A Great White Shark has decided to make the small beach resort town of
Amity his private feeding grounds. This greatly frustrates the towns police
chief who wants to close the beaches to eliminate the shark problem. He
is thwarted in his efforts by the town's mayor who finally relents when
nothing else seems to work. Three brave souls; the chief, a scientist,
and an old fisherman with revenge on his mind take to the sea to kill the
gonna need a bigger boat."
- Police Chief Martin Brody
Jaws is the original summer blockbuster, setting the standard by which
all others are measured. It's the Michael Jordan of cinema: there will
never be another Jaws, simply because the film so profoundly changed
the way movies are made and marketed.
Based on Peter Benchley's bestselling novel, Jaws centers around
the fictional North Atlantic resort island of Amity, which finds itself
terrorized by an enormous great white shark. Our hero is Martin Brody,
a New York cop who took the job as Chief of the Amity PD to get his family
out of the city and then finds himself in the midst of an unprecedented
crisis none of his prior experience has prepared him for. The remains of
young Christine Watkins are found on the beach, the apparent victim of
a shark attack (Chrissie Watkins' death scene at the opening of the movie
is one of the most legendary in the history of film). Chief Brody wants
to close the beaches, but is refused permission by Mayor Larry Vaughn and
the Amity selectmen, all of whom fear that news of a shark attack off of
Amity will threaten the summer tourist trade, on which the town depends
for its very survival. The Mayor and his lackies persuade Chief Brody that
such incidents are always isolated, and, inexperienced in such matters,
he grudgingly agrees to keep quiet.
Consequently, the shark kills again (and again), and Chief Brody eventually
finds himself dealing both with his own moral guilt for agreeing to hush
up the first shark attack and with an enormous human and social catastrophe
which appears to be his sole responsibility. Help comes first in the form
of Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss, in the role that propelled him to stardom),
an icthyologist and oceanographer dispatched to Amity to lend his expertise.
Together, Hooper and Brody struggle in vain against both the shark and
Mayor Vaughan, who is certain that keeping the beaches open for the sake
of the town's economy (and his own real-estate business) is worth the gamble.
Finally, Brody and Hooper charter an expedition with the enigmatic, vaguely
malevolent Quint, Amity's most feared and respected shark hunter, to find
and kill the shark and save the town from financial disaster. What ensues
is an epic, archetypal man vs. beast quest that would make Herman Melville
and Joseph Campbell proud. Our shark, it turns out, is way above average
size, terrifically swift and powerful, and uncannily smart, to boot. Hooper,
the scientist, is awestruck at having encountered the Bigfoot of the sea;
Quint, the crafty fisherman with a serious chip on his shoulder against
sharks, realizes he has met the ultimate test of his skills; Brody, who
swims poorly and is afraid of water, must overcome abject fear and disorientation
just to maintain his composure.
Robert Shaw's Quint is one of the greatest anti-heroes the movies have
ever seen. He is funny and frightening all at once, and the famous soliloquy
in which he recalls the tragic sinking of the USS Indianapolis--where,
over the course of a week waiting for rescue, at least 90 US Navy personnel
died from shark attack wounds--is one of the most chilling and unforgettable
performances ever committed to film.
Jaws is the movie that made Steven Spielberg's career, and it's
among his finest. It's easy to forget because of his enormously successful
blockbusters that Spielberg is a phenomenally skillful and artful director.
His timing is superb, he mixes horror with comedy to brilliant effect,
he gets great performances out of his actors, and his love for special
effects has never overwhelmed his understanding of the importance of story
That said, the most brilliant aspect of Jaws was a serendipitous
The special effects team had yet to fully troubleshoot 'Bruce,' the mechanical
shark, by the time filming was to begin. Under tight budget restraints
and enormous studio pressure, Spielberg had no choice but to press on while
his crew labored vainly to make the shark work in the cold and corrosive
north Atlantic seawater. To compensate for the absence of the non-functional
fake shark, Spielberg used shots from the shark's point of view and John
Williams' famous two-note theme to create the illusion of the shark's presence
in the early scenes. Fortunately the crew was ultimately able to get Bruce
into operational status in time to film the big showdown, and some of the
scenes are filled in with live-shark footage filmed by Australian underwater
video pioneers Ron and Valerie Taylor. Consequently, the audience's fear
is magnified by the fact that, for the majority of the film, they cannot
see the shark, creating suspense towards the climax of the confrontation
between man and beast on Quint's fishing boat.
Jaws succeeds on almost every level. It is terrifying without being
grotesque, and spectacular without being unbelievable (if the shark looks
a little fake, remember that, at the time Jaws was released, Space
Invaders was on the cutting edge of computer graphics design and there
was no such thing as Shark Week on the Discovery Channel). Roy Scheider's
Brody is a quintessential everyman, an average guy beset by fear and guilt
who finds himself in extraordinary circumstances and rises to the occasion.
Dreyfuss' Hooper is brash and brave enough not to come off as nerdy or
self-righteous, and his friendship with Brody becomes the backbone of the
movie (Spielberg and screenwriter Carl Gottlieb wisely deviated from the
novel in regards to the character of Hooper, who was originally Brody's
nemesis). Robert Shaw's Quint is a modern-day Captain Ahab, a worthy foe
for the malevolent shark. The suspense is potent and the action thrilling,
but the humor, emotion, and character development make this movie much
more than a summer blockbuster.
- Steven Spielberg wanted Sterling Hayden
for the role of Quint. Hayden, however, was in trouble with the Internal
Revenue Service for unpaid tax. All Hayden's income from acting was subject
to a levy by the IRS, so there was an attempt to circumvent that: Hayden
was also a writer, so one idea was to pay him union scale for his acting,
and buy a story from him (his literary income wasn't subject to levy) for
a large sum. It was concluded that the IRS would see through this scheme,
so Robert Shaw was cast instead.
- Robert Shaw was also in trouble with the
IRS and had to flee the country once his scenes were completed.
- Quint's tale of the USS Indianapolis was
conceived by playwright Howard Sackler, lengthened by screenwriter John
Milius and rewritten by Robert Shaw following a disagreement between screenwriters
Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb. Shaw presented his text, and Benchley
and Gottlieb agreed that this was exactly what was needed. Whoever was
responsible, Quint got the date of the sinking wrong, claiming it was June
29, 1945, when in reality it was 12:14 am on July 30th, 1945. Universal
has toyed with the idea of making the "Indianapolis" incident into a film,
using a young Quint as the lead, ever since.
- The live shark footage was shot at Seal
Rocks, Australia. A real white pointer was cut up and "extended" for the
- Quint's boathouse set was built in Martha's
Vineyard on an abandoned lot. The city council made the production crew
sign an agreement to demolish it after filming and replace everything exactly
as it had been - right down to the litter.
- Preview audiences screamed when the head
of a shark victim appears in the hole in the bottom of the boat. Director
Steven Spielberg re-shot the scene in editor Verna Fields swimming pool
because he wanted them to "scream louder".
- Author Peter Benchley was thrown off the set after objecting to
- Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, was used
as Amity Island primarily because even 12 miles out to sea, the sandy bottom
was only 30 feet down, allowing the mechanical shark to function. Residents
were paid $64 to scream and run across the beach as extras.
- The first shark killed on the docks which
is supposed to be the "man-eater" in the movie is actually a real shark
killed in Florida because there wasn't a big enough one in Martha's Vineyard.
- Brody's dog in the movie was actually Steven Spielberg's real
- The mechanical shark spent most of the movie broken-down, and
was unavailable for certain shots. This led Steven Spielberg to use the
camera as the "shark", and film from the shark's point of view. Many think
this added to the "chilling/haunting" quality in the final release saying
that it would have made it too "cheesy" had they shown the shark as much
as originally planned.
- The original scene with Alex Kintner's death was so scary that
it was cut to ensure a PG rating. The scene called for a doll of Alex to
be floating among the bathers, then the shark would jump out of the water.
- When Roy Scheider was trapped in the sinking
Orca, it took 75 takes to get the shot right. Scheider did not trust the
special effects team to rescue him in case of an emergency so he hid axes
and hatches around the cabin just in case.
- There were two 300-pound weights attached to Susan Backlinie that
were being tugged by two groups of crewmen on shore. One group would pull
right, and the other would pull left. It took three days to film that sequence.
- After the shark was built, it was never
tested in the water, and when it was put in the water at Martha's Vineyard,
it sank straight to the ocean floor. It took a team of divers to retrieve
- The lighthouse in the film near the beach
is an actual lighthouse on Martha's Vineyard where the filming took place.
Because of the billboard in the scene, the lighthouse had to be "moved"
with special effects in post production.
- After the shark blows up, the groaning sound effects during the
shot of the carcass sinking are the same ones the truck makes as it crashes
off a cliff in Spielberg's first film, Duel. The sound effect is
from the original Creature from the Black Lagoon.
- Steven Spielberg named the shark "Bruce" after his lawyer.
- In the original script, Quint was killed off by drowning. The
rope from the harpoon that he fires at the shark wraps around his foot
and he is pulled under by the shark, calling for Brody to give him the
knife. (This was also the way the character was killed off in the book,
and according to an interview with Steven Spielberg about this scene, it
is similar to the way Ahab dies in Moby Dick.) However, it was decided
that Quint should be eaten, so the script was changed to what is in the
- In the actual Jersey Beach shark attacks of 1916 (which Hooper
mentions in the film), the sequence of attacks is similar to that of the
film: a swimmer in the surf; a dog; a boy; and the leg of a man in a tidal
- This was the first movie to reach the coveted
$100 million mark.
- Robert Shaw could not stand Richard Dreyfuss
and they argued all the time, which resulted in some good tension between
Hooper and Quint.
- The average summer tourist population of Martha's Vineyard before
the film was released was approximately 5,000 people. After it came out,
the population ballooned to 15,000.
- To create the sound of a drowning woman during post-production,
Susan Backlinie was positioned, head upturned, in front of a microphone,
while water from above was poured down into her throat.