Thursday April 30th, 2009

I was 14 years old when my mum took me to the pictures to see Jaws. She had read the book and, to be honest, she’d found most of it pretty boring. But I’d seen the posters and the trailers and really wanted to see the movie. It was an ‘A’ certificate so I had to be accompanied by and adult. I had no idea what to expect… I don’t think anyone did. To say the movie scared the pants of me would be an understatement. Bath times were even unnerving after watching Jaws.

But my most vivid memory of that first viewing was during the diving scene, when they discover the sunken boat. I was sitting next to mum, glued to my seat and terrified, all of a sudden the head popped out of the hole that’s been bitten in the boat. Mum screamed and jumped in her seat flinging her arms back with both fists clenched in fear. She punched me and the guy sat on her other side square in the face. She was totally embarrassed but couldn’t stop laughing she was so nervous. I’ve never been able to watch that bit without laughing since.

The first ever summer blockbuster movie. The first movie to ever cross the $100mil mark ($500mil world wide). The impact of Jaws was colossal and remains a benchmark for scary movies even today. The movie was so successful that it even caused a downturn in the package holiday industry. A simple story writ big. Peter Benchley’s best seller was stripped down to the bare essentials and turned into a blood soaked shark hunt.

The only monster movie that comes even close to ranking with King Kong. The movie that established Steven Spielberg the first superstar director. Sure there was Hitchcock, Wells and Kubrick. But Spielberg had made what was essentially a horror movie and like Hitchcock did with Psycho, he sold it to the masses. Everyone went to see Jaws. It became an event. The poster image remains an icon of the silver screen and the stories of its troubled production are the stuff of Hollywood legend.

Various actors were considered for the parts of Hooper, Quint and Brody. Producer Robert Zanuck wanted Charlton Heston to play Quint but Spielberg protested, ‘What? Moses? You want Moses. Everybody’ll know he’ll win’. Robert Duval also turned down the role saying he was afraid it would make him too famous. Lee Marvin was asked but said he’d rather go fishing. Peter Benchley wanted the star spangled trio of Paul Newman, Robert Redford and Steve McQueen. Today it’s hard to imagine any other actors in the roles, they all gelled so well on screen.

At one stage during pre production Spielberg took his friends George Lucas, Martin Scorsese and John Milius to see the robot shark ‘Bruce’ (named after the directors solicitor). George Lucas put his head in its mouth to see how it worked and as a joke Milius and Spielberg took the controls and shut the shark’s mouth. The device malfunctioned and the jaws stayed clamped on Lucas’ head remained stuck for several minutes, whilst his friends panicked. Eventually they managed to free the future Star Wars director, after which they all ran out of the workshop frightened that they’d broken the movies main special effect and star. Of course Bruce proved to be a difficult throughout the shoot, sinking to the ocean floor, running amuck and clamping people in its mouth time and again. Oh yes and the boat they were on ‘Orca’ sank during the shoot.

It’s no wonder that when the film wrapped Spielberg declared ‘My next picture will be on dry land… There won’t even be a bathroom scene.’
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