Looking Back at “Bruce”: An Ode to the Shark From Jaws (Weekly Feature)

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat…”

“That’s a 20 footer.”

“25. Three tons of him.”

-Jaws

It’s an interesting thing. A 25 foot ft, man-eating Great White Shark is something most modern-day audiences would see on the Sci-Fi network. A cheesy sea monster than can be destroyed in a supernatural explosion. It’s not something that’s an immediate, or even a potential threat to most people. As a matter of fact, a 25 ft long Great White Shark has never definitively been recorded on film. In 2013, A pregnant female shark named “Deep Blue” was filmed lazily inspecting a shark cage off the coast of Mexico. She is estimated to be over 50 years old, and measure about 20 ft long. She’s the largest Great White in her territory. Despite her massive size however, she exhibited no highly aggressive behavior and eventually returned to the depths of the ocean. There was nothing about her that warranted immediate fear.

This wasn’t the case in the summer of 1975.

Originally written as a novel by Peter Benchley, and adapted into an Academy Award winning film by Steven Spielberg, Jaws is widely regarded as the first modern-day summer blockbuster.  For two years until the release of Star Wars in 1977, Jaws was the highest grossing film of all time. The film is regarded as a cinematic masterpiece that combines some of the best uses of horror, special effects, and drama. It stars Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw as three men who are forced to hunt down and kill a great white shark that is terrorizing a town in Martha’s Vineyard. Scheider plays Chief Brody, a police officer from New York with a fear of the water who just wants to protect the citizens and his family. Dreyfuss plays Matt Hooper, a oceanologist who is called in to study the creature. Finally, Robert Shaw portrays Quint, a WW II veteran and modern day Captain Ahab. All three of these men turn in iconic, extremely well acted performances, but the three play second fiddle to the undeniable screen presence of the film’s actual star.

The Shark itself.

Jaws made audiences terrified people of going into the water. Listed #18 as one of the top 100 movie villains of all time by the American Film Institute, the shark absolutely steals the movie. Driven by nothing more than an instinctual desire to eat, the shark lays claim to the beaches of Amity right in the middle of the summer season, a mere few weeks before the fourth of July. First it kills a women, and then a young child in broad daylight. Finally, on the fourth of July in a period of hysteria, a man is knocked out of his boat and eaten by the shark. The shark holds the town in fear as it threatens the lives of their friends and family. Furthermore, the livelihoods of the locals are threatened as the shark scares away tourists. Forced with no option other than to kill the animal, Chief Brody, Hooper, and Quint are tasked with hunting it down.

Even in scenes the shark doesn’t appear, its presence its felt. The shark sets every major plot point into motion, and lies at the root of every piece of dialogue. Theres almost no scene in which the shark isn’t mentioned, discussed or alluded to. This was a brilliant trick used by Spielberg. After the mechanical shark (nicknamed “Bruce”) faced technical challenges in the salty open ocean, Spielberg was forced to figure out a way how to make the shark feared without actually being able to fully show it. The answer was only briefly showing the shark’s fin, or obscuring it in some way. The fear comes from the anxiety that the characters go through, and the gradual building up to the shark’s appearance. It’s a trick that’s been employed by countless horror films since. The shark itself doesn’t fully appear until the film’s final act, as shown in this iconic scene.

Important to note, Roy Scheider’s annoyance and then look of surprise and fear are genuine. After several failed takes in which the shark failed to surface, Scheider was frustrated that the shark was failing to operate, and was finally taken aback when the beast finally broke the water.

The Shark animatronic was initially three seperate mechanical sharks that all had different purposes and utilities depending on what type of scene was being shot. Because of the ocean conditions, and other factors the animatronics repeatedly needed upgrades and repairs. Breakdowns on the set weren’t uncommon. For the famous Shark cage sequence, shots of actual Great Whites circling cages off the coast of Australia were used. Shark naturliasts Ron and Valerie Taylor orchestrated the shots, and placed short actors in small cages with cameras in order to enchance the illusion that the sharsk were massive. One shot of a shark destroying the cage was so well done that Spielberg rewrote the script so that the character of Hooper survives and escapes the cage in order for the shot to be used.

A fourth shark was created for promotional purposes from the original “Bruce” mold where it was on display from 1975 to 1990 at Universal Studios. The model was then purchased by Sam Adlen from Alden Brothers Auto Wrecking in California. There, the model was hung up as a sort of decoration in the parking lot where it was weathered and forgotten. In 2010, NPR writer and correspondent Cory Turner found the shark in the lot, and brought a new sense of interest into preserving and visiting this old model.

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The fourth and final model of the shark hung at the Alden Brother Auto Wrecking  parking lot for two decades until it was donated to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures in 2016. 

In 2016, after Adlen Brothers closed, owner of the establishment Nathan Adlen generously donated the final model to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures where it will be refurbished for a Jaws memorial exhibit. It will be the largest object on display at the museum. The exhibit is set to open in 2017, where even you will be witness this 25 ft giant for yourself. Until then, you should be safe going back into the water.

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The Triumph of Disney (Industry Observation)

We’re five months into 2016, and Disney has utterly dominated the cinematic year. With the release of Captain America: Civil War, Disney has grossed over three billion in ticket sales internationally. Zootopia, The Jungle Book and Captain America have destroyed box office records, with Star Wars: The Force Awakens providing an additional amount of the gross total after being in syndication at the beginning of the year.

This dominance comes as a surprise to absolutely no one. Although the success of Zootopia was a little shocking, Disney was predicted to dominate the first half of 2016 with no significant competition coming until Warner Bros. Batman vs Superman: Dawn of Justice in March. Early word of mouth, and a strong cast hooked audiences initial attention for Zootopia. Additionally, a key release at the beginning of March capitalized on school and spring breaks in the United States and boosted national domestic gross.

After recieving a Super Bowl day trailer, gaining millions of hits on YouTube trailer dates, and a promotional campaign that banked on the A-List talent bringing old nostalgia back to life, The Jungle Book was a guaranteed success. Like the animated film that came before it, The Jungle Book was met with critical acclaim. Significant praise was given to the animation, and for being a more faithful adaption of the original Rudyard Kipling novel. The film was directed by Jon Favreau, also known for directing Iron Man 3. 

Captain America is currently in theatres, and is being called the best super hero movie since The Dark Knight and The Avengers. Disney will continue to destroy the month of May, and the sequel to Alice in Wonderland, a film which grossed over 1 billion in 2010, will be released in June. There’s no stopping this fast moving train.

Eras of the Movie Trailer: Part 4

“I always like teaser trailers because they don’t give too much away, you know? They give just a flavor of what the thing is. ”
-Oscar Isaacs

My Closing Thoughts on the movie trailer era are ones of solemnity and pondering. I’ve always held true that Hollywood doesn’t define culture, culture defines Hollywood. If you want a 65 second, condensed version of what the people want to see, then all you need to do is look up the latest movie trailer. In those seconds, you’ll see the values of the society that lives in it, the heart stopping action, or the laugh out comedy that the audience is willing to pay there hard earned money to see.

The Eras perfectly encapsulated what the people wanted to see. After the talkies hit there stride, audiences wanted to see there favorite stars from the silents come on, and strut there stuff. Gene Kelly, Charlie Chaplin, Lillian Gish all thrived in this era as the big letters showed there names across the screen. It was an era of stardom, and the stars ruled the trailers.

The Voice Over era marked off the action, the prosperity and the cheesiness of the era. 80s and 90s America enjoyed an era of peace. The Cold War had ended, and in the decade before 9/11, the entertainment industry was enjoying a booming economy, blockbusters, and the Disney Renaissance. People were willing to listen to these resonant voices tell them what there movies were going to be about because there was time for it. Time to enjoy it, and time to savor it.

After the tragedy of 9/11, A frustrating war in Iraq, and the financial crisis of 2007-08, American audiences suddenly fell out of favor with the voice over artist. Don Lafontaine’s death in 2008 was a huge blow to the industry, and many voice over talents transitioned to the more stable world of national TV and internet promos. Letters and narrators were replaced by gritty cinematography, booming scores, and faded texts and letters.

The movie trailer industry is always changing, and even trailers for TV Series are becoming events in themselves. The trailers are coveted just as much as the movie itself. It will continue to change just along with us.

See ya in the movies!