Of course, you do. It’s Jaws (1975). The blockbuster hit that made director Steven Spielberg a star. The blockbuster hit that was better than the book it was based on. The blockbuster hit that showed Hollywood that summer wasn’t a dead zone for movies. Jaws changed Hollywood almost as much as a little space opera movie would two years later.
I read the Peter Benchley novel after I had seen the movie in the summer of 1975. It took me a while to finish it and, I gotta tell you, I don’t remember much about the book other than two things that came as a shock to my then ten year-old mind. (Perhaps I was a little older than ten. It did take quite a while for me to get through it.)
One story element I remember is there was an affair between the characters of Police Chief Brody’s wife and marine biologist Matt Hooper. An affair? How would there have been time for that? But what shocked me was Benchley included a sex scene involving the two characters, in which Mrs. Brody had to remind young Mr. Hooper that she was there, too. I guess Matt wasn’t the most attentive lover.
The other moment I can recall from the book that wasn’t included in the movie came during the climactic battle between Capt. Quint and the shark. At one point, the shark breached the water. It came completely out and flipped all the way over the undersized fishing boat – the Orca. I recall Quint shouting at the shark, “I can see your…” Well, let’s just say Quint could tell his adversary was male.
Thinking back on these items also has me shocked my mother allowed me to read it at such a tender age.
It was the summer of 1975. I was nine years-old. And I, like so many other people that summer, was hankerin’ to see the movie. It was rated PG, and the advertising was stressing the film might be too intense for younger viewers.
What a great marketing gimmick. Even though it was true, the movie did get very intense, making such a statement in the ads did two things: It warned parents, so the producers could be a little safer against criticism about the effect of the intensity on children. And it worked as a challenge. A dare to get people to see it. Are you brave enough?
One Sunday that summer, Mom and Dad piled us kids, all four of us, into the family station wagon. “We’re going to see Jaws!”
Well, that was the intent. However, when Dad pulled into the parking lot of the local movie house and he saw the line of people stretching from the ticket counter all the way out of the theater and down the block, and when he saw the sign saying the showtime we were trying to get was sold out, he turned the car around. “Sorry, kids, we’ll have to try again in a week or two.’
The day came. We were going to see the biggest movie of the year, a cultural phenomenon. Then, as we waited for the theater to start seating, I started to worry the movie might be too intense for me. I got a little panicky. Dad brought me into the men’s room, put a little cold water on my face, and gently reassured me that it was just a movie, nothing I would see would really be happening. And I could sit right next to him, so I had nothing to worry about.
The pep talk worked. I calmed down and experienced the greatest movie of my life to that point. I found sharks to be endlessly fascinating after that. I began drawing sharks. In fifth grade art class, I painted the movie poster (just the shark, I wasn’t that interested in naked ladies… yet) on a small, flat rock for a class project. Unfortunately, I believe that object has been lost to the ages. I even constructed a shark from construction paper, glue, tape, and paint. I remember it really impressed my dad. It, too, is gone.
The movie, in case you don’t know, centers on the small island town of Amity. Amity, as the mayor makes plainly clear, is a summer town that relies on summer dollars from summer tourists, who come to swim in the ocean. Should something happen to keep summer visitors and their money away, Amity’s businesses, restaurants, and hotels could suffer bankruptcy.
Unfortunately, a big, old 25-foot long Great White shark doesn’t give a rip about Amity’s bottom line. It’s discovered human meat and it likes it.
Victims begin to pile up to the point at which the mayor (Murray Hamilton) can no longer live in denial. He authorizes funding of an expedition of Quint (Robert Shaw), Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) to catch and kill the menace.
It is one of the all time great movies. It’s both a monster movie and an action/adventure movie. It gets super intense (the scene involving two locals, a chain, a dock, and a pot roast comes to mind), but it’s also super fun. It has one of the best monologues ever captured on film – Quint’s telling of the tragedy of the USS Indianapolis in World War II. “I’ll never put on a life jacket again.”
And the film has three great characters to watch: Chief Brody, the outsider who had had it with the sky high crime rate in New York City and desired the quiet simplicity of Amity island. Matt Hooper, a young and intense, but funny, marine biologist excited by the notion of encountering such a fish. And Capt. Quint, the colorful if salty fisherman who combines menace and charm deftly. The chemistry between the three actors is undeniable. We care about them and we want to be with them. Well, up until the shark beats the crap out of the Orca anyway.
Sure, the animatronic shark doesn’t look very real. So what. It was the best that could be done at the time. Besides, the legendary technical problems of the shark made for a better movie. Spielberg had to use the “less is more” approach, which made the menacing shark even more menacing. If the robotic shark had worked better it would have gotten more camera time and the movie would have suffered. Just think of the sequels.
On second thought, ignore the sequels. Let’s all agree that none of them ever happened. There’s only one Jaws.
It is fantastic summer viewing. If you’ve never seen it or if it’s been a while since you have, now is a great time to watch it.
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Warehouse Find is the official blog of NostalgiaZone.com, where you can find books, games, toys, cards, and a huge selection of Golden, Silver, Bronze, and Modern Age comic books. Jim also has a podcast called Dimland Radio. He’d love it if you checked it out. It’s available on iTunes.