Historical Circuit: Jaws (1975)



Audiences got to return to the world of one of Steven Spielberg’s classic films this past weekend with the release of “Jurassic World.” Next week some will get the chance to do the same with one of his originals, “Jaws.” In celebration of the film’s 40th anniversary, theaters are re-releasing “Jaws” for a limited run. So, before we head back into the water, let’s take a look back at why “Jaws” was such a significant film.

The late 1960s and 70s have become known by many as the silver age of cinema, when the first group of filmmakers who were “students” of film emerged. Robert Altman, Hal Ashby, Francis Ford Coppola, Peter Bogdanovich, Martin Scorsese and George Lucas were some of the big names to emerge in those years in big ways. But perhaps arguably the biggest success story, or at least the most enduring to come from that time period was Spielberg.

Prior to 1975, Spielberg was best known for his work on TV, directing episodes for a number of different shows as well as TV movies, like “Duel.” 1974 saw the release of his first studio film, “The Sugarland Express” with Goldie Hawn, but it was just over a year later that Spielberg would make his mark with an adaptation of Peter Benchley’s novel.

“Jaws” was a production mired in trouble. The mechanical shark used for the film’s monstrous antagonist rarely worked, the sea-based production led to many problems, and the studio began to worry over handing the reins of film to the young, untested director. But once people laid eyes on it and heard John Williams’ terrifying score, their tune changed real quick.

hero_EB20000820REVIEWS088200301ARAll the problems washed away into irrelevance once the finished product was seen, and in some cases, what many thought was a problem was a blessing. The inability to have the shark working for much of the production proved to make it all the more terrifying. To have this mysterious creature wreaking so much havoc left the audience’s imagination open, then finally revealed in one of the best money shots of all-time, followed up by one of the best lines – “you’re going to need a bigger boat.”

Needless to say, “Jaws” was a hit. Not just with the audiences either. The film was nominated for four Oscars, including Best Picture, though Spielberg would have to wait a few years for his first Best Director nomination (“Close Encounters of the Third Kind”). The true impact of “Jaws” goes well beyond any monetary or individual achievement though.

With its June 20 release date, “Jaws” was one of the first true summer blockbusters. Spielberg’s film, along with “Star Wars” from his close friend George Lucas a few years later, would set the trend that continues to this day. Even though we include “Jaws” and “Star Wars” in the silver era of filmmaking, they were the beginning of its end. Studios had found a way to overpower the directors who had seized control during that period. While some would continue to produce great work, few were able to do it at the pace and with as little resistance as they had in the early 70s.

While it may have helped construct the model of the present day blockbuster, “Jaws” is unique compared to them. Today, things always have to be bigger; a single shark terrorizing a small town – resulting only in a couple of deaths when all is said and done – is small potatoes next to the world saving superheroes.

Still, there is a universal fondness for “Jaws,” and if the massive results from “Jurassic World” point to anything, it is that there is still a fondness for the classic worlds of Steven Spielberg’s films. While I don’t expect the re-release of “Jaws” this upcoming weekend to make box-office headlines again, it will be a special treat to see Spielberg’s original classic again on the big screen.