Not many films can terrify the world in the same way that Jaws did in 1975. I personally know at least one person who is still afraid of sharks because of the film. From the haunting music that signals the appearance of the massive killer, to the immense effect that the film had on the landscape of cinema, Jaws is one of the most important films in history and everyone will have a chance to witness the great white madness on the big screen when a new, director-approved digital restoration begins screening on Friday, June 29, at TIFF Bell Lightbox.
With a Blu-ray release of Jaws coming in August 2012, there couldn’t be a better time for a theatrical screening of the film. We’re also well into the summer season, a season that Jaws changed forever. The film opened in about 500 theatres, a method that Hollywood wasn’t really using at the time. Typically, a film would open in select cities, creating buzz through word-of-mouth before continuing into other areas. Now you had a film, opening wide, and right at the start of the summer. That’s the perfect moment to make people afraid to go in the water.
It wasn’t just the way that Jaws was released that changed things, even the marketing was unique. An incredible amount of money was spent on advertising, including a large portion for national television commercials that ran in the days leading up to the film. There was also a large amount of merchandise created to capitalize on the film. Clothing, toys, games, and books became part of the Jaws world.
All of those things are no surprise now. There are times when we get trailers for the trailers. Merchandising is ubiquitous, and it’s hard to turn your head without seeing an ad for the latest movie starring your favorite actor. Not everyone may agree with the changes Jaws brought with it, but it’s impossible to say that it wasn’t an important film.
But that’s the business side to the film. Honestly, the film isn’t screening at TIFF Bell Lightbox because it had a wide release when no other films were doing that. It’s screening because it’s a fantastic film that people deserve to see in a theatre. Some of that charm comes from a troubled production, resulting in some of the best moments of the movie. The infamous robotic shark, nicknamed Bruce, was broken – so much so that large portions of the film were shot using the shark’s point of view in order to work around it. As it turns out, this is the thing that adds so much to the tension of the film. Let’s be honest, that fake shark didn’t really look that good anyway, but traveling under the water, heading towards an unaware victim, it was terrifying.
Of course, what would Jaws be without the fantastic performances of Roy Schieder, Richard Dreyfuss, and my personal favourite, Robert Shaw as Quint. When the three men head out to catch the shark once and for all, the real genius of the movie comes out. Again, troubles with production enhanced these scenes as well. It’s been said that Shaw and Dreyfuss did not get along, and with real life tension carrying over to the set, the relationship between the onscreen characters gains an added sense of realism. Almost all of the great dialogue occurs while the men are out hunting for the shark, and the most upsetting and shocking death also happens there.
It goes without saying that Jaws was a huge hit for director Steven Speilberg. It increased tourism to Martha’s Vineyard, where the movie was filmed. The way that films were released and advertised changed, and Jaws is widely recognized as starting the idea of the summer blockbuster. Even the way that merchandising was attached to the film paved the way for the future of movies. It’s been spoofed and parodied endlessly — a lot of that owing to the classic music for the shark — and has become a part of our culture in ways that we may not even notice anymore. The only thing more frightening than the film itself, would be missing the chance to see it on the big screen.