"Jaws"

Twenty-five years ago, a young director set out to make audiences believe an outlandishly frightening shark tale. They bit.


Eric Boehlert
July 26, 2000 11:00PM (UTC)

"Jaws"
Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss
Universal; widescreen
Extras: Deleted scenes and outtakes, trivia game, behind-the-scenes documentary, more

"You're going to need a bigger boat," mutters a stunned Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), Amity's chief of police, after getting a way-too-close-up look at the man-eating shark he and shipmates Quint (Robert Shaw) and researcher Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) are hunting at sea. The line, improvised on the set by Scheider, anchors more than a dozen classic scenes from the summer of '75 blockbuster "Jaws," which has finally been released on DVD. A quarter of a century later the movie remains a marvel, a populist piece of '70s cinematic wonder that easily stands the test of time.

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After all, "Jaws" not only set the gold standard for its own genre (horror/suspense) but raised the bar for every action blockbuster that would follow. In terms of pure popcorn power, "Jaws" was "Halloween" before "Halloween," "Star Wars" before "Star Wars" and "E.T." before "E.T."

While Universal Studios touts the additional 75 minutes of footage, the DVD package itself is just so-so. For instance, "Jaws" fans will notice that a large chunk of the behind-the-scenes reminiscences, particularly by Steven Spielberg and Dreyfuss, already aired on television last year. A running commentary over the entire film by Spielberg and company would have been preferable, not to mention the inclusion of an authentic '70s movie trailer. (For the latter, check out www.jaws25.com.)

Still, there are some fascinating nuggets, such as the story behind the underwater scenes where an actual great white -- as opposed to the rubber dummy -- attacks an underwater cage. (The scenes were shot in Australia, where great white sharks average only 14 feet, compared with the mythic 25-footer in "Jaws," and they feature a scaled-down cage.) Or the revelation that during the memorable opening sequence when the female college student is devoured, it was Spielberg, submerged and yanking a chord tied to the actress's waist, who gave the swimmer that first violent, heart-skipping tug.

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We also discover that Lee Marvin passed on the role of Chief Brody, and that "Jaws" author Peter Benchley told Spielberg that his new pumped-up ending, where the monster shark was literally blown out of the water, was totally unbelievable. The ridiculously young and confident Spielberg didn't care, assuring Benchley that if the movie worked, he'd have the audience in his hand and that by the final scene they'd believe whatever he showed them.

He was right. Dreyfuss recalls going to see the movie at a Times Square theater and watching in amazement as the sold-out crowd hung around to clap after the final credits. "He did it! He did it!" Dreyfuss exclaimed to Benchley in a nearby bar. "Who did it?" asked the author. "Spielberg! He did it!" And how.

To the next review in the DVD Room

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Eric Boehlert

Eric Boehlert, a former senior writer for Salon, is the author of "Lapdogs: How the Press Rolled Over for Bush."

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