Friday, July 2, 2010

There's a Shark in the Pond!

Well, it seems to be a summer of movie anniversaries. I already talked about the most influential horror movie of all time, but this summer also marks the 35th anniversary of the most influential horror movie of the 1970's, Steven Spielberg's Jaws.

Nothing seemed to be going right for the film while in production. The mechanical shark (dubbed 'Bruce'* by the crew) didn't work and the film went over budget and over schedule and Universal execs were sure they had a flop on their hands, while Spielberg was certain he would never work again. By now, we all know that once Spielberg got into the editing room, he managed to create a masterfully suspenseful film by not showing the monster until very nearly the end of the movie. And then there was that masterfully simple cello-heavy score by John Williams (Spielberg's composer of choice for so many films): Da-DUM! Da-DUM! Da-dum-da-dum-da-dum da-da-da-da-dada-DAH! Bernard Herrman would have been so proud! Is it any wonder that America's beaches were empty that summer?

I was 14 the year Jaws came out, and while I remember seeing it at a drive-in theater with my family, and I found it incredibly entertaining, I was by then an already a jaded horror fan who wasn't particularly freaked out by Jaws, unlike so many movie-goers of the time. Much of that had to do with the fact that I wasn't really a fan of ocean swimming, in first place. Yes, I have many great memories of day-trips to the Jersey Shore (unfortunately at Seaside Heights, where that execrable MTV show is shot**), though we would spend only a few hours on the beach before heading to the infinitely more interesting (to me, at least) boardwalk with its fascinating games of chance and questionably safe thrill rides. I can't tell you how many plush animals, cartons of cigarettes and vinyl albums we won on those wheels. So the whole "stay out of the water" thing had little effect on me or my family, as we rarely went in the water to begin with. We were more of a swimming pool family, than an ocean-going family, so the movie was actually just a scary fun time for all us.

Jaws also holds the distinction as the first "Summer Blockbuster" movie, changing the way American film studios marketed and scheduled their films, forever. Jaws was the first "tentpole" movie and other studios soon followed with their own summer blockbusters, leading to some of the 80's most successful movies, including Raiders of the Lost Ark; Gremlins; E.T.; Back to the Future and countless others.

Looking back after repeated viewings of this iconic and imminently quotable film ("You're gonna need a bigger boat!"), I can confidently say that Jaws worked mostly because of the amazing performances of it's three leads. Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss achieved A-List status and Spielberg established himself as the late 20th Century's most successful film director, all because of a movie that shouldn't have worked at all. Even Peter Benchley, upon whose novel the film was based, has said if he knew then what he knows about sharks now, he would never have written the book in the first place. But he did. And his subsequent screenplay left it's indelible mark on cinematic history.

As a mini-side note, this title's post is solely for the benefit of Uncle P's sister, who does the most amazingly accurate reading of that line...

*Both my Brother-in-Law and a dear friend (not to mention an ex of my own) share this name.

**You have no idea how disheartened I am that my childhood memories have been sullied by the obnoxious and truly repulsive idiots who have become "celebutards," because of that show. Even my Dear D, an honest-to-goodness Jersey Italian, thinks these morons should be dawn and quartered for encouraging the worst Jersey stereotypes since The Sopranos.

I hope to have a relatively decent Zombie Zone post tomorrow, though I have plans to attend a local church carnival with several members of my Sordid Lives cast tomorrow evening. You know I'll be posting about that, come Sunday.

I hope you all have a wonderful 4th of July. If you are reading this blog from a country other than the U.S., I hope you all have a wonderful summer weekend.

More, anon.

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