For That You Get the Head, the Tail, the Whole Damn Thing
By Duane Bergeron
In the Beginning There Was Light.
The history of the cinema is replete with many accomplishments which changed the art form. Some were good and some were not. These accomplishments cover both the product and the technology that changed the way motion pictures evolved. Since Thomas Edison launched the industry as we know it circa 1895, film has been the most used means of storytelling in human history. Modern culture, in both America and across the world, has been changed dramatically based on the culturally dramatic influence movies. One of filmography’s greatest landmarks came to pass 40 years ago this June.
A Narrator's Tale: The Great Cultural Feeding Frenzy; Circa 1975
I had just received a gift from my parents. It was my first automobile. While stretching my teenage legs cultural-attention was going frantic in its coverage of a motion picture. I had never been witness to a phenomenon like that before. It seemed some story about a huge shark terrorizing a New England based summer community was scarring people to pieces. Plus, it was raking in big bucks at the box office like nothing had to that point. This especially held true during the early part of summer. On my first attempt the tickets were sold out. I returned a few days later...
The screening room was packed, and the lights dim. After the obligatory previews, along came the main title featuring the most ominous sounding theme music anyone had ever heard. To call myself spellbound was an understatement. The shrieks and screams in the theater rattled my eardrums. My nerves were in a similar condition. When all was said and done, a new love affair with the cinema had started. I have never been the same since.
You're Gonna Need a Bigger Boat
Jaws introduced a new era to cinema. Considering the opulent special effects and other technical wizardry taken for granted today, it is hard to believe but true. The film is based on the bestselling novel by the late author Peter Benchley. Jaws would ultimately rack up $260 million dollars from a meager $8 million dollar budget, a very nice profit. The final tally is based on its gross return; including the original theatrical run, and re-releases. Thus the birth of the modern summer blockbuster.
The film features veteran actors Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw, plus relative newcomer (at the time) Richard Dreyfuss. Of course, the most celebrated cast member was the mechanical shark built for the production. The stories are legend how the shark (named Bruce) would malfunction many times over until it worked long enough to shoot the pivotal scenes. It was also difficult getting the shark to work in seawater while battling the elements. Filming on location was a logistical nightmare but it added to the realism depicted. This is why the shark was not visible for the first two reels. It saved the production crew a lot of headaches but it actually heightened the tension before the shark is seen. Four decades later how easy it would have been to avoid all that and render the shark in computer generated imagery?
The Best That You've Never Heard Of...And Steven Spielburg
While Jaws launched the stellar career of its director, Steven Spielberg, it should be noted this was not his first directorial effort. It was his first blockbuster. Spielberg's first feature effort was The Sugarland Express the year before. Despite his problem plagued shoot, Spielberg was able to pull off the filming of Jaws with unprecedented and unexpected success on a very grand scale. In 1974, no one would have imagined Spielberg later directing such extraordinary cinematic classics like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. (1982), Schindler's List and Jurassic Park (both 1993).
Jaws brought together talent in front of and behind the camera which wound up being an example of the exceeding of their respective abilities. Film editor Verna Fields is credited in her work for generating a very high level of tension and suspense. This was one of the reasons the movie was able to scare audiences worldwide with such relish. The unforgettable theme and score was provided courtesy of another legend, composer John Williams*. Though Williams was already in the business scoring such features as The Towering Inferno from 1974, his career skyrocketed after Jaws. In addition to providing the music for so many of Spielberg's movies in the time that came, Williams also crafted many other memorable themes such as Star Wars, Superman (1977), and far too many to list here.* For their efforts, Fields and Williams won Academy Awards in editing and scoring for Jaws. And yes, Williams will write the soundtrack for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Scheduled release date is December 2015.
That's Some Bad Hat, Harry.
Alas for Universal Studios, the three Jaws sequels were unsuccessful in making the same kind of impact the original accomplished. Even now, 40 years later, Jaws is still highly remembered for forever changing the nature of the film industry and cinema in particular. No matter how many summer blockbusters have come and gone in the last four decades, none of it would have ever happened if not for a convincing mechanical shark (despite its malfunctions) making people think twice about going to the beach. Jaws is one of the true timeless classics in the modern cinematic era.
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