Jaws, 1975 Summer Blockbuster

The classic 1975 movie Jaws, often credited with creating the concept of the summer blockbuster, is nearly fifty years old. It was based on true events captured by Peter Benchley in his best-selling novel of the same name. The book was inspired by a series of shark attacks in 1916, off the coast of New Jersey, and a massive shark that was eventually caught in 1964.

The mechanical shark built for the movie often malfunctioned creating the need to imply the shark’s presence while filming. Steven Spielberg was chosen to direct the movie, because of his work on the thriller, action film Duel, which also used the filming technique of ‘unseen’ terror. Spielberg’s innovative use of suspense and tension influenced many filmmakers and movies that followed in its wake.

The film was supposed to take 65 days to shoot, but due to the malfunctioning Star of the movie, it ended up taking 159 days. The town of Amity was fictional, it was shot on location in Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts.

Jaws had tremendous success at the box office during the summer season, it was so successful that it created a new standard for the release of movies. Even the way the movie was marketed was modern and revolutionary for that time, influencing the way movies are promoted today.

The success of Jaws launched Steven Spielberg as a major director, setting the stage for his future success. However, it also affected the public’s view of sharks as being predatory man-eaters, which led to increased fear and hunting of the species.

Most sharks are not dangerous to humans as we are not part of their natural diet. As scary as they appear, sharks rarely attack humans as they would much rather eat the fish and marine mammals. There are over five hundred species of sharks and only about 30 have been reported to bite a human and only a dozen of those should be considered dangerous when encountered.

The iconic musical score for Jaws was composed by John Williams and earned him an Academy Award. A few years later it was ranked as the sixth greatest score by the American Film Institute. The alternating pattern of the two notes created the atmosphere of terror and impending doom and became synonymous with the presence of sharks. This historical music score not only heightened the tension and drama of the film but shows the power of music when it comes to storytelling.

When you watch Jaws today, it is hard to see it as the frightening movie that it was back in the seventies. But that’s only because we are used to movies looking very lifelike today, produced by tools like CGI. The advancement of technology has moved the movie industry into a completely different realm, compared to what they had to work with fifty years ago. However, the old movies are worth re-watching purely for their historic value and for the memories they created for so many of us.

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Sarah Couter

I also remember watching Jaws and being really scared, I was only young, but it did make me even more terrified of sharks. I am 60 now and your article and lovely artwork has convinced me to watch it again.