We’re Gonna Need A Bigger Retro Review – ‘Jaws’ (1975)

On June 20th, we celebrated a special day. Not only was it the first day of Summer, it was also the anniversary of the widely popular thriller, Jaws (1975). It’s been over 45 years and we still don’t have another shark movie that lives up to this fantastic film. Don’t get me wrong: I love shark movies and there have been some decent ones over the years, such as Open Water (2013) and, most recently, 47 Meters Down (2017), which is receiving some pretty decent reviews so far. Maybe 2018’s Meg will be the one? However, Jaws stands on its own as one of the greatest shark stories ever filmed. Rather than compare it to the others, though, I’d rather dive into why this film has become a classic. Why, after so many years, is this shark story still such a favorite among fans? Well, to explain so much awesomeness, we’re going to need a bigger review….

Jaws was directed by Steven Spielberg and is based on the 1974 novel of the same name by Peter Benchley. The budget was limited, but they made magic happen with what they had. It ended up earning over $470 million worldwide at the box office – one of the highest-grossing films ever until Star Wars (1977) came around and continues to be a movie that everyone wants to watch when summer arrives. Also, because of the success of the original, Jaws spawned 3 sequels: Jaws 2, Jaws 3, and Jaws: The Revenge. The latter are not as great as the ’75 film but still fun to watch. Also,  Jaws won three Oscars: one for Best Sound, one for Best Editing and another for Best Music, and was even nominated for Best Picture. Those are some pretty big accolades right there.

Although the music, special features, and the unique story really capture what makes this shark tale an extraordinary one, we can’t forget about the bold characters and the actors who played them: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Carl Gottlieb, Jeffrey Kramer, and Susan Backlinie.

Spielberg wanted to stick with the original plot of the novel. However, he didn’t care for Benchley’s contribution to the characters in the screenplay. He deemed them unlikeable. He sought out to have someone rewrite it: some writers turned him down and others helped but were uncredited. Finally, his friend Carl Gottlieb, a comedy actor/writer, became the primary screenwriter. After spending time with the cast, he was able to build dialogue for relatable, likable characters for scenes that were written only a short time before they were shot.

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With everyone working together, they finally created a screenplay worthy of the big screen. Jaws begins in the fictional New England resort town of Amity Island when nighttime swimmer Chrissie (Backlinie) is dragged violently beneath the waters. The next day, parts of her body are found scattered all over and the medical examiner claims she was killed by a shark. But the mayor (Hamilton) doesn’t want to scare tourists – the town’s main source of income – away, so they lie and say it was a “boating accident.” Everyone goes along with this until another shark attack happens. After fearing for everyone’s life, the aquaphobic Sheriff Martin Brody (Scheider) gets marine biologist Matt Hooper (Dreyfus) and professional shark hunter Quint (Shaw) together to find the beast that is lurking in the ocean before it can kill anyone else. But do they know what they’re in for?

The answer is no, I don’t believe they knew how big this great white shark would be. That thing was fucking huge! But that’s why this movie is so great and successful. The idea of something lurking in the water, sneaking up and attacking was already a fear people had. The story played on that fear, causing panic and thrills as audiences imagined something like this really happening. What is lurking in water? Will it get me? Even if you weren’t afraid of the what was in the water before watching this film, you were after. I know I’ve been cautious about stepping into the ocean ever since I first watched Jaws, because – who knows – a shark might be waiting to take a big ol’ chunk out of me. This was a simple idea done right. Its simplicity is what makes it so realistic, and although they have yet to succeed, this terrifying shark tale is one that other filmmakers have struggled to recreate over the years.

As mentioned before, the story wouldn’t be the same without the outstanding characters who brought depth and comic relief to this frightening tale. They made the story feel real. The situation of some of them wanting to shut down the entire island while others wanted to act like the attacks never happened and others still who were bound and determined to find out what was really going on is something that would truly happen. The one-liners are delivered at perfect moments and leave a lasting impression that we’ve continued to quote for the last 41 years. The most famous one was not scripted but ad-libbed by Scheider: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

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The special features and editing were a big deal for this film, to make it seem as a real and intense as possible. There were three full-sized, mechanically powered sharks (named Bruce after Spielberg’s lawyer) made for certain scenes throughout the film. Each shark had a specialized function and cost around $250,000. Ron and Valerie Taylor contributed real shark footage shot in South Australia. The crew also filmed scenes on the ocean which often became long and draining days trying to capture the perfect shot, leaving the crew tired and crisp from the sun. Once, the Orca almost sank while the actors were still on it.Another awesome fact: they buried alive female crew member to simulate Chrissie’s remains because the prop arm looked too fake. Also, one of Spielberg’s fears was that the camera would capture land in the background. He wanted to give audiences an isolated feeling, stranded with no place to run. Seeing land would take away from that.

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Ultimately though, even with all these amazing contributions to the film, Jaws would not be the same without its terrifying musical score. John Williams composed the theme for Jaws and, as mentioned previously, it received an Academy Award for its brilliance. According to Williams:

“The main ‘shark’ theme, a simple alternating pattern of two notes—variously identified as ‘E and F’ or ‘F and F sharp’ became a classic piece of suspense music.”

When audiences hear this, they can feel the danger approaching slowly but intently, coming closer and closer until Jaws shows his sharp, pearly white teeth. At this moment, their hearts are pounding and their palms are sweaty – a moment that, without this music, it wouldn’t have created the same intensity. Check it out down below!

Final Thoughts:

As I was writing this article, all I could think about was wanting to watch Jaws again immediately. I love knowing the details and fun facts that went into the making of the film. When you discover new things, it’s like a completely different experience when you watch the movie again. It’s as if you’re seeing it for the first time because you are reimagining it in a different light. It’s all kind of magical. Jaws is the perfect summer flick, one I highly recommend for everyone. And even though I look forward to any new shark movie that comes out, Jaws will always hold a special place in my heart.

About Tori Danielle

Tori has had a passion for Horror and music ever since she was a little girl. She got bit by the writing bug in high school where she was involved in both the school newspaper and the yearbook. While getting her Bachelors degree, she took Journalism and Creative Writing classes where her passion grew even stronger. Now, in between work and family, she spends all of her spare time indulging in music, Horror movies, and nerdy fandoms, all while running/assisting one of the biggest Horror groups on Facebook and writing for various websites.

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