays, and nearly cost Spielberg his job. Rewrites were being done at night, special effects men would try in vain to get the mechanical shark to work. There is a joke that Richard Dreyfuss always says when being interviewed about Jaws. There were radios all over the island, and everyday you would hear from them “The shark is not working, I repeat , the shark is not working.” This unwittingly became a blessing to the production, in that Spielberg had to come up with ways of showing the shark , without actually showing the shark. It led to the whole “less is more” approach, made famous in this film. Not seeing the shark seemed to elicit more terror from audiences. It was a masterstroke, all brought about by a faulty mechanical shark, named Bruce, after Spielberg’s lawyer.

    The casting was almost perfect. Police Chief Martin Brody was played by the late Roy Scheider, marine biologist Matt Hooper, played by Richard Dreyfuss, and in what became his most famous roll, the infamous Captain Quint was played by the late Robert Shaw. The three men would dominate the last half of the film. Not just a chase , or a hunt, it had real human moments, where the three men would bond.

   The supporting cast was also good, Lorraine Gary as Ellen Brody, the Chiefs loving wife. The late Murray Hamilton, as Mayor Vaughn, a man who would make errors in judgment over what he felt the best course of action was in dealing with the shark. Jeffery Kramer as Hendricks, Brody’s deputy.

   The film opens with an underwater shot, a fishes view of swimming, with the famous two note rhythm of John Williams’ score. We then see a beach party late at night, teens and young adults gathered around bonfires, drinking, relaxing. A young man catches the eye of a young girl, and she runs off. As he gives chase, she strips bare and wants to go swimming. Unfortunately, the man is far to drunk to follow, and he passes out on the beach.

   The young girl swims out towards a buoy, when suddenly something grabs her. What follows is a vicious and visceral scene of the girl being dragged violently back and forth in the water, pleading for help. She is briefly let go, grabs the buoy, only to be attacked again and dragged under.

   The next morning finds Chief Brody in his house, getting ready for work. He receives a phone call from the station, a man reporting a missing bather. After heading to the station, he, the young man, and Hendricks head to the beach where the young man had passed out the night before. As Brody questions the man, Hendricks blows his whistle, signaling the two men to his location. What they see is very disturbing, the remains of the girl, covered with seaweed and crabs. There isn’t much left of her.

   Back at the station, Hendricks and the young man are looking a bit sick, and in his office, Brody is typing up his report, a towel around his neck, he too had been sick. The coroner calls, and tells Brody it was a shark attack. Brody reacts quickly, asking his secretary for a full list of water activities planned for the day, then runs out to get some supplies.

As he walks back to the station with supplies, Hendricks pulls up to tell him a group of boy scouts is in the bay earning their merit badges. Brody gives the supplies to Hendricks, instructing him to have them with Beaches Closed, No Swimming. He then tells Hendricks to let his secretary do the printing. Brody leaves in the truck to stop the swimmers in the bay.

    As he drives onto the ferry, asking the ferryman to take him to the swimmer, another car pulls onboard. The Mayor, along with the newspaper editor, Meadows, and the coroner. The coroner changes his opinion, stating that it was a boating accident that claimed the girl, not a shark. The mayor tells Brody that he was overreacting and that he cannot close the beaches. Brody gives in, a decision he will soon come to regret.

   The next day, Brody and his family are on the beach with other locals. Tourists had yet to arrive, so things were quiet. As he sat there, locals would talk to him, yet he was paying more attention to the water. And then, to his, and everyone else’s horror on the beach, a young boy, Alex Kintner, is attacked while riding his rubber raft. Huge fins briefly break the surface as the boy is pulled down, a pillar of blood and water geysers upward.. Everyone flees from the water, only to have a mother, walking alone on the shoreline calling for Alex, his torn up and bloody raft feebly coming ashore.

   Alex’s mother puts out a $3000 bounty on the shark. During the emergency town meeting, Brody does say that he is closing the beaches. The mayor interjects saying it will only be for twenty-four hours. As argument ensues, a screeching is heard on the blackboard. Everyone looks to see the smiling face of Captain Quint, local shark hunter. He offers to kill the shark for $10,000, and warns them that if they decide to play it cheap, they will all be on welfare for the coming winter. His offer is…take under advisement.

   At the town docks the following day, hundreds of fishermen show up, hoping to claim the bounty. Young Matt Hooper comes onto the dock with help of local Ben Gardner. Matt was called in by Brody to help them figure out what they are dealing with. He examines the small remains of the girl, and says conclusively that it was a shark. On the docks, a group of fisherman have arrived with a very large shark carcass. Hooper measures the bite radius and determines it is not the shark they are after. Brody and Hooper tell the mayor, but he is adamant that they have the beaches open for the fourth.

   Brody sits at his dinner table that night, at a loss for what to do. As he sits there, Hooper shows up with wine, and invites himself to dinner. He tells Brody he wants to cut the shark open. It is a tiger shark with a very slow digestive system, so whatever it had eaten in the last few days would still be inside. They go to the docks and cut open the shark, finding only fish, a tin can and a license plate from Louisiana. They decide to hop on Hooper’s boat to search for the shark in the dark.

   They come upon Ben Gardner’s beat up fishing boat, prominent bite marks on it. Hooper decides to dive down to check Gardner’s hull. He sees a very large hole has been bitten into the boat, he then extracts a huge tooth, only to drop it when the corpse of Gardner, missing his eye, floats into the hole.

   The next morning finds the two arguing with the mayor. Hooper explains that they have a great white shark patrolling Amity’s waters. They go back and forth, the mayor not budging. They decide to bring on extra help, and have boats patrolling the beaches on the fourth.

   As bathers are enjoying the water, a shark fin appears, moving among them. There is a panic, and everyone exit’s the water. As the boats converge on the fin, it turns out to be two kids, playing a prank.
Meanwhile, in the estuary, Brody’s oldest, Michael and his friends are having issues with Michael’s sailboat. A woman onshore spots the shark just beneath the surface but no one believes her. A man is a dingy tries to offer advice to the boys, as he does, the shark bumps his boat, causing the man and also the boys on the sailboat to plunge into the water. The man is attacked, his severed leg sinking to the bottom. As Brody arrives, the shark heads back out to sea. His son is pulled onshore, in shock. He is taken to the hospital.

   In the hospital, Brody confronts a very distraught mayor Vaughn. He forces the mayor to sign the contract to hire Quint to kill the shark. Brody and Hooper then go to Quint’s house near the docks. Inside he has the jaws of hundreds of sharks he had killed over the years. They discuss terms and drink some homemade hooch.


   Now the real fun begins. Supplies are loaded onto Quint’s boat, the Orca. She is old and very well used. A shark jaw adorns her flying bridge. Yellow barrels adorn the bow, in front of them, an extended pulpit used for shark hunting. The three set off, Quint showing that he may not be quite right in the head. He and Hooper clash on numerous occasions. Brody is set to making a chum slick, to try and attract the shark. Hooper mans the flying bridge, but with the tide carrying them, he has nothing to do. Quint sits in the fighting chair, a rather large fishing pole in his lap. To help kill time, he tries teaching Brody how to tie knots. As Brody is practicing, Quint notices his line being ever so slowly being taken. He harnesses himself to the chair, and suddenly the line goes ripping from the pole.

   Quint barks orders to the two men, Brody to dump water on the reel to cool it, Hooper to start the engines and follow the line in the water. As Quint begins to slowly reel in , he realizes the shark has gone under the boat. Hooper is not convinced that it is the shark they are looking for. Quint orders them to put on gloves and Brody sees the leader wire. Hooper attaches a line to the leader and as he pulls, the leader snaps, throwing him to the deck. Quint and he argue, and Quint points out that whatever was on the line, had bitten through the piano wire he was using as a leader.

Brody, look behind you!
   More time passes, the three men doing nothing much more then sitting. Hooper plays solitaire, Brody Just sits against the transom, and Quint sits up in one of the crows nests in the ships mast. As he climbs down, he orders Brody to restart the chum line. He then orders Hooper to start the engines and go slow ahead. We now come to what is perhaps the most famous line from this film, a line completely adlibbed by Roy Scheider. As Brody tosses chum into the water, complaining, not paying attention, the shark rears its very large head out of the water. Brody is in shock, and slowly walks backwards into the boats cabin. He turns to Quint and says “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Quint takes that in for a moment, then runs out and orders Hooper to stop the engines.

    As the engines stop, the shark glides by, and the three finally see the monster they have come to kill. Hooper declares it a twenty footer, the more experienced Quint makes it to be twenty-five feet, and three tons. Quint grabs his harpoon gun and heads to the pulpit, while Hooper is trying to get Brody to pose in the foreground for a picture. Quint orders Hooper to attach the harpoon line to the first barrel. Hooper runs and grabs a piece of equipment first, delaying Quint from firing the harpoon into the sharks head. Hooper quickly ties the barrel to the harpoon, and in the last second manages to attach a radio tracker. The harpoon lodges in the sharks dorsal fin, and the barrel is pulled into the water. The shark then dives, dragging the buoyant barrel with it. Darkness begins to fall, as Brody tries to convince Quint to radio in for a bigger boat.

   Later that night, the three men are in the cabin, drinking. Hooper and Quint compare scars, the three bonding. Brody asks about one particular scar. It was from a removed tattoo of the USS Indianapolis. Quint then tells then the tale of the loss of the ship to Japanese torpedoes. Eleven hundred men went into the waters of the pacific. Sharks came in and tore many to pieces. For three days the survivors floated in the water, in the end, a little over three hundred were taken out , the sharks got the rest. This gives much insight into Quint’s character, and his hatred of sharks. As they begin singing, the camera switches to outside, where a barrel with a beeping transmitter makes its way to the boat. Suddenly the boat is attacked, small leaks begin, then the power to the lights is cut. Quint tries in vain to shoot the shark in the dark, but it leaves.

   The next morning finds the men repairing the Orca. The rudder is bent, salt water has leaked into the fuel. As Brody is on the bridge moving the wheel to help Quint, he spots the barrel. Quint rigs another barrel and gets the shark in its lower jaw. The shark dives again. Shortly thereafter, the barrels resurface. Quint has them snag the lines and tie them to the transom. As he begins trying to pull the shark with the barrels attached, the shark does the impossible and begins pulling the boat, backwards. The cleats are pulled right from the transom. The shark gets a third barrel attached and dives again. Brody tries to contact the Coast guard, but Quint destroys the radio.

    The barrels reappear, and Quint decides to lead the shark to shallow water and drown it. The shark chases them, forcing Quint to push the Orca’s damaged engines too far. The engines explode, and they are left adrift, as the barrels yet again sink beneath the surface.

     Quint asks Hooper if he has anything that can help. Hooper has poison onboard that can kill the shark, but he would need to get into his anti-shark cage and use a harpoon to get the shark in the mouth to inject the poison. The put the cage together, Hooper loads the harpoon, and is lowered into the sea. The shark glides by, and Hooper is shacked at its actual size. It vanishes into the gloom, and as Hooper is searching for it, it attacks the cage from behind. Hooper stabs its snout with a knife, the harpoon being lost in the violence of the attack. He manages to swim over the shark and hide in some seaweed as the shark attacks the cage and pulls the Orca lower into the water. The supports on the boat break and Body and Quint rig something quick to bring the cage up.

Farewell and adieu Quint...
    They look at what’s left, and as its dropped into the water, the shark leaps from the sea and lands on the transom, pulling the Orca down to sea level. Brody is in the cabin, trying to hold onto Quint, but loses his grip. Quint slide down the deck into the waiting jaws of the shark, trying to kick it away. The shark bites down on Quint’s legs, and as he screams, he stabs the shark with his machete. He is pulled deeper into the sharks mouth, and as he dies, the shark slides back into the water, with his body.

   Brody is now alone on the sinking boat. The cabin is level with the sea and the shark breaks in, opening its mouth to reveal bits of human flesh clinging to its teeth. Brody grabs one of Hooper’s extra air tanks and hit’s the shark repeatedly, until the tank gets lodged into the monsters jaws. Brody makes his way to the mast, climbing as high as he can while the boat sinks. He has a hand held harpoon and Quint’s rifle. The shark attacks again, and he stabs it repeatedly with the harpoon till it leaves. Brody then see the shark making a long distance run on him, he aims the gun, and fires numerous time, hoping to hit the tank in its mouth. As he says “Smile you son-of-a-bitch!” his shot connects and the shark is blown to bits.

"Smile, you son of a..."
   As Brody clings to the mast, it and the bow the only parts of the Orca not yet sunk, he is startled by Hooper as he resurfaces. The two men rig the remaining barrels together and make the long swim back to shore.

   The film became an instant hit. People were terrified to go swimming. Spielberg had created a masterpiece despite the production problems. The brilliance of using the yellow barrels to represent where the shark was during the hunt only added to the terror and fun.

   The USS Indianapolis speech became so well known, it inspired one young man to search out the truth about the lost ship. Most of that speech was filmed while Robert Shaw, a known alcoholic, was extremely drunk. Feeling embarrassed, some of it was re-shot the following night, yet most of the footage in the film was from the drunk cut.

   The film went on to gross over one hundred million , and given inflation, it still ranks as one of the highest grossing films of all time. It spawned three sequels , yet they paled in comparison to the original.
Even now, there are rumors of a remake. Some hope these rumors are false.

   The fan following for this film, even after thirty-five years is still very high. One of Roy Scheider’s last appearances is in the documentary, The Shark is Still Working. Unfortunately, Universal pictures has been dragging its feet on getting this wonderful documentary on the making and legacy of the film out on DVD for all to enjoy. Every year, thousands flock to Martha’s Vineyard to visit the areas where Jaws was filmed.

    It is the perfect summer movie. It has action, horror, comedy, and suspense rolled into one. To quote John Williams after he saw the rough cut , before creating his magnificent score, he said to Spielberg “Oh, you made a pirate movie!’ And yes, the second half did have that swashbuckler feel to it. Three men on a boat, against a force of nature. Can you ask for more from a film?

   I first saw this film when I was close to twelve years old. As soon as it got to the hunt on the sea part, I was hooked. I taped it off of TV, and would watch it over and over, wearing down the tape. I bought the VHS version when I started working, that too got worn down. I got the first DVD release, yet when the thirtieth anniversary edition came out, I was first in line to snatch it up. Jaws is my all-time favorite film.

    Without this film, where would Spielberg be? Would he be the powerhouse director he is today? Would films such as Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, and Saving Private Ryan even exist? He was a relative unknown, having only directed Duel and The Sugarland Express, neither one smash hits, yet not bad films in their own right. Universal took a big chance on him, and it nearly became too much for him. Jaws started a tradition that Spielberg follows to this day. He is never on set for the final shot of the film. He did that on Jaws, because he was afraid the cast and crew might murder him after what he put them through. Yet, in the end, it was all worth it.

   Jaws would go on to win three academy awards, Best Score, Best Sound, and Best Film Editing. It was nominated for best picture, losing out to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. Over the decades it has found itself on numerous top one hundred lists. The Library of Congress deemed the film, culturally significant, and has had the film preserved.

    It inspired rides, and helped build theme parks. Jaws is still a hit attraction at both Universal Studios parks (Since this was written, the Jaws attraction in Orlando,FL has sadly been removed. I had the pleasure of going on this ride back in 1998, and it was very memorable.). There are still people to this day that will not enter the water. Spielberg himself usually will only wade up to his ankles, fearing reprisal from sharks for making the film.

     Jaws has even inspired games. The NES version was a mild success, but not very user friendly. It had elements from the original, but was mostly based on Jaws The Revenge, the third and worst sequel. A few years ago, a Jaws game was released on the PS2. It was not the greatest game, plagued by glitchy controls , a bad story, and only decent graphics. Yet it was unique in that you played as the shark, devouring humans, seals, whales, and other sharks. You could destroy boats, slide on beaches to grab bathers, and special killing moves, such as tossing a bather in the air and jumping up to chomp them as they fell, limbs flying everywhere. It was fun to play, just from that aspect alone. If the story and controls had been better, it might have been a hit.

    If you have never seen this film, do yourself a favor, rent it, turn down the lights, grab a bowl of popcorn, and enjoy! You will be treating yourself to a cinematic masterpiece.

     What else can be said, if you ever find yourself in the ocean, on a boat, and a monster shark appears, make sure you tell the captain he is gonna need a bigger boat!

The Triumvirate!

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