Tag Archives: Spielberg

Movie Minutiae: Jaws (1975)

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Jaws was perhaps best known for its successful attempt to scare the living wits out of all cinema goers at the time, as well as its suspenseful, terror-inspiring theme song. We should thank tuba player Tommy Johnson for that one.

The 1975 film directed by a then-fresh-faced 28-year-old, Steven Spielberg, is nothing short of a classic.

The massive creature headlining the film had two other names by Spielberg – Bruce (after his lawyer) and “the great white turd” (when frustration mounted during production). Not quite as terrifying.

Apparently, the mechanical sharks, at $US250,000 a piece, had a penchant for breaking down. Because they were out of operation for some of the shots (there were three sharks), Spielberg improvised by using the camera as the shark’s point of view. In fact, that may have saved the film from the cheesy fake shark for more of the film.

Well, something must have worked. Jaws, a summer blockbuster that year, became the highest grossing film of all time in the States. Star Wars topped it in 1977.

Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts, where the movie was filmed, did experience an increase in tourists following the film’s release. However, other seaside resorts did not fare so well that year. Overall, the holiday industry suffered as a result.

The movie undoubtedly rattled a few people. So how scary did Spielberg think Jaws was? Too much for a 13-year-old?

In an interview with Vanity Fair in 2008, Spielberg explains the dilemma of deciding when the time’s right for his own kids to enjoy some of his scarier work.

“I haven’t shown Jaws to my 10 or 11-year-old, and I won’t. I showed Jaws to Sawyer when he was, I think, 13. Because then they use the argument, ‘Dad, I was bar mitzvahed last week. Everybody said today I’m a man, and you still won’t let me see Jaws?’ Sometimes the kids outsmart me.”

Source: Articulate.

JAWS – Spielberg’s First Masterpiece

I found this interesting take on JAWS over at TrashCinemaClub.com. More praise for our favorite film — aside from the badmouthing of Quint, that is …


Only his second feature film, Jaws cemented Steven Spielberg’s status as a great director in my mind. Jaws was also the first modern blockbuster, which helped to usher in the dreadful three-month wasteland of mindless action pictures and comedies known as the summer season, but I won’t hold that against it.

Jaws is thought of as a simple popcorn flick, but it’s much more than that. It has elements of horror, action/adventure, character-based drama, and political commentary. Jaws is a very rich film with a very simple premise.

A Great White shark has a midnight snack off the shores of Amity Island right before the summer tourist season. Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) concludes that a shark is loose and wants to close the beaches. He gets some opposition from Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton), who’s primary concern is the local tourist economy. Eventually, the town hires local fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) to hunt down the shark. Brody and oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) tag along.

Spielberg demonstrates his filmmaking mastery right off the bat with a late night party on the beach. He captures the spirit of the teen gathering in a way that doesn’t talk down to young people. This is important because we need to see the first victim as a flesh and blood human being, not merely a shark snack. The way the attack is filmed is bloodcurdling. Spielberg taps into the atavistic fear of what is unseen under the water by filming at water level. The performance of the young actress Susan Backlinie as the victim is fantastic and heartbreaking.

Back then, Spielberg’s mastery extended to character scenes as well. He economically sketches Chief Brody’s relationship with his wife and sons. Roy Scheider’s Brody comes off as a fully formed character. He’s sensitive, brave, self-doubting, righteous, and with a touch of wry humor. He’s a great hero, much more compelling than the usual monosyllabic slab of bulletproof machismo we’re accustomed to.

Oceanographer Matt Hooper shows up when he hears about the shark attacks, purely out of professional curiosity. Richard Dreyfuss makes him into a wonderful character. Hooper is brainy, combative, and has a sense of humor.

In fact, there is a lot of humor in Jaws. There are hilarious false alarms, mini-parodies of macho chest-beating, and swipes at the dopiness of human greed. Spielberg uses this humor not only to entertain us but to lull us into a false complacency before scaring the crap out of us yet again. He plays the audience like a Stradivarius.

The only character that’s problematic to a certain degree is Quint, the Great White shark hunter. Robert Shaw famously thought that the script for Jaws was a piece of #&*^ and it shows. Shaw condescends to the character and so Quint comes off as being corny. His portrayal doesn’t ruin Jaws, but it’s too bad Spielberg couldn’t get Lee Marvin, who was his first choice for Quint and probably would have played the role straight.

Murray Hamilton is wonderful as the smarmy mayor who wants to keep the beaches open. Hamilton was so effective that he became typecast in the role of the corrupt government bureaucrat who wants to preserve the status quo.

But as good as the dramatic and comedic elements are, the most impressive aspect of Jaws is Spielberg’s filmmaking prowess. Here’s a small example. In one scene, Brody is sitting in a lawn chair on the beach, trying to keep an eye on the water. Someone is talking to him. Spielberg uses a special lens with two magnifications on it, with the dividing line obscured by the waterline in the shot. The kid in the water that Brody is watching is magnified, mimicking Brody’s subjective reality. It’s just brilliant. And there’s examples like that all through the film.

The mechanical shark that Spielberg used on Jaws didn’t work most of the time, but Spielberg turns this to his advantage. He shows the shark very sparingly, which works out well because of the nature of man’s natural fear of sharks, part of which is you can’t see them most of the time because they are below the water. There’s one reveal of the shark which is just priceless, accompanied by a line, ad-libbed by Roy Scheider, which has made it into the popular consciousness — “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Finally, I should mention composer John Williams famous score. When Williams first played the dum-dum…dum-dum theme for Spielberg on piano, Spielberg thought he was joking because the theme was so primitive. But that’s the point, isn’t it? The score is terrific and tragically one of the last great scores Williams would write. Basically, his theme for Star Wars would ruin him. After that, directors just wanted him to regurgitate variations of the same heroic claptrap, over and over again.

It would be hard to overstress how good Jaws is. The reason that it was critically undervalued at the time is because Spielberg made it look too easy. Jaws goes down as easily as a glass of Sangria. It’s so entertaining that it’s easy to miss how profoundly accomplished the filmmaking is. Jaws succeeds on every possible level and remains one of Spielberg’s very best films.


Spielberg on Video Games – Pong, JAWS, Rock Band, Boom Blox

“I was making Jaws and living on Martha’s Vineyard. Somebody plugged in a coin op game called Pong at the merry-go-round in Oak Bluffs. I remember Richard Dreyfus and I, playing Pong together, got hooked. After shooting every day we’d come back and unwind by playing Pong. That got me into the whole videogaming world.”

One of this year’s best games is Boom Blox for the Nintendo Wii, which was conceived and designed by Steven Spielberg in collaboration with Electronic Arts. We got the chance to talk with the famed director about his motivation for making a game that didn’t tell a story, his own experience playing videogames, and his first glimpse of the videogame industry 35 years ago.

Can you tell me about the genesis of the idea you pitched to Electronic Arts that became Boom Blox?

After one of the meetings on our more complicated game I’m making, I was walking to my car with the team leader and I said I’ve got this idea for the Wii platform. I’d been so impressed with the interactivity it gives you, the rush where you’re the cause and you get to see the effect. So I pitched a game of just knocking blocks down. It’s a staple in every household, with three dimensional physical blocks. But it’s in all homes with kids and I thought it could be almost a sporting activity for the Wii. You would get awards based on a point system based on your skill.

I understand that you’ve been a Boom Blox household since your family was able to try a prototype early on. Is that correct?

That’s correct. My kids had a chance to not only tackle it, but to give me input.

What was their reaction when they first tried it?

They were late for dinner. We had to call them like five times to get them out of the family room to come eat. I figured at least I’d sold my family because I couldn’t get them out of the room.

In Boom Blox, some people are more inclined to knocking things over by throwing balls, and others like the mounting dread of the Jenga-like mode where you take out one piece at a time until it falls over. Do you have a favorite mode yourself?

My kids like to grab pieces and very carefully pull them out. But I like the knocking stuff down. I’d been playing blocks all my life with all seven of my kids as they were growing up. That’s how I came up with the game. That was going to be the draw, to get parents and kids in the same space together, finally playing a game together that would appeal to adults as well as kids…

Read the rest of the article here:  A Close Encounter with Steven Spielberg

The Visual Language of JAWS – JAWS Shot by Shot

Jaws. The defining film in my life. The first film I remember seeing as a child remains my favorite film of all time. Steven Spielberg was a Wellesian 26 years old when he directed this masterpiece and it forever changed the landscape of the Worldwide Box Office, the film formula and Hollywood’s marketing machines.

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Based on the novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws tells the simple story of a small New England town terrorized by a great white shark but it’s in the 2nd act with what starts as a simple horror story turns into a Moby Dick tale at sea fueled by the 3 archetypes of Chief Brody, Matt Hooper, and Quint, our salty Ahab.

As much as it’s been compared to Melville’s Moby Dick, I don’t recall Dick giving people true fear. What Hitch did with Psycho and shower curtains, Spielberg to this day makes me think of what’s underneath me whenever I step foot into the ocean.

The film is perfect and I chose a very simple sequence too look at. A sequence which on the page was 3 sentences long. Keep this is mind all of you ‘page a minute’ sticklers. How would you have shot this? How many cuts? You know the drill. Read the quick passage from the script and then let’s have a look at it, shot by shot:

See the shot by shot analysis at Cineobscure …

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