Directed by Steven Spielberg
Screenplay by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb
Based on the novel by Peter Benchley
I was 13 years old the year that Jaws was released. I saw it the very first day it opened at the Hillcrest Theatre in my hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina. As usual, I was with my cousin Ritchie. Between the two of us, from the ages of maybe 11 to about 16 we were a couple of movie-going motherf***ers. We saw every horror film we could see and usually on the very first day.
So, anyway, I got my three dollars in my pocket. That’s a dollar for the ticket, a dollar for a Pepsi and a dollar for popcorn. Even at such a young age it was all about the essentials. Anyway, I walked up to the ticket booth and the girl behind the booth says “Three dollars.” At first I’m thinking I didn’t hear her right. I asked her to repeat it. “Three dollars,” she says again. So if anyone ever asks you when movie ticket prices started going up, you tell them when Jaws was released. Seeing as how I missed out on my soda and popcorn, it was probably the day I started cussing, too.
So we get inside the theater and the place is packed. Did I mention that the line was around the theater when we were waiting to buy our tickets. This place was so full of people you couldn’t have squeezed a dime in between us. People were talking about the best-selling book the movie was based on and how much it scared the shit out of them and how they weren’t sure they were going back in the ocean. Little did they know that in about 2 more hours they were going to be very sure that they weren’t going back in the ocean.
The lights dim, everybody gets quiet, deathly quiet. If someone had passed gas at that particular time,we would know all about it. The movie begins. We see young Chrissie taking her clothes off and making her way to the ocean. It’s a beautiful night on the beach and all is right with our lovely lass as she swims to and fro on the surface of the water. My cousin and I are watching this and wondering when the proverbial shit was going to hit the fan.
Then it happened. Our young and lovely Chrissie feels a tug from the bottom. Then another, and another. Finally she is writhing in pain and screaming bloody murder as something unseen below the surface of the deep has her firmly in its grasp. Finally, mercifully, the scene fades and there are two thirteen year old boys with eyes as wide as saucers staring at the screen. The age of the summer blockbuster had begun and we were smack-dab in the middle of it.
For two hours we never took our eyes off the screen. We watched as the shark swallowed the Kintner boy like a piece of beef jerky. We nearly pissed ourselves despite the lack of liquids when the head of Ben Gardner rolled out of the bottom of the boat. We cheered as Chief Brody, Hooper and Quint valiantly battled the swift and terrible serpent known as Carcharadon Carcharias aka the Great White Shark. But from that day forward it would come to be known by a much more familiar name: JAWS.
It’s been 36 years since Jaws made it’s on debut on the big screen. I’m 49 and married for the third and final time. I don’t know what happened to my cousin as we went our separate ways as we got older. I own the DVD of Jaws and I watch it from time to time. The shark looks fake after all this time but I don’t care. I still find myself jumping at certain scenes. Of course, Steven Spielberg went on to direct some of the greatest movies of all time. E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, Schindlers’ List and Saving Private Ryan are all masterpieces of cinematic achievement. I just hope he remembers that it all started with a little movie about a big freaking shark. Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw, thank you for putting the awe in awesome on that summer day all those years ago. Richard Dreyfuss, you are a one of a kind actor. I hope making this movie was as fun for you as it was for all of us watching it.
Last but not least, thank you, Mr. Spielberg. First of all for making most of us afraid to even sit on our toilets or take a bath, much less get in the ocean. Secondly, for wrangling my two dollars for a Pepsi and popcorn out of me. Finally, for making it the best three dollars a kid ever spent.
Author Peter Benchley was thrown off the set after objecting to the climax.
After the shark was built, it was never tested in the water, and when it was put in the water at Martha’s Vineyard, it sank straight to the ocean floor. It took a team of divers to retrieve it.
In the actual Jersey Beach shark attacks of 1916 (which Hooper mentions in the film), the sequence of attacks is similar to that of the film: a swimmer in the surf; a dog; a boy; and the leg of a man in a tidal slough.
When it was initially released in the summer 1975, over 67 million Americans went to see the movie, making it the first summer “blockbuster”.