Sight and Sound - 10/01/2005
"[I]ts combination of thrills, suspense and smart characterisation has rarely been matched."
From the best-selling novel by Peter Benchley, Steven Spielberg directed this thrill ride of terror. During the height of beach season, the Massachusetts resort town of Amity Island is terrorized one summer by surprise attacks from a great white shark. Three unlikely partners team up to hunt down the rogue and destroy it: the new chief of police from New York (Roy Scheider), a young university-educated oceanographer (Richard Dreyfuss), and a crusty old-time fisherman (Robert Shaw). The film shoot was notoriously difficult for the young Spielberg, who had directed only one feature film before JAWS. The mechanical shark seldom operated correctly, and Spielberg was frequently forced to create the idea of terror without actually showing the shark. However, after the film premiered it went on to become the highest-grossing film of all time--surpassing THE GODFATHER and becoming the first film to gross more than a hundred million dollars. Composer John Williams created the score to JAWS, which has since become a well-known theme of impending doom. Ron and Valerie Taylor were responsible for filming live sharks in Australia; their sequences were later mixed with footage of the mechanical shark.
Steven Spielberg's film is generally considered one of the scariest movies ever made. The frightfest is based on the book by Peter Benchley, son of author Nathaniel and grandson of author Robert Benchley. The plot is simple: The tourist season of a resort island is devoured by a great white shark. The ensuing "fishing trip" to catch the monstrous man-eater is filmed with power and suspense and plenty of scares that has had audiences jumping out of their seats for decades--and staying out of the water.
The film was shot on location on Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.
Estimated budget: $12 million.
The film grossed more than $260 million at the domestic box office and nearly $475 million worldwide.
JAWS was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and John Williams won an Oscar for his original score.
For the scene of Richard Dreyfuss fighting the shark from inside a cage, the crew used a very short stunt diver to make the shark seem abnormally large.
The famous shot of a head popping out of a hole in a sunken boat was shot in editor Verna Field's pool and was inserted by Spielberg after the film was completed.
JAWS is number 48 on the American Film Institute's list of America's 100 Greatest Movies.
One early title for the film was STILLNESS IN THE WATER.
The film was supported by an enormous public-relations campaign. According to Newsweek, "Like the novel, the movie was launched with an almost unprecedented promotional campaign, complete with cross-country tours by stars and $700,000 worth of prime-time TV time to trumpet the release in 450 theaters throughout the land." The film became the highest-grossing film of all time until STAR WARS surpassed it two years later. JAWS spawned three sequels: JAWS 2, JAWS 3-D, and JAWS 4--THE REVENGE, as well as countless imitators.