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.

bruce_slide-8710c90f1e0c2ab638d7ff1ee2f222a43742c61f-s900-c85
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.

Advertisements

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!

 

 

“Oh, hai James Franco!”

A film that is so bad, it’s good.

2003’s cult classic, “The Room”, is one of those films. From its non sequiturs, plot holes, inconsistent characterizations, questionable editing, lackadaisical acting, and just terrible cinematography, “The Room” epitomizes silver screen irony.

The film has sold out crowds over the past decade, with movie goers quoting the films hilarious dialogue and dressing up as the main characters. It’s a great spectacle, and a testament to the effect the film has on people.

Now, in an interesting case of movie-ception, comedy duo James Franco and Seth Rogen have been producing a movie about the making of “The Room”. The film, which is based on the memoir “The Disaster Artist” written by Greg Sestero, one of “The Room’s” lead, will explore the unique friendship between Tommy Wisseau and Sestero. The two men will be played by James Franco, and his brother Dave Franco, with Seth Rogen playing the role of one of the movies directors. The film will also star Alyson Brie, Bryan Cranston, and Zac Efron.

“The Masterpiece”, as the movie will be known, will be released in the fall of 2016. Until then, enjoy one of the most famous scenes from the 2003 classic.

Eras of the Movie Trailer: Part 3

The Modern Era of Movie Trailers.

2008-Now

“BWONG.”

After the death of Don Lafontaine, and the gradual moving away from cheesiness to grittiness, “In a World” was soon replaced by the blaring “bwong” from Han’s Zimmer’s theme, “The Dream is Collapsing” for the Inception soundtrack. Movie Trailers today aren’t accompanied by voice overs (they’re used every now and again), instead they typically use booming percussion that has been popularized by Zimmer’s distinct electronic trumpet sound.

Perhaps second only to the living legend John Williams, Hans Zimmer is one of the greatest movie composers alive today. He’s composed the music for The Lion King, The Dark Knight Trilogy, and Gladiator. His themes are enthralling and infectious, and have found there way into movie trailers.

While 90’s and early 2000’s movie trailers were more so extensions of the movie they were advertising, modern day movie trailers are almost there own separate event. They are heavily stylized, with some of the best clips tied together in a greatly edited, grand package. The movie trailer industry has become a multi-million dollar sensation. Compare and contrast the original trailer for The Lion King from 1993, and a modern day recut.

 

The Eras of the Movie Trailer: The 90’s Blockbuster

1980-2000s:

“In a World.”

-Don Lafontaine and Hal Douglas

The movie trailer world was changed. After decades of experimentation. Don Lafontaine came onto the scene. Just watch the video below.

Armed with a voice that some dubbed “The Voice of God”, Don Lafontaine was the king of the voice over world. At his prime, Lafontaine would record sometimes up to 60 promos a week. In 90s American Entertainment, a culture that prided itself on quick and snappy entertainment, “In a World…” was the perfect stage setter. Lafontaine continued to do national, and well known work until his death in 2008.

“We have to very rapidly establish the world we are transporting them to. That’s very easily done by saying, “In a world where…” You very rapidly set the scene.”

Americans no longer wanted fluffy, flowery language in there movie trailers. Adults and Teenagers wanted action, drama and heart pumping suspense. Kids wanted cheesiness to the absolute max.

It wasn’t just Lafontaine who dominated this era. Hal Douglas, WW II Veteran and Golden Age Radio Star, also championed the iconic, “In a World.” There is dispute over who, or what company actually first coined the phrase, but it was Lafontaine and Douglas who made the phrase an industry standard. Douglas maintained a strong presence in the voice over industry, recording from his personal studio in Virginia, until his death at the age of 89 in 2014.

You didn’t need a resonant baritone to win over audiences however. Mark Elliot, the voice of Walt Disney Home VHS Collection promos was known for his welcoming, cheerful, mid timbered voice. His “Coming Soon to Theaters!”, or “And Now, Our Feature Presentation” gave home movie watching a bigger, theatre-like feel. Elliot is still doing work for Disney, and other entertainment companies today.

 

The Jungle Book vs. The Jungle Book

Disney’s live-action remake of their 1967 classic, “The Jungle Book” opens today in theaters. It’s already garnered a significant amount of praise, and acclaim. Interestingly, Warner Bros. has announced they’ve changed the name of their upcoming film, “Jungle Book: Origins” to just the “Jungle Book.”

Rudyard Kipling’s “The Jungle Book” is a rich series of novels with many characters that have been portrayed in many different adaptations over the years. Movies, Books, Graphic novels, and radio plays have all shown the characters in great and unique ways. However, the most famous adaptation that has emerged is Walt Disney’s “The Jungle Book.” While the original Disney film bares very little resemblances to the works they’re adapted from (Walt Disney flat-out told the team making the movie to not read them), it offered a very unique and family friendly spin on the story. Today, many people associate “The Jungle Book” with the Disney film, not the series of novels that inspired it.

This new remake by Disney is updating all the classic songs, and contains some very impressive CGI. Weta Digital, the special effects team behind James Cameron’s Avatar, and The Planet of the Apes series, brings the Jungle to life. Despite it’s photorealistic special effects, the entire film was recorded in a soundstage in Los Angeles. The voice actors as well recorded there lines in a recording studio. All the effects, and ambience come from prerecorded tracks and computer effects. Newcomer Neel Sethi shines as protagonist Mowgli, and boasts an even more impressive A-List cast of Bill Murray, Scarlet Johannsen, Christopher Walken, Ben Kingsley, Lupit Nyongo, Idris Elba and others.

Director Andy Serkis and Warner Bros. are creating their own adaption of the Jungle Book, which was originally  titled “Jungle Book: Origins.” Now, it is simply “The Jungle Book.”  This adaptation promises to be a much more truer adaptation of the works by Rudyard Kipling. No singing vultures, no super bright colors, it’s the gritty and faithful thing. The movie will incorporate motion capture, and if there’s any indication of Andy Serkis’s success with motion capture films with animal characters, this adaptation will be phenomenal.

Serkis himself will portray Baloo the Bear, as well with fellow A-listers Benedict Cumberpatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale. Cumberpatch, and Blanchett have both worked previously with Serkis in the Lord of the Rings, and The Hobbit

So why drop the “Origins”? Many different media outlets have been quick to point out that this name change adds confusion to the already existing film by Disney. Indeed it does. Having both movies sharing the same name is incredibly confusing. However, does that mean that the change isn’t necessary in a way?

Andy-Serkis-Star-Wars-Character
Motion Captor visonary, Andy Serkis is directing the upcoming Warner Bros. adaptation of “The Jungle Book”, and will be playing the role of Baloo. With several A-list actors attached to voice the characters, with a strong screenplay, there’s little reason to doubt that the film won’t be able stand on its own merits.

A sequel has already been announced for Disney’s 2016 remake, and so Warner Bros. has most likely changed name to ideally avoid any narrative confusion with Disney’s brand. With Andy Serkis’s Imaginarium Productions attached to project, as well as the acclaimed talent in Bale, Blanchett and Cumberpatch, there’s no doubt in anyones mind that this film won’t be great. The “Origins” might imply that the film is a prequel, or an “origin” story to the Disney film. No matter what way the decision cut, it’s an unfortunate one for Warner Bros. who have to compete with giant that Disney is marching forward with.

 

 

 

Legacy Tuesday: Atticus Finch

The dignity of Atticus Finch. The purity of his motivations are what I was so impressed by.”

-Harrison Ford

Growing up in Massachusetts, I’ve always enjoyed a great novel. Perhaps the only thing I enjoyed more, was a film that did the novel justice. A movie can easily ruin the story of the original book, but every now and then, a jem shines through. Nowadays it seems, we are hard pressed to find a true and noble hero in cinema. Dark, reboots of classic films permeate the showtimes. The old guard of charming, radiating heroes are gone, or have been updated to be more marketable to a more diverse, complex, and gritty generation. Superman now snaps necks, Luke Skywalker is now a recluse in the galaxy, and Han Solo is dead.

But there’s one cinematic hero who has stowed the test of generations and has maintained his symbol as a beacon for justice, fairness and respect…Atticus Finch.

Portrayed by Gregory Peck in an Academy Award Winning performance in the 1962 film, To Kill a Mockingbird, Atticus Finch is a lawyer in southern town of Maycomb, Alabama. He is the single father of protagonist Jean “Scout” Louise, and her brother Jem. Atticus is the only lawyer in town willing to defend Tom Robinson, a black man convicted of sexually assaulting a white woman. Throughout the movie, Atticus teaches his children valuable life lessons, all the while building a defense for a man who no one else will defend.

Atticus’s appeal to the jury in his closing statement is widely considered to be one of the best courtroom scenes in cinematic history, and the most iconic from the actual film. The tragedy of the story is the fact that Atticus Finch, and Tom Robinson lose the case. It ultimately leads to the death of Tom Robinson, and embitters Atticus’s children to a degree. But he tells them to keep believing in humanity, and eventually, good things will happen. He ends the movie reading a story to his children.

1atticusmain
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.” – Atticus Finch

Atticus’s heroics come from the fact that he is unflinchingly noble and altruistic in the face of racism, ignorance, and fear. He is stoic, and reasonable in every action he pursues, never once believing he is doing anything wrong. Despite all of this, he treats even his detractors with respect and understanding, refusing to attack a man who spits in his face. He is immune to the racism of the town, viewing Tom Robinson as any other client with the constitutional right to be defended. He only ever brings up race when its to make a point to his children, or to highlight the absurdity of the situation to the Maycomb courtroom.

Even with his pacifism, Atticus is revealed to be one of the best shots in the county, as he is called to euthanize a dog with rabies by the sheriff from a safe distance so it doesn’t harm any one. Important to note, he does this with great reluctance as he doesn’t like shooting guns. His skilled shot with a gun earns Atticus a condescending respect from even the most racist, and ignorant citizens of Maycomb.

It’s because of all this that Atticus Finch was listed #1 as the best hero in all cinema by the American Film Institute. He continues to be a revered symbol for justice even today, and even the most jaded high schoolers concede that he is the one of the best heroes of fiction. While Atticus’s reputation took a small hit with the 2015 release of the sequel novel, Go Set a Watchman, it does very little to detract from what Atticus did and stood for in To Kill a Mockingbird. Both on the screen, and off.

The Eras the Movie Trailer

PART 2
PART 3
PART 4

THE SILENT FILM & BIG BLOCK ERA: PART ONE

1910s-70s

After years of evolution, and change, the Movie Trailer has become an event in itself. The hype for some blockbuster trailers almost even rivals that of the movie it is advertising. In this part one of “Silver Screen Study’s” multi post story, we dive into the advent of the movie trailer, and its evolution into what it is today. 

There were no movie trailers for silent films. At least, they weren’t as prevalent as they were today. The advertisement for silent films instead relied on tinted lantern posts, and posters to rely on advertisement for their films. “Word-of-mouth”, the spreading of information about a film  based on person to person conversation was also key. There was no showing up to the theatre 15 minutes early to get a sneak peek for an upcoming blockbuster. Just images and the generosity of your fellow-man.

das-cabinet-des-dr-caligari-poster
Posters, such as this one for the well known German Expressionist film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari”, were one of the several different methods used to advertise silent films.

But once the talkies began, studios and film editing visionaries foresaw a new opportunity to flex the muscle of the new and expansive technology. A new way to “show” the movie, without actually showing it.

The movie trailer was born.

The first movie trailer was shown in 1913 for the film The Pleasure Seekers, and debuted at the Marcus Lowe theatre chain. The trailer was met with praise, with one critic calling it a “new and pleasurable stunt.”  It inspired many theaters and upcoming film makers to adopt the practice.

The term “trailer” comes from the fact that the first previews were shown at the end of the feature. They “trailed after” the movie. This didn’t last long, as many customers missed the trailer after the movie. Never the less the name stuck and movie previews were now known as “trailers.”

This first era of movie trailers is what I’ll call “The Big Block” Era. These early trailers relied heavily on advertising the stars, often times A-listers from the Silent Films, in big white letters. In this era of letters and happy-go-lucky musical arrangements, a simple tagline would be used to introduce the movie’s storyline, and then would dive straight into the actors and the movie title.

The above trailer for 1952’s “Singing in the Rain” is a perfect example of a trailer from the Big Block Era. Big letters, the key piece from the movie, and heavily advertising the films top billed lead, Gene Kelly.

This trend would continue, with some differing styles over the decades, until the late 80’s. Then one day, a man named Don Lafontaine walked into a recording booth in Los Angeles.