As I write this article, Jurassic World is taking the cinema by storm. Becoming the first film to take over £322m at the global box office on its opening weekend.
It’s looking very much as if Jurassic World is going to be the big “summer blockbuster” of 2015.
If you wanted to, you could trace back 4 decades of the “summer blockbusters” with films like; Star Wars (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Die Hard (1988), Batman (1989), Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991), Jurassic Park (1993), Independence Day (1996) and many, many more films.
You can find at least 1 film for each year over the last 40 years that is considered a “summer blockbuster”.
The summer period has become the biggest and best time to release a new film and the “summer blockbuster” has become a staple of cinema for 40 years now.
However, pre-1975. The idea of going to the cinema during the summer was just not thought of. Who wants to sit in a stuffy and sweltering cinema when the sun is shining and the weather is hot outside?
Back then, summer was when film studios would release the films they didn’t think would do very well at the box office. However, one film released 40 years ago today changed all of that and shaped modern cinema as we now know it…
Based on the novel of the same name by Peter Benchley. 20th June 1975 saw the release of Steven Spielberg’s seminal thriller/horror flick, Jaws. Making today (20/06/15) 40 years since Jaws first hit cinema screens.
So I’m going to take a look at the film that started it all as well as a quick overview of Jaws – NES and Jaws Unleashed – PS2 games.
But instead of just doing a “Jaws is awesome” kind of article. I thought I’d take a look behind the scenes instead and see how and why this now iconic and important piece of cinema almost never made it to the big screen at all.
Steven Spielberg was only 26 when he started work on Jaws and he was fairly inexperienced overall. With only one other cinematic film to his name; The Sugarland Express (1974), he had also directed a handful of TV movies with; Savage (1973), Something Evil (1972) and Duel (1971).
Steven had also directed episodes of TV shows like Columbo. He had wrote and directed a few independent short films very early on with; Amblin’ (1968) being the film that would also give him his production company name; Amblin Entertainment, founded in 1981.
But Spielberg was not the original director of Jaws. Director Dick Richards (Farewell, My Lovely, Death Valley) was first considered. But Dick kept calling the shark a whale. Producers were not impressed with his lack of commitment and felt he never took the project seriously so Dick was fired and Steven Spielberg hired in his place.
Steven was aware of his own inexperience and even pulled out of the project at one point. But he was convinced to stay on and even decided to compare making Jaws to his TV movie; Duel.
Steven Spielberg: “Wow, this is like a movie I just made about a truck and a driver (Duel). Jaws and Duel both have four letters, they’re both about a leviathan going after man.”
Yes, Steven Spielberg really took on the impossible task of making Jaws as the film had a four letter title like one of his previous films.
Jaws production met with many, many, many problems and almost never got made.
Richard Dreyfuss: “We started the film without a script, without a cast and without a shark.”
All true. Jaws began filming even before they had a finished script, without a finalized cast or even a working shark.
Richard Dreyfuss who eventually went on to be cast as Hooper, the young and enthusiastic marine biologist turned the role down twice before accepting the role.
The rough, salty-seadog character of Quint was offered to Lee Marvin and Sterling Hayden. Both of which turned the role down, but as production began and no Quint in place. Spielberg offered the role to Robert Shaw and Quint finally had an actor. But the problems did not end with the casting of Shaw, in fact they had only just begun as Shaw had a big drinking problem at the time. According to Jaws actor Carl Gottlieb, Shaw would drink a lot between takes.
Roy Scheider (on Robert Shaw): “A perfect gentleman whenever he was sober. All he needed was one drink and then he turned into a competitive son-of-a-bitch.”
This competitiveness lead to an infamous feud between Shaw and Dreyfuss who never got on at all…and I’m sure the drinking didn’t help. Some of that tension and anger between the two can even be seen on screen.
The only one of the three main characters that had an actor before production began was the “fish out of water” (sorry) Brody played by Roy Scheider. That only came about due to a chance meeting between Spielberg and Scheider at a party.
Even the location Jaws was filmed at (Martha’s Vineyard) proved to be problematic as residents did not appreciate the fact a film crew would be around. Filming on water also was a huge obstacle, with logistic nightmares getting cameras, lights and all electrical equipment available for use. Even getting a simple shot of the boat proved near impossible with ever changing weather, losing daylight and residents that were not happy about the filming constantly sailing their boats around in the background.
Then on top of all of those problems, the star of the show, the shark (called Bruce by Spielberg named after his lawyer) just would not work.
Initially Steven Spielberg wanted to show the shark a lot more. The infamous and tense opening scene from Jaws that was filmed from the perspective of the shark only came about as Bruce would not work. So Spielberg had to abandon his idea of showing the shark to favour the scene we now have. This would also shape the entire film and help create a much more tense atmosphere than Spielberg intended.
Even that classic Jaws theme tune almost never made it. Spielberg hired (now legendary) composer John Williams to come up with the music of Jaws. However, when Williams first played the now iconic tune for Spielberg. Steven said he thought it was a joke and asked for the real music instead. It took a lot of convincing for Spielberg to accept and include the now infamous music.
These many problems would carry on over the whole 155 day shooting…yes it took 155 days to complete filming on Jaws. However, the schedule was only originally planned for a 52 day shoot. These non-planned 103 extra filming days caused countless problems. Which also included the main thing producers care about, money.
The budget for Jaws was initially £2.6 million. Due to delays, problems with the cast and crew, an expanding shooting schedule and constant repairs of Bruce. That £2.6 million budget grew to over £5.7 million and producers were not happy at all. You do not spend £5.7 million on a film with an inexperienced director that was due to be released during summer which was just not (at the time) big business for films.
Steven Spielberg was even threatened with being fired from the film, several times.
Spielberg was at a dinner party during the filming of Jaws in 1974…
Steven Spielberg: “An actress came over to me and said; Everyone is talking about this movie back in Hollywood and they are saying this is the end of your career, they’re saying you are so far over budget and schedule nobody is going to hire you after this.”
The young and inexperienced Steven Spielberg was dejected and depressed.
Producer David Brown: “Had we read the script twice, in my opinion, we never would have made Jaws.”
Jaws was one of the most troubled productions in film history. The only reason it was finished was due to the fact producers released they were already in too deep and decided to let the film be finished and just hope they can at least make some of their money back.
Jaws was finally released on 20th June 1975 and it didn’t just make it’s money back…it broke all previous box office records. Jaws grossed over £4.5 million in it’s opening weekend alone and went on to make over £300 million worldwide. All from an inflated £5.7 million budget.
A lot of Jaws success came from some of cinema’s firsts.
Jaws was the first film to have a strong merchandise market. Yes before Star Wars (1977) there was Jaws. With T-shirts, toys, posters, cups and so many more products with the Jaws logo and images being sold.
Jaws was also the first film to have a simultaneous nationwide release. Being shown at over 100’s of screens at the same time all over the country was previously unheard of.
Jaws became the very first “summer blockbuster” and helped cement that young and inexperienced director; Steven Spielberg’s entire career and changed his life forever.
The name Spielberg became a household name and even opened the doors and allowed Steven to make the films he is now famous for. Steven Spielberg also became known for not only creating the “summer blockbuster” but adding to them with films like Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Jurassic Park and many, many other all time classics.
Jaws itself went on to spawn 3 sequels, video games, endless merchandise, a theme park attraction..and even two (yes two) musicals as well as countless parodies.
From troubled production to helping shape modern cinema today. Also take a look at this; Jaws: The Inside Story – Documentary on Youtube for even more detail on the film that almost never was.
Jaws’ 40 year endurance is a true test of its quality and commitment.
Happy 40th Birthday Bruce.
This ends my look back on the film Jaws and how it created the “summer blockbuster” sub-genre in cinema.
Please also check out my overview for Jaws – NES and Jaws Unleashed – PS2.