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5 Things You Might Not Know About Steven Spielberg’s Game-Changing ‘Jaws’

5 Things You Might Not Know About Steven Spielberg's Game-Changing 'Jaws'

You know what’s a fun task? Trying to convince anyone that Steven Spielberg’s 1975 “Jaws” is not an American classic and a nearly flawless film. It’s kind of impossible, and if you were to somehow take this position, you would either be painfully foolhardy, Rex Reed, or both.

The film is regarded as the first bonafide summer blockbuster, one that, along with subsequent seasonal smashes like “Star Wars,” were part of the death of the 1970s silver-age era of indie American filmmaking. Its enormous box-office success made irrevocable changes to the the studio business model that has turned the months between April and September into a frenzy of special effects and explosions. But “Jaws” shouldn’t be demonized for that, because unlike most of today’s blockbusters, it was and is much more than a spectacle-driven piece meant to lure audiences to the theaters.

In fact, for much of the maligned production of “Jaws,” Universal, and at times even Steven Spielberg, thought they might have a “great white turd” on their hands — one of the director’s favorite nicknames for the now-legendary malfunctioning mechanical shark that caused him all kinds of suffering on the set of the film.

Yes, the trammeled mechanical shark forced Spielberg to be more “Hitchock-ian,” but the script and guts of the story were already there. This is a film full of suspense, emotion, drama, humor, wit and terror that evoked a fear almost never seen in audiences before. It’s also a terrific picture all around, and any modern day auteur will tell you it’s a master class in film unto itself.

“As I was younger I was more courageous. Or I was more stupid. So when I think of Jaws I think of courage and stupidity and both of those things existing underwater,” Spielberg said self-deprecatingly in the 1995 video extra, “The Making Of Jaws.” Either way, both traits produced a gift to filmgoers that won’t soon be forgotten. Universal Studios Home Entertainment announced yesterday that Spielberg’s summer-blockbuster template “Jaws” arrives on Blu-ray August 14, 2012, and so in honor of the film, here are five fun “Jaws” facts you might not have known.

1. Steven Spielberg wanted Sterling Hayden for the role of Quint. Lee Marvin was also considered for the role.
While author Peter Benchley optimistically suggested Robert Redford, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen to play the central trio of Chief Brody, Hooper and Quint, Spielberg mostly wanted to avoid star names. That being said, he offered the meatiest role of Quint to Lee Marvin at first, but Marvin wryly commented that he’d rather go fishing, although wished the young director the best with the project. Next up was Sterling Hayden, but the “Dr. Strangelove” star was in trouble with the IRS, and after an attempt to get around his income tax problems (the filmmakers tried to pay him as a writer, rather than an actor), Spielberg went with Robert Shaw, who ironically also had tax problems and had to flee the U.S. as soon as he wrapped the film. No wonder Steven Spielberg nicknamed the mechanical shark after his lawyer Bruce…

2. Spielberg angered Charlton Heston by turning him down to play Chief Brody, while Jeff Bridges could have played Hooper.
Quint wasn’t the only part that went through a number of actors before landing on the eventual winners. Charlton Heston wanted to play Chief Brody, and was so incensed when he didn’t get it that he vowed never to work with Spielberg (he later turned down the part of General Stilwell, taken by Robert Stack, in “1941” — a wise move, in retrospect…). Robert Duvall was favored by Spielberg for the part, as the actor had encouraged him to make the movie. But Duvall saw that it was a potential phenomenon, and turned it down for fear that it would make him too famous. Jeff Bridges, Jan-Michael Vincent, Timothy Bottoms and Jon Voight were all considered for Hooper before Spielberg’s pal George Lucas recommended Richard Dreyfuss, with whom he’d just worked on “American Graffiti

3. The famous USS Indianapolis speech went through the hands of many writers.
For all its thrills and jumps (including the unforgettable pop-up head, which was actually a reshoot after Spielberg decided he wanted one more scare), the film’s most compelling scene is a verbal one: Quint’s monologue about the USS Indianapolis, the second world war ship sunk by a Japanese torpedo, only for the survivors to be picked off by sharks. Originally invented by Howard Sackler (best known for “The Great White Hope,” and who’d later return to write “Jaws 2“), and embellished by “Apocalypse Now” scribe John Milius, the scene became a bone of contention between author Peter Benchley and credited scribe Carl Gottlieb. As they argued, Robert Shaw went and rewrote the bulk of the scene himself: it passed muster with both Benchley and Gottlieb, and remains in the final film, one of the great screen monologues.

4. Robert Shaw was drunk and belligerent throughout the shoot and fought with most of the cast and crew, but especially with Richard Dreyfuss.
As many “Jaws” fans already know, Robert Shaw — the salty and dissolute Quint, who helps Chief Brody and Dr. Hooper track the shark that is haunting the waters of Long Island, New York — was an inveterate drunk. Saucy and irate, Shaw’s real-life tempestuousness on set helped fuel the ire between him and Richard Dreyfuss‘ Hooper because it was largely a real-lfe conflict between the two actors. Dreyfuss famously said that Shaw terrified him on set. “Robert totally intimidated me,” he admitted. “I knew that on the first day I met him. He was a great gentleman, [but] he was also a terrible bully and he was really big.” When Shaw passed away in 1978, the cast and crew became even more at ease in telling these stories. In fact, during Shaw’s unforgettably chilling and aforementioned USS Indianapolis speech, when the actor went to shoot the scene, he suggested to Spielberg that he imbibe a little bit to catch a taste of the characters who were all supposed to be drunk. Shaw got so soused that Spielberg had to wrap the day early. “He had a complete blackout and had no memory of what had gone down that day,” Spielberg said in an interview last year. “He said, ‘Steven, tell me I didn’t embarrass you.’ He was very sweet, but he was panic-stricken.”  Still, it’s an electric, indelible performance and the actor’s alcohol problems shouldn’t undermine it.

5. Steven Spielberg didn’t like John Williams’ now-iconic theme when he heard it.
“That’s funny, John, really. But what did you really have in mind for the theme of ‘Jaws?’ ” Spielberg said to the composer when he first heard the score, presumably thinking it was too big and cartoonish to be effective at the time. Fortunately, he changed his mind as the score to “Jaws” is obviously one of, if not the most recognizable pieces of movie music of all time. Another fun fact: Williams had to run double duty at the 1976 Oscars. Already conducting the orchestra for the ceremony, when he won the Best Original Score for “Jaws” that night, he had to run up to the podium and accept his award and then quickly run down back into the orchestra pit to conduct his own walk-out music.

And if you’re looking for more shark-related fun, below you can find a promo from Universal to promote their new restoration, a selection of deleted scenes from the picture and the trailer.
 

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Comments

Bill

Correct date was July 30, 1945 (actually 30th), not June 29, 1945. Either Shaw flubbed the month and the take was too good to care about it or it is wrong in the script.

Bill

Correct date was July 30th, 1945, not June 29, 1945.

Keyser

Well at least we can all agree that Armond White is a trolling hack.

Colin Biggs

Armond White doesn't say fuck you, he says have a wonderful day. Clearly, you know nothing of Mr. White's work.

LA2000

That original trailer is still awesome.

JD

Also: Shaw didn't write the Indianopolis speech. Carl Gottlieb has for years been waging this pitiful campaign to deny John Milius credit for anything related too Jaws. Milius wrote the Indianopolis speech based on two paragraphs of dialogue by Howard Sackler. Shaw edited it down, but that's all he did. Milius actually can probably be considered an uncredited writer on the film: he made suggestions all through pre-production and production, revised dialogue (especially Quint's dialogue) and contributed to the general tone of overall.

JD

Wow, I sure didn't know Jaws was set on Long Island. THAT'S news all right! Must be that part of Long Island where everybody has New England accents and puts Massachusetts license plates on their cars to try and jinx the Red Sox. Makes sense, though seeing as everyone in the film is constantly referring to "Amity" and "Amity Island" and describing how they live on Amity. And at the end Hooper and Brody swim all the way to Chappaquidick! Anyway, thanks for clearing that up.

Edward Davis

Actually a lot of people agreed with Gabe on things like "Raid Redemption," "The Hunger Games," etc. It's just that Gabe wrote those reviews which felt contrarian to a lot of other reviews out there, but many of us were onboard.

GABE TORO is a contrarian

yes, he's theplaylist's armond white.

gerhard

Don't post comments if you don't want responses.

FUCK YOU

Benjamin, because he uses Spielberg as a standard by which all great filmmakers are measured….THAT'S fucking contrarian? Hehehe…okay. I get it. Cause no one else does that, right?

Ya know, I don't give a shit about him, Spielberg, or you. Now FUCK OFF.

Benjamin

Dear FU:
For anyone familiar with him, it's pretty clear that The Playlist only mentions Armond White as an example of someone who's a contrarian for the sake of being a contrarian, not because he's someone who dislikes the film itself. And, by the way, if he likes Jaws it HAS to do with his being a contrarian: he famously loves anything Spielberg makes and considers him one of the greatest filmmakers of the world, if not THE greatest of them all, going so far as to continually mention him in reviews of films that have absolutely nothing to do with Spielberg just to point out that whichever film he's reviewing isn't nowhere as good as such-and-such Spielberg film.

FUCK YOU

Not a super fan….just not stupid.

gerhard

Calm down, Armond Super-Fan.

Johnny-Ronny

I think the most interesting trivia about "Jaws" is that it is partly based on the Ibsen play "An Enemy of the People".

Cuntuu

I think the comment is just meant to illustrate how Armond is generally a contrarian on any major collective-wisdom thought as it applies to cinema. I.e. it would be ridiculous even for him to dislike this film (and he doesn't).

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