Best stay out of the water. Director, Steven Spielberg’s classic shark thriller, ‘Jaws’, first debuted 45 years ago today.
Released on June 20th 1975, ‘Jaws’ became Steven Spielberg’s first cinematic hit making the director a household name. How his career progressed subsequently needs no explanation.
Turning a rubber shark into a terrifying threat on the big screen was no mean feat, but the film’s success can be traced to a number of elements.
Perhaps most prominent is the unmistakable score from composer, John Williams. Its sinister tones build tension and drama in a unique way. Spielberg is reported to have considered the score a joke when he first heard it, but would later concede that the film would only be half as popular without the iconic music.
Tension was also key to getting the best out of two of the film’s stars. Sources suggest that actors Robert Shaw (Quint) and Richard Dreyfuss (Brody) couldn’t bear each other. Constant arguing throughout filming led to real-life animosity that bled into their performances on camera.
Much of ‘Jaws’ success can be attributed to Spielberg’s expert eye for detail. The director employed several clever techniques to make the viewer feel immersed in the action. For example, a lot of the camera work is performed just above the waterline to give the impression of the character treading water. Spielberg was also diligent about ensuring that land didn’t appear on-screen. He felt that if movie-goers could see dry land that the threat of the shark would be diminished. Characters could just head for the shore.
Whilst ‘Jaws’ borrows heavily on the monster movie trope, much of the film’s appeal comes from human failings and resolve. Pride, adversity and instinct all play a part. When it comes to the shark, what you don’t see is often just as terrifying as what you do. Even by modern standards ‘Jaws’ holds up pretty well 45 years on.
Spielberg more than repaid the faith placed in him by Universal Pictures with a huge return on investment. An estimated $7 million budget would be repaid many times over with the film grossing in excess of $471 million worldwide.
The success of ‘Jaws’ would lead to three sequels, none of which would quite match the original in my opinion.