On June 20, 1975, moviegoers collectively changed their attitudes about swimming in the ocean. Jaws also reinvented the summer movie season, and scary movies, overnight. Much like Alfred Hitchcock’s shower scene, this movie made audiences rethink potential sources of Things to Watch Out For. The sophomore effort of one of filmmaking’s living legends, Steven Spielberg, it still ranks as one of the world’s best-loved movies, with a commanding 100% rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
My personal favorite element of this classic flick is the way the shark was represented; yes, I loved the acting performances of each and every human character, but the character of the shark upstaged everyone. And that shark’s name is Bruce. It’s hilarious to note that the name was attached to the mechanical shark(s) in honor of Spielberg’s lawyer, also named Bruce. Check this out, the last of them was recently found in a junkyard.
Here’s some awesome trivia from IMDb:
During pre-production, director Steven Spielberg, accompanied by friends Martin Scorsese, George Lucas and John Milius, visited the effects shop where “Bruce” the shark was being constructed. Lucas stuck his head in the shark’s mouth to see how it worked and, as a joke, Milius and Spielberg sneaked to the controls and made the jaw clamp shut on Lucas’ head. Unfortunately, and rather prophetically, considering the later technical difficulties the production would suffer, the shark malfunctioned, and Lucas got stuck in the mouth of the shark. When Spielberg and Milius were finally able to free him, the three men ran out of the workshop, afraid they’d done major damage to the creature.
Eat him, Bruce!
Editing is key, though. With a severely effective assist from the music. Jaws was Verna Fields’ last movie as an editor, and it is her best work. Spielberg came close to shutting down the whole project when he realized the fake shark just looked stupid, but it was Verna who calmly told him she could make it look real through wide shots, floating barrels, and the use of very selective, short shots. Let the viewers fill in the gaps with their imaginations, and they will believe in a monster from the deep.
As Spielberg says in this interview, “Had the shark been working, perhaps the film would have made half the money, and been half as scary.”
Some still shots from a classic, courtesy Universal.