Friday, June 19, 2015

Jaws (1975)

Steven Spielberg
1975 • 124 Minutes • 2.35:1 • United States

Cast: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
Screenplay:  Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb Based on Jaws by Peter Benchley
Cinematography: Bill Butler
Producers: Richard D. Zanuck, David Brown

Awards & Honors

Academy Awards
Winner: Best Sound
Winner: Best Film Editing
Winner: Best Music, Original Dramatic Score - John Williams
Nominated: Best Picture

Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films
Winner: Golden Scroll Best Advertising
Winner: Outstanding Film Award 

American Film Institute
100 Years... 100 Movies (1997) - #48
100 Years... 100 Movies (2007) - #56
100 Years... 100 Thrills - #2
100 Years... 100 Heroes & Villains - #18 Villain (The Shark)
100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes - #35 ("You're gonna need a bigger boat)
100 Years of Film Scores - #6

Winner: Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music - John Williams 
Nominated: Best Actor - Richard Dreyfuss 
Nominated: Best Direction - Steven Spielberg 
Nominated: Best Film
Nominated: Best Film Editing
Nominated: Best Screenplay
Nominated: Best Sound Track

Director's Guild of America
Nominated: Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Motion Pictures - Steven Spielberg 

The Essential Films
The 100 Greatest Movie Heroes - #20 (Quint, Hooper, Brody)

Golden Globes
Winner: Best Original Score - Motion Picture - John Williams 
Nominated: Best Motion Picture - Drama
Nominated: Best Screenplay - Motion Picture
Nominated: Best Director - Motion Picture - Steven Spielberg 

Grammy Awards
Winner: Album of Best Original Score Written for a Motion Picture or Television Special - John Williams 

National Film Preservation Board
Added to National Film Registry in 2001

People's Choice Awards
Winner: Favorite Motion Picture

Writer's Guild of America
Nominated: Best Drama Adapted from Another Medium

You're gonna need a bigger boat.


In honor of Jaws' 40th anniversary, The Essential Films presents a look at perhaps the greatest summer blockbuster of all time: Steven Spielberg's Jaws.

Amity Island is a small vacation community that sees a surge in tourism during the summer beach season. The new Sheriff in town, Martin Brody, discovers the remains of a shark attack victim washed up on the shore. Brody's request to close the beach until the shark's been caught is denied by the mayor, who is concerned about the impact it will have to the tourism business. After another victim is claimed by the rogue shark, this time a young boy in front of a crowded beach of tourists, the angry townspeople calls on the local government to act. The young boy's mother even puts a bounty on the shark, which brings all sorts of fisherman out of the woodwork (or out of the water, if you will.) A local fisherman named Quint offers to kill the shark for a large fee and Brody, believing Quint to be the most qualified, soon joins the effort, despite the fact that he's terrified of the water. They are joined by Oceanographer Matt Hooper and the trio embark on an adventure to capture and kill the great white predator.

Richard Zanuck and David Brown were both producers at Universal at the time of Jaws' inception. They had each read Peter Benchley's novel and decided that it would make a great movie, though admittedly did not know how it would be filmed when they purchased the movie rights.  Steven Spielberg had impressed the pair of producers with his film, The Sugarland Express, which Spielberg directed for the production duo, and soon the young director was hired for the job. Spielberg later said that he found many similarities between Jaws and his first feature film Duel, which both involved a menacing "monster" attacking an everyman. 

After some initial reluctance to take the film on, Spielberg eventually dove headfirst into production. Spielberg was unsatisfied with the first two acts of the book, but loved the final act, which focused specifically on the shark-hunting. Benchley was given the task of writing the screenplay and wrote three drafts before turning it over to Spielberg. Spielberg hired his friend Carl Gottlieb, who from that point forward became the primary writer on the film. Gottlieb drew inspiration from the actors conversations and improvisations, although Gottlieb gives the "You're gonna need a bigger boat" line and the USS Indianapolis speech credit to their respective actors.

After initially considering Robert Duvall and Charlton Heston, Roy Scheider was eventually cast as Chief Brody. Scheider was most famously known for his role in The French Connection, and Spielberg's initial concerns that his "tough guy" persona wouldn't work with the character were soon dissolved.  Scheider portrayed Brody as a man in way over his head, whose frustration at the local government officials cause him a great deal of anxiety. He has some great reaction shots in the film, which portray true fear. Most people would go to the reaction right before the "bigger boat" line, but my personal favorite is the scene where the Kitner boy is killed.  Spielberg does the Hitchcock zoom (zoom in while pulling camera back) and Brody's face tells it all. He instinctively runs to the water, but stops just short because of his phobia, all the while screaming at everyone to get out of the water. Scheider's acting is also incredible during the confrontation where Mrs. Kitner slaps him for not warning the townspeople. The other notable scene is the scene at the dinner table, when the burden of his job is getting to him, he has a sweet, goofy moment with his son. This is what gives him the strength to continue.

For the role of Hooper, Jon Voight and Jeff Bridges were considered, but Spielberg's friend George Lucas suggested Richard Dreyfuss, with whom he had worked on American Graffiti.  Spielberg urged Dreyfuss not to read the book, as the script was being re-written specifically to suit him.  Dreyfuss was a relative unknown actor, and obviously this film launched his career forward... winning an Academy Award just a few years later for the The Goodbye Girl and becoming one of America's most accomplished actors.

Sometimes that shark, he looks right into you. Right into your eyes. You know the thing about a shark, he's got... lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll's eye.

Quint was cast very close to the film's production start date, and after Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden turned the film down, a reluctant Robert Shaw took on the role. Shaw had read the book and not liked it, but was eventually convinced by his wife to take the role. Shaw based much of his mannerisms on one of the local fisherman, Craig Kinsbury, even using some of his offscreen utterances as lines of dialogue.  Quint is the most remembered and, frankly most fun, character in the film.  His almost pirate-like cadence is as unforgettable as his iconic introduction into the film, where he scrapes his fingers across the chalkboard. His performance is simultaneously humorous and unsettling. His USS Indianapolis speech is one of the most chilling scenes ever filmed.

The film set new expectations in the suspense thriller genre, but it was mostly a series of happy accidents.  Spielberg was relatively inexperienced and instead of filming the boat scenes in a water tank on soundstage, he insisted on shooting in the Atlantic Ocean, at sea, for authenticity. This would balloon the budget and cause massive production and equipment problems. (That said, it did look good on film) A large mechanical shark, nicknamed "Bruce" by the production team, was actually built for the production. However, Bruce never seemed to fully function correctly. Always breaking down whenever needed for a scene. Very few shots of Bruce actually exist in the finished film. So Spielberg used this as an opportunity to take a page out of Hitchcock's book... he never showed the shark on film in all the lead-up to the final act. It was better to hint at the threat, but never actually show it. And what was once a major production problem, became the film's signature calling card.

Cage goes in the water, you go in the water. Shark's in the water. Our shark.

The scene where Hooper escapes the shark cage right before the shark attacks it was another happy accident. Divers were sent to Australia to get some real life footage of sharks for the film. At one point, the cameras caught a massive shark attacking an empty cage. Hooper was initially supposed to die in the scene, but the footage of the shark attacking the empty cage was so spectacular, Spielberg re-wrote the script to have Hooper escape just so they could use the footage.

The final touch added to the film, and what most everyone remembers, is the iconic score by John Williams. Williams' theme for the shark has become synonymous with anyone even remotely tuned into pop culture as a sign of oncoming danger. Spielberg initially laughed at Williams when he played him the score, thinking it to be a joke, but the score remained and has become a classic piece of music. Everyone knows the Jaws score, and it's is an enormous part of the film's success.

Jaws went way over budget, and 100 days over schedule. The disgruntled crew called the film "Flaws." Spielberg was so frightened of the crew, that he even skipped the filming of the last scene because he thought they would throw him overboard as soon as filming wrapped. He was so certain that his career was over after the film was completed. Obviously, he was wrong.

This shark, swallow you whole.

Universal employed an unusual tactic for the release of Jaws. Unlike today, major studio releases were NOT released wide in all theaters. Instead, they were released in big markets first, usually New York, LA and Chicago, and slowly distributed throughout the year as positive word of mouth built up. Wide releases were usually a sign of a bad film, not a major production that the studio had faith in. Lew Wasserman, head of Universal at the time, saw the reactions audiences were having in test screenings and decided a major marketing campaign to push the film everywhere, in over 400 theaters, an idea that was unheard of. In July, after the film steamrolled the box office, it was expanded to 700 theaters and then to 900 in August, with a similar release system internationally. Jaws went on to become the biggest movie all time, sailing past previous record holder The Godfather, earning $470 million worldwide. Adjusted for inflation, Jaws has earned over $2 billion. And thus the blockbuster was born. 

Jaws had a lasting legacy in changing the business. The wide release/massive marketing model was soon adopted by Hollywood as the new way to conduct business. Hollywood still works the same way to this very day. It also established the idea of the summer blockbuster, where studios would release all of their anticipated big money-makers in the summer, when audiences were more primed to go to the movies.  While other films like Gone with the Wind and The Sound of Music were massive box office hits before, Jaws created an entire season for it. 

Money isn't the only reason for this film to qualify for Essential status, though that is a major part of it. Jaws, is at its core, an endlessly entertaining adventure film, a chilling horror film and thrilling suspense film, no matter how much money it put in the pockets of studio executives. But on top of all of that, it also launched Spielberg's career to the moon. He had some minor successes before, but the Great White success of Jaws really put him on the map. Spielberg would go on to helm some of the greatest and essential films of the last 40 years, including Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park, Schindler's List, Saving Private Ryan, Minority Report and Lincoln. Jaws and Spielberg's influence on cinema is incalculable. So, don't be afraid to go back in the water and watch this essential classic.

- I used to hate the water...
- I can't imagine why.