Don't Go in the Water: 'Jaws' is Back!
By DAVID WEINER
August 10, 2012
Are you still afraid to go into the water? Jaws is swimming back into the mainstream with a brand-new, painstakingly restored Blu-ray, out August 14, and Steven Spielberg's 1975 man vs. shark epic continues to have a major impact on filmmakers and audiences alike. Watch the video!
"I saw Jaws in a theater in 1975. I was six years old and it scared me, it thrilled me, and it changed the course of my life," says J. Michael Roddy, producer of The Shark is Still Working, a lovingly made, in-depth Jaws documentary included on the Blu-ray that highlights the impact of the film on pop culture and how it influenced a generation of filmmakers. "The restoration is amazing. The film looks like it was made yesterday. … I urge everyone to look at the film again because you'd be surprised what your imagination can do for you."
Jaws co-writer Carl Gottlieb, who also starred in the film as Meadows, tells ET, "I had spent three months of my life living, eating, breathing, sleeping, dreaming Jaws." When it came to streamlining author Peter Benchley's story, he reveals that he had to drop a romantic subplot between Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary) and Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) – as well as take a major bite out of his own character's screen time.
"Once we met the characters, the actors playing the parts were so agreeable and pleasant and nice that you couldn't conceive of them cheating on the police chief; so, that whole subplot had to go, and when it did, the story became really pure," explains Gottlieb, adding, "We were so pressured to shoot the story we had that there wasn't a lot that was left on the cutting room floor, except for my part as Meadows. I had the very painful experience for an actor of writing myself out of the script, and that hurt."
Joe Alves, the film's production designer who went on to work on Jaws 2 and direct Jaws 3D, tells ET that the infamous technical problems surrounding the film's mechanical shark "were certainly not exaggerated," but he wanted to clarify that he was tasked to build a working prop that required two years to fabricate -- but was only given five months to do it in order to beat an actor's strike.
"We were shooting an early movie back East in May and putting people in ice cold water; we were shooting on an island so everything had to be trucked in from a ferry or flown in, so nothing was that convenient … you had the very wealthy people that had summer homes that weren't too happy to have us there," says Alves. "So those were the problems that we had. You know -- shark, people, politics, etc."
But with frustrating mechanical difficulties came creative inspiration, and Alves says, "When I designed the boat [in the film], I had these yellow barrels -- I painted them yellow so they would be contrasted to the blue ocean -- so when the shark wasn't ready yet, the barrels substituted for the shark. When the yellow barrel popped up, and John Williams' music was there, it worked."
If Jaws were made today, would the shark be mechanical, or CGI? Is the iconic film exempt from today's Hollywood remake frenzy?
"I would dare any filmmaker to try to remake Jaws; I think that's one that's completely off limits," says Roddy. "If Jaws were remade today, I'm sure it would be CGI. It would do a lot of things and it would look great, but I think you would lose what Jaws was ultimately about, which is man versus nature: You have three men who are very different who have to band together and get over their differences to defeat nature. That's its core. If you lose sight of that, it wouldn't have the power or emotion that the original film does."
The restoration of Jaws is part of Universal Studios' centennial celebration, for which the studio is preserving a number of their classic films.