Before the release of Jaws in the summer of 1975 there really wasn’t something like a summer blockbuster type of movie. Jaws, is based on the Peter Benchley book, was the first movie of its kind and the very first summer blockbuster. Horror movies and scary movies we had, but nothing like this. Nothing where a Giant Great White shark terrorized and killed several residents of an east coast beach town. And nothing like the opening scene of this movie where a woman is killed by a shark at night while swimming in the ocean. Accompanying all of this was the music of John Williams which was brilliant and never more effective than the now famous music when the shark would start to attack someone. It is hard to imagine more perfect theme music for Jaws than the musical score for this great film.
Over the years we all have learned through documentaries and stories we have read about the extreme difficulty everyone who worked on this film, on Martha’s Vinyard with the mechanical shark that they named “Bruce”. To get past many of the non-stop mechanical shark problems, the director of Jaws, Steven Spielberg eventually realized that showing less of the shark would be more terrifying than showing more and this, in fact, made the film even more scary than it would have been otherwise. In the end, despite so many production problems and the film constantly being overbudget, Jaws became the greatest box office movie hit up to that time.
All of the main stars in this movie were all at the peak of their acting skills, Richard Dreyfus, Robert Shaw and Roy Scheider and all of them probably thought at the time that the movie would be a bomb, mainly due to all the problems with the mechanical shark. Perhaps the greatest scene in the movie was the exact moment in time where the Great White shark showed his face for the first time, as Scheider was pouring blood into the water to lure him to be captured and killed. His slow backward walk towards the middle of the boat and his now famous line to Quint, played by Robert Shaw, “We are going to need a bigger boat”, is the one line in the entire history of all movies that has been repeated more times than any other. I cannot even begin to count how many times I have heard someone say, “We are going to need a bigger something” in a movie. Another standout performance for me was Murray Hamilton’s portrayal of the town mayor, who throughout the entire movie, cared more about the money the township would be losing, rather than saving lives. His acting and bad decisions during so many arguments with Richard Dreyfus and Roy Scheider provide some of the most frustrating and funny moments in the movie. Hamilton’s character is a politician and a personality that all of us have had experiences running into and disliking.
The ending of Jaws including several scenes of Hollywood overkill and showing some things that a shark would never do, including launching its entire body into the sinking boat, but the big explosive ending created the satisfying blockbuster ending we were all waiting for. The concept of a summer blockbuster had to start somewhere and Jaws started it all 42 years ago.