Yek Keak
by Yek Keak

It has been 42 years since Jaws first terrified audiences out of their swimming trunks and bathing suits. Yes. Hard to believe but it has been that long ago. Steven Spielberg's shark classic broke new ground and surely spoiled many people's seaside vacation plans way back in 1975. But even today, it's still so well-made and near-perfect that the beaches can never truly be safe for anyone anymore. Funny thing is, back then, Spielberg wasn't even the first choice for director. Just 26 years old then, he got the job when the first guy that was picked as the director started talking about a whale movie. Fortunately for us, cinema and posterity, this Spielberg kid decided to stick with just a little mean shark. The rest, as they say in the fisherman's pub after a good fish catch, is history, o' matey.


The shark is really big

According to Wikipedia, male great white sharks grow up on average to maximum 4m (13 feet) long and females up to 4.9m (16 feet). The largest females measured were up to 6.1m (20 feet) long. So females are larger and longer than males and since the shark in Jaws was named Bruce by Spielberg, reportedly after his lawyer, we can assume that it is male. Which means that Spielberg used the oldest trick in the book – “size matters (especially when highly exaggerated)” – to scare the squid out of us. “That's a twenty footer,” said Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) when he saw the monster for the first time. “Twenty-five” – Quint (Robert Shaw) corrected him as the camera panned up in one terrific overhead shot to show that the fish was bigger than the boat they're in. It worked because after that, no one dared to eat shark's fin without thinking about shark revenge karma. To make the shark seem even larger, in the movie's underwater scenes when Hooper went into the sea in a shark cage, footage shot in Australia of an actual shark was used with specific dimensional requirements. A small-size actor was put into a shrunk-down cage to create the impression that the shark was enormous.        

The build-up of suspense is, er, killing

Throughout nearly half of the film, the audience doesn't really get a full view of the sheer terror lurking under the water, except for a glimpse of fin and tail after the shark attacks one poor dude at a lagoon. It's not until the giant head of the shark pops up suddenly and unexpectedly shocks Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) ghost-white while he is dumping bait into the sea to lure it out that we get the true scale of the danger. That's the scene which led to the famous line – “You're gonna need a bigger boat”. Apparently, this concealment of the shark for so long was unintentional. The prop sharks on the extremely wet, trouble-prone set – dubbed “Flaws” by the crew – kept malfunctioning. One fake shark sank to the bottom of the ocean. Under severe stress, Spielberg decided to shoot scenes without the fish being seen but kind of hinted at. So, out of necessity due to production problems, one of cinema's greatest suspense movies was accidentally created.     

The thumping music is killing too

You can't talk about Jaws without talking about its vital supporting parts. No, not the unfortunate fella whose rotting head pops out from under a half-sunken boat. We're talking about Jaws' famous thumping two-note “Huge shark coming!!!” music score. When Oscar-winning composer John Williams first played those two now legendary notes on a piano to Spielberg, the director reportedly laughed before asking, “That's funny, John, really; but what did you really have in mind for the theme of Jaws?"   

The cast is spot-on perfect

Can you imagine anyone other than the troika of Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw playing the three main roles? I mean, you'd really think that Scheider was a real small-town police chief, Shaw a tough shark hunter and the bespectacled oceanographer Dreyfuss as somebody who studied weird stuff, right? Well, Jaws could've starred Robert Duvall as Brody, Lee Marvin as Quint and Jon Voight as Hooper, all apparently first choices for the roles. Luckily, Spielberg decided that he wasn't going to use big names, believing that the shark was the real star. Funny thing is Shaw reportedly didn't like Dreyfuss very much during the shoot but nobody, including Spielberg, bothered to help them make peace. The tension between those two guys was allowed to fester while the cameras rolled. It looked fantastic on the screen since the aggro was basically genuine.

The movie's seriously frightened core is perfect too

It's really effective the way the entire town initially underestimates the danger of the great unseen terror thinking that they have actually caught it in an early cowboy-wild shoot-'em-up shark-hunting scene. Only Brody believes the beast is still lurking out there somewhere and one of the great ironies of Jaws is that he actually hates the sea and only reluctantly goes on the boat armed with his useless handgun thinking it is only going to be a simple hunt of an overly pesky fish. But the adventure turns out to be so absolutely frightening. As Hooper goes into the shark cage to be lowered into the water to spear the monster, he speaks for the pee-scared audience when he admits to Brody he's so terrified that he has “no spit” left to wet the glass of his scuba mask with.

Man, what great lines the film has  

“You're going to need a bigger boat” – “You're the mayor of Shark City” – “This was no boat accident” – “Here's to swimming with bow-legged women” – “What are you? Some kind of half-a**ed astronaut?” – “I don't believe it! Two barrels, and he's going down again!” – “Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu to you ladies of Spain. For we've received orders for to sail back to Boston. And so never more shall we see you again.”

Some of these lines, together with the last one which is a limerick sung by crusty old salt Quint, might sound cheesy on their own but when spouted in the film by the actors, they are gems that have become cinema classics. In fact, Brody's line – “That's some bad hat, Harry” – to an elderly swimmer who comes out of the sea wearing a silly old-school bathing cap became the inspiration for avowed Jaws fan and X-Men director Bryan Singer, who named his own film production company Bad Hat Harry Productions.

It's made before the phoney cop-out days of CGI

Before computer-generated imagery made stuntmen, Jaws was the real deal. Spielberg didn't shoot this epic flick in a giant tub, fish tank or in front of a wet green screen. He ambitiously and insanely shot it out in the open sea off the island of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts. Three full-size mechanical sharks were deployed and they didn't always obey instructions. People had to be rescued from a sinking boat, cameras got soaked, unwanted boats drifted into the frame, the ocean was choppy and the seasick actors threw up. To top it off, the then 26-year-old gung-ho Spielberg insisted on giving the audience the perspective as though they were treading water themselves. So he crazily filmed about 25% of the movie right at the water level. Imagine how many times the cameraman had to dry his underwear.   

Let's face it – hunting is really thrilling

The scene where the boat, the Orca, chases after the shark speeding away like a torpedo with three barrels tagged onto it, and Brody, on his first shark hunt, feeling the sensation of the ocean wind rushing onto his face – man, that's a National Geographic plus Discovery Channel high-adventure moment right there. That scene may not be very PC (politically correct) now with its anti-eco shark-killing message. But, it's still more exciting than even Bear Grylls eating bear dung out in the wilderness.

Anything which comes out of the unknown depths of the mysterious sea will scare us right out of our bathtub 

Spielberg, along with the late Jaws author Peter Benchley, cleverly understood people's primal fear of anything unseen, unknown and unleashed out of the murky depths of the endless dark water of the sea. Basically, this includes “sotong”, squid, octopus, whale, eel, oyster, giant stingray, monster crab, radioactive lobster, killer mermaid, Godzilla, the Kraken from Clash Of The Titans, Aquaman's pet turtle and anything you can't swallow in one gulp in a sushi restaurant.  

Jaws was the start of a young 26-year-old Steven Spielberg's diabolical global domination plot to keep us entertained for years and years and years

On an estimated production budget of between US$7 million to US$9 million, Jaws grossed a global box office return of over US$470 million. When it opened in the US, it apparently caused a drop in holiday trips to the beaches. We wonder why. Anyway, Spielberg himself didn't drop off. He followed Jaws with such equally memorable adventures like Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982), Saving Private Ryan (1998), War of the Worlds (2005), War Horse (2011) and of course, 1993's dinosaurs-on-a-chomping-spree classic Jurassic Park, which Spielberg himself considered as “Jaws on land”.        

Bonus fun bit

How good, significant and ground-breaking was Jaws? ......... Well, here are some of the toothy, scaly and very wet creature features it has spawned

- Orca (1977)
- Piranha (1978)
- Alligator (1980)
- Anaconda (1997)
- Lake Placid (1999)
- Frankenfish (2004)
- Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus (2009)
- Sharknado (2013)