The numbers are staggering even by today’s standards: A movie shot for $9 million that went on to gross over $470 million, changing the entire movie industry in the process.
The film is Steven Spielberg’s 1975 movie, “Jaws,” and we’ll be bringing it to you on The Capitol’s big screen next week as the July installment of our Classics at The Capitol Series.
“Jaws” is the movie that changed everything. The way movies are marketed today, the way we go see movies, the concept of the summer blockbuster season — it all had its start with “Jaws.”
It’s also the film that established Steven Spielberg as the director we know today. It was only his fourth theatrical film and his follow up to the movie was another little motion picture you may have heard of called, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”
The story of “Jaws” is a tale as old as time. A love-lorn shark comes to shore to find his one true love, thanks to a wish from a genie who has granted him the chance to be human for one week. I’m kidding of course, but really it’s a shocker that wasn’t an actual plot line for one of the film’s notoriously awful sequels.
It’s Fourth of July weekend at the fictitious resort town of Amity Island. A great white shark begins to attack the beachgoers, something town Mayor Larry Vaughn — and his anchor jacket — is hesitant about making public as, “We can’t close the beach, this is the Fourth of July weekend!”
The local police chief Brody (Roy Scheider), a shark hunter named Quint (Robert Shaw) and oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) team up and go hunting for the shark to destroy it. That’s the gist of the film.
Production of “Jaws” was not easy. The team struggled with the three working mechanical sharks created by the art department; they often wouldn’t work correctly, and, in some cases, would sink the second they treaded salt water.
The film went over-budget and over the production schedule of 55 days, taking 159 days to complete. Universal did something unusual for films at the time. They poured lots of dollars into the marketing campaign, opening the film on 450 screens its opening weekend. During the 1970s, movies generally rolled out regionally, film prints traveling to theater to theater and playing for months at a time.
Universal’s gamble paid off and the movie became the biggest sensation anyone had ever seen — only to be outdone two years later by this little adventure movie in space called “Star Wars.”
Spielberg has often said that the painful production process became a blessing; the failure of the mechanical sharks caused him to re-think certain shots. A lot of the film’s shark footage was now done with the camera acting as the shark’s point of view. That, coupled with John Williams legendary score music (dun-dun-dun-dun-dun-dun) created something truly exceptional.
“Jaws” has grown into one of those films that so permeated the pop culture many of the film’s trademarks are known by those who have never seen the film. How often have you heard someone say “We’re gonna need a bigger boat?”
If you’ve never experienced “Jaws” on the big screen, where it was meant to be seen, then I hope you’ll join us at The Capitol Friday, July 6, when the film will be shown at 7 p.m. We have a wonderful 2K restoration of the film to share with you. I look forward to seeing you all there.
I may, or may not, be wearing an anchor jacket.
Until next month, I’ll see you at The Capitol.