If you went to the movies in the summer of 1975, then odds are that you experienced firsthand one of the greatest and most influential films of all time. Jaws, the film based on the bestselling book by Peter Benchley about a rogue Great White Shark that terrorizes the small island community of Amity, was the first ever “summer blockbuster” and not only entertained moviegoers with its captivating story and thrilling suspense, but it literally scared people so badly that they refused to go into the ocean.
37 years ago, Jaws made a star out of director Steven Spielberg and the film itself inspired multitudes of young people to become filmmakers, marine biologists, scientists, artists, writers and even movie critics. The movie is largely responsible for the general public’s fear of sharks and the reduction in shark populations over the past thirty-five years. But it has also led to scientific and public interest in the magnificent sea creatures and has spawned pop culture phenomena such as the Discovery Channel’s Shark Week (celebrating its 25th anniversary this week.)
For most of my life, Jaws has been my favorite film and it certainly has influenced me and the paths I’ve taken in my life. In the summer of ’75, I asked to see the movie for my 13th birthday and my parents made a special trip to the valley to take me to the movie. As we walked into the Chris-Town Mall theater in Phoenix, someone had vomited just outside the doorway, leaving an ominous (and gross) sign of what was in store. In 1975, the horror and intensity of Jaws had a disturbing and unsettling effect on a large number of people, but for others it was a positive life-altering experience.
I’ve seen hundreds, if not thousands, of films since the day I first saw Jaws, but I don’t think I’ve ever experienced the thrills and chills that Jaws induced, not only for me, but for the entire audience who was jumping, laughing, gasping and screaming in unison throughout the entire film. It was like being on a two-hour roller-coaster ride where the heart-dropping sensations never ceased.
After seeing the film, I devoured everything Jaws related and the iconic poster hung in my room for years. My love of the movie lead me to read the excellent book on the making of the film, The Jaws Log by Carl Gottlieb (who also co-wrote the screenplay.) That book lead to my teenage interest in becoming an underwater cinematographer, which lead to my extended stint in the Navy. Although my dream of shooting underwater films never came true, I did spend 12 years as a Navy photographer and the film Jaws lead to a life-long love of visual arts and cinema.
Does any other word in the English language conjure up as much fear and awe as the single-word title of this classic film? I can’t think of another movie in cinematic history that has become such a huge part of our national lexicon and Jaws quotes like, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” have become part of our daily discourse. Director/writer/producer Bryan Singer (X-Men and Superman Returns) even named his production company, Bad Hat Harry Productions, after the Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) line commenting on an elderly swimmer’s headgear.
Jaws also inspired three sequels (Jaws 2 wasn’t bad – forget the others) and a plethora of copycats including Piranha (which has now had several sequels itself), Orca, Lake Placid, Open Water, Jaws of Death, Deep Blue Sea, Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus and even Grizzly, the most dangerous Jaws in the land.
There are people the world over who saw Jaws and who decades later are STILL afraid to go into the water. Martha’s Vineyard, the island off the New England coast where Jaws was filmed, still holds a popular annual JawsFest event, where fans celebrate all things Jaws on the famous Amity Island location. Click here for video of last week’s festival.
This week also marks the first Blu-ray release of Jaws and the new Universal Studios’ 100th Anniversary edition of the film boasts a digitally re-mastered and fully restored picture, 7.1 surround sound and over four hours of bonus features including an all-new documentary film, “The Shark is Still Working.” This disc-release is a must-have for film fans and if you’ve never seen this classic, now’s the time to learn why this movie still has bite, 37 years after its original release.
What are your favorite memories of Jaws and did the movie impact your life? Are you still afraid to go into the water? Let us hear from you in our comments below and tell us why you love (or hate) this revolutionary film.
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