Tuesday, April 29, 2014
The Fearsome Story Behind Jaws
By Nikki Zaidan
Thinking back to sun-soaked summer afternoons lying on the beach, countless hours spent searching for seashells in the sand, and the unreserved joy of playing in the surf, the last thought in a person’s mind would be a shark attack. Unless, of course, they have seen Jaws.
To briefly summarize, Jaws is about a man named Chief Brody, played by Roy Schneider, who is the police chief in his town and who works together with Robert Shaw, a fisherman, and Richard Dreyfuss, a marine biologist, in order to stop a Great White Shark that has recently been attacking people in his island town. The film is 124 minutes, and is rated PG for film and TV-14 for television, according to IMDb.com. Commercially speaking, IMDb.com reports that Jaws made more than $430 million around the world, with only about $8 million for its original budget.
Released in June 1975, Steven Spielberg’s Jaws will soon be celebrating its 39th anniversary. Many people know the film or are at least familiar with composer John William’s infamous Jaws theme. The theme itself may be simple, but critics agree that is holds a certain power, so much so, the Jaws musical score is placed in the top 10 unforgettable movie scores, according to an American Film Institute survey conducted in 2005.
The story of Jaws is based on a best-selling novel from 1974 by Peter Benchley, which was “very popular,” as John Williams said. What many people may not realize is that Jaws was inspired by shark attacks that occurred in New Jersey in 1916, according to a Daily Mail article by Nina Golgowski.
According to The Museum of Unnatural History website, Beach Haven, New Jersey was a town that many people considered safe, at least before July 1, 1916. On that date, Charles Vansant, only 25 at the time, had most of his left leg bitten off by a Great White Shark, and died about an hour after his attack. According to the website, Vansant’s injury was so serious that he most likely would not have survived in this century, even with the advances of modern medicine.
Five days later on July 6, Charles Bruder was attacked and died by the coast of Spring Lake, only 45 miles north from the last attack. The next victim to die was Lester Stillwell, an 11 year old who was in Matawan Creek with friends at the time of his attack on July 12. In an effort to save Stillwell and catch the shark, Watson Stanley Fisher jumped in. However, the shark attacked him as well and in the struggle to escape, Fisher’s inner right thigh was bitten severely. He died shortly after arriving at a hospital. On the same day, about half a mile away, Joseph Dunn suffered an attack but survived as a result of his friends’ quick thinking to pull him out of the water.
After the violence and uncertainty surrounding the attacks, relief came when a Great White Shark was captured in Raritan Bay about two days after the last incident. According to Golgowski’s article, fishermen asserted that there were 15 pounds of human bone and remains inside of the captured shark. Because people never really had any experience in the past with sharks or shark attacks, there was a fear of the unknown and the attacks became even more terrifying for people. The brutality of these attacks lasted through the years, so much so, it served as inspiration for future books and films decades after.
It is clear that this movie has greatly impacted people, be it from the content or style, however this film could have been significantly different had there not been technical difficulties. The mechanical shark that was used had problems and often broke, which caused frustration for Spielberg. Because of this, he had to alter his camera style; instead, he filmed a lot of the movie from the point of view of a shark, which many critics commended because it created a sense of fear.
People can give different meanings to their film experiences. Steven Spielberg once said, “When I first hear the word Jaws, I just think of a period in my life when I was much younger than I am right now, and I think because I was younger, I was more courageous…or I was more stupid. I’m not sure which. So when I think of Jaws, I think about courage and stupidity. And I think of both those things existing under water.”
With this idea in mind, have you experienced Jaws for yourself yet?
Nikki Zaidan is a sophomore majoring in English and Communication Arts at St. Thomas Aquinas College. She is in the Spartan Comedy Club and tutors French, English, and Sociology at the Center for Academic Excellence. Her interests include spending time with her friends and family as well as watching films, reading, and writing. She aspires to pursue a career in either writing or film production after she graduates.