Jaws UK: the shape of fins to come?

Hooper: “It doesn’t make much sense for a guy who hates the water to live on an island either.”

Brody: “It’s only an island if you look at it from the water.”

 

A Great White Shark attacks and kills several people across the Cornwall coast, such was the cut and thrust of my 1987 mini-epic, Jaws V, written in my English lessons at school. A lifelong fan of all the movies my 12 year old self was thrilled to continue the franchise and bring Ellen, Mike and the other Brody’s along to England with Hoagie (Michael Caine’s character from Jaws the Revenge) in tow, as well as the return of one Matt Hooper (clearly following the movies as he was consumed in the original Peter Benchley novel).

It’s something I still have tucked away in the loft somewhere but the idea of a Great White being spotted in Cornwall always seemed a massive flight of fantasy for many who read it at the time, whereas for me it was the next logical step after ‘she’ turned up in the Bahamas in Jaws the Revenge.

In the intervening years though such a possibility has become less horror fiction and more the shape of fins to come. Famously in 1999, 2003 and 2007 The Sun sparked a shark frenzy as it claimed that several people had spotted a Great White Shark off the Cornwall coast, this obviously felt like my sequel prophecy coming true.

With headlines such as ‘Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster’, The Sun isn’t exactly as reliable a source as something like National Geographic and whilst the images are indeed interesting, in the same way that many Alien Big Cat sightings in the UK are, many of the sightings are coming from otherwise reliable, upstanding citizens such as Policemen and local fishermen. In fact if you were to believe The Sun, Great White Sharks are now “patrolling Britain’s shores”!

But it would appear that there is no smoke without fire as experts weren’t saying it was, but they weren’t saying it wasn’t either. After video footage emerged in July 2007, experts who commented on it, esteemed people such as the Natural History Museum’s Fish Curator Oliver Crimmen, and the Shark Trust’s Richard Pierce said that the animal in the video looked like a large shark and a Great White could not be ruled out.

So could this be the first of many following their traditional food source? For some years now, many species that are also the Great White Shark’s prey have been observed migrating farther north—possibly because the sea around the UK is getting warmer, therefore. Is it not inevitable that the Great Whites will follow in their wake?

But there is other compelling evidence that a Great White off our coast isn’t so far-fetched. When you think of the UK you don’t think of it as a haven for sharks, but it is thought that around 21 species of shark call the coastal waters of Britain home, although many are plankton eaters, such as the Basking Shark.

But bonafide killers do lurk on the list, such as the Blue Shark, which has been held responsible for? worldwide deaths. More disconcerting still is that our waters are also frequented by both the Porbeagle and Mako, both of which look like smaller versions of the Great White for a reason, they are both first cousins, and again are on the list known as man-eaters.

It may come as a further surprise then that the UK has already seen its first shark attacks, two, one in Poole in Dorset and the other in Cork in Scotland, both were non-lethal and they are, up until now the only recorded shark attacks in the UK since records began in 1847.

Of course when it comes to Great White Shark attacks we think of such shark hotspots as South Africa, Australia and California, and you’d be right, but the oceans number one predator has also preyed on mankind much closer to home, in a place frequented by many Brits, the Med. To the millions who use the beaches and the clear blue sea this may come as something of a shock, but it is a renowned breeding ground for them. Let the fictional Amity Island though the Med isn’t really going to want to actively promote such a fact.

We do, naturally, have to put all of this shark attack business in some kind of context and yes more people do die from snake bites and bee stings than they do shark attacks, that maybe but those words are scant consolation if you are the one staring down the snout of what Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) called the ‘perfect killing machine’.

In investigating over 70 claimed Jaws UK sightings and encounters the Shark Trust Chairman, Richard Peirce, has found less than 10% remain credible. In 2007 he was quoted as saying: “Whilst there is no reason why these animals should not be found in British waters there is no concrete evidence to support their presence…(but) if we can prove Great White Sharks are occasional vagrant visitors to UK waters then this may be nothing new, they could have been visiting here for tens of thousands of years.”

All of this makes that once 12 year old boy pleased but also fearful of the water, still this in no matter as ‘Jaws’ had already put pay to that many years ago. At present the line between fact and myth may be like that of the UK coastline, rather murky, but one thing that is for sure is that with rising sea temperatures and rapidly changing eco-systems it can only be a matter of time before the large dorsal fin of the Carcharodon carcharias breaks the water of the south coast of England.

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Happy Birthday Jaws, you’re still top of the blockbuster food chain

jaws16Today may be 40 years since Jaws took a massive bite of the 1975 box office but after a lifetime of seeking to view the film on the big screen I finally got the chance to see a newly spruced up print of the classic Spielberg thriller on the big screen back in June 2010, as part of the 35 anniversary celebrations. And yes, I bought it again, adding it to my pan and scan CIC VHS copy, my widescreen VHS copy and both the 25th and 30th anniversary DVDs.

My journey to see Jaws, my all time favourite film, on the big screen has been quite literally a lifetime in the making as I blame my mum for getting me hooked. I may not have been born until October 1975 but she had eagerly read the serialised version of the book in The Sun newspaper, clearly it had quite the impact on me. Cue lots of pre-teen years of being terrified of even stepping into the bath.

The closest I had previously got to seeing Jaws writ large was back in 2002 after travelling down to Neuquay to see a screening on the beach, alas it got cancelled the day before it was scheduled to be shown. I had to wait until 2010 then for the experience I had been chasing, and after all that time, all those viewings, it didn’t disappoint. Put simply it was Jawsome.

Jaws of course is having several 40th birthday screening across the states and It is somewhat fitting that Jaws had been re released as part of the centenary celebrations of Universal Studios in June, smack bang in the middle of the summer blockbuster season, as Jaws is the granddaddy of them all, the first film to have such a large (at the time) opening, and the first to hit that magic $100 million mark. In more ways than one it is the big fish.

Jaws-BillboardFour decades  have passed since Jaws first swam onto our screens but it still more than holds its own against today’s output, in fact it is the filmic equivalent of what Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) calls the shark, ‘the perfect eating machine’.

As a piece of cinema Jaws was always the near perfect piece of cinema and now, cleaned up frame by frame and looking like it was practically shot last week, this lean mean thriller machine became the closest to cinematic perfection it has ever got.

Put simply, you can forget your Star Wars, forget your toying with special effects, nipping, tucking or even adding here and there (yes you Mr Cameron, Mr Lucas – sounds like Are You Being Served – and Mr Scott), this is cleaned up but otherwise untouched, and still has the same shark and still has that primal fear in buckets, along with the chum.

Spielberg has clearly learnt from his ‘radio’ meddling with E.T. and left Jaws exactly as it was, save for giving it a fresh lick of paint and thankfully modification free.

7165154_origIt may sound obvious but never having seen the film on the big screen the first thing that hit me was that it all looked so big, from the (thankfully) old fashioned Universal logo to each and every character introduction, counting the fictional Amity Island in that.

With such a large canvas, that had also expertly been cleaned up, we are able to feel even closer to that (really rather sunny and bright for the most part) world and see and notice so many small things in the background that I hadn’t done before. It was practically like seeing the film for the very first time.

Jaws still packs a punch (or should that be bite radius) of a juggernaut. The opening Chrissie attack sequence has never looked so uncomfortably clear, her nakedness making you almost feel voyeur like – making it even closer akin to the shower scene it Psycho in that respect – right up until that moment of impact when the John Williams score and sound effects really kick into high gear. If anything its heightened more than ever with the Alex Kintner lilo attack, which in many ways seemed even more powerful.

robert-shaw2It’s not the 25 foot shark, all three tonnes of it, that dominates the film though, each and every piece of the film he is in is dominated by Robert Shaw as Quint. Scheider and Dreyfuss are no slouches for sure and the way the threesome ping off each other is a joy to behold (the script coupled with the beauty of the extra rehearsal time due to operating problems with the shark et al but Quint has never been so dominant, so alive. He chews scenery like the shark chews his boat, the Orca, at the end of the film and his eyes, his eyes are just so piercing a blue that they make Daniel Craig’s look practically dull in comparison. It confirmed to me that more classic Shaw films should be viewed on the big screen but also left a genuine feeling of loss, for the man, Shaw died only three years after the release of Jaws, and for cinema generally, as he carved such an impression up their on the big screen, seen as he should be and not on a box – no matter what its size – in the corner of the room.

Jaws never puts a foot wrong, it still has fantastic pace, still thrills and scares a little in all the right places and also makes people laugh in all the places that it is meant to do. Rubber shark or no rubber shark it, like Alien after it, which after all was pitched as Jaws in Space, still taps into that primeval fear and when each and every person bringing that to life is working at the top of their game you can’t go wrong, critically,commercially or for longevity.

The wait was well worth it, and I’m pleased that Bruce, as the shark was nicknamed by Spielberg, came back for his noon feeding to mark the then 35th anniversary of Jaws, it mattered not that most of us in that small screening room had seen it hundreds of times, knew exactly what shot or line of dialogue came next, we were all in awe of the remastered Jaws.

Brody shoots the shark in JawsAnd to paraphrase Chief Brody at the end of the film as he blows the great white shark out of the water as it races toward him, we were all smiling like sons of bitches.

I may not be sat enjoying it on a big screen for its birthday but will be celebrating with lots more Jaws fans in a tweet along, safety in numbers and all that, although try telling that to the crew of the SS Indianapolis!

DEATH BECOMES THEM: TOP TEN DEATHS IN JAWS (AND ITS SEQUELS)

Jurassic World has taken a bit of a beating in some quarters over some of its horrible deaths, but then the previous films in the series didn’t exactly skimp on that either and neither did the Jaws series. Before Freddy, before Final Destination and (just) before The Omen, that is what we wanted, inventive and exciting death scenes. The Jaws series has them aplenty.

They say that Hollywood has a habit of chewing up and spitting out talent, little wonder then that Spielberg ‘fondly’ nicknamed the first films creature after his Lawyer, ‘Bruce’. Such a phrase has not been truer when looking at Jaws and its three sequels, all with deaths aplenty. The sequels have all taking a bit of a bashing, certainly they don’t a candle to the original, but they still hold a fondness and even Jaws the Revenge has its moments, well okay then maybe that should be singular.

Anyway ‘Open Wide!’ and ‘Smile, you sons of bitches!’ as we celebrate the best Jaws deaths…ever!

Is yours below? If not, which is it and why?

JAWS (1975) AKA THE ORIGINAL AND BEST

Chrissie Watkins

jaws chrissie watkins 1975The opening night time attack is up there with the shower seen from Psycho and even after all this time packs a punch like a train. It’s the perfect opener for a movie (indeed Spielberg even copied it himself of sorts in 1993 in the opening of Jurassic Park). It effectively sets the shark up as a Jack the Ripper like monster. The noise, the screams and the music all blend to still create a sense of dread in the pit of your stomach. Also one of the most iconic, and oft-imitated, poster images ever. She was the first…

Pippet the retriever

Ishot-1297You may scoff but one moment this dog was happily jumping around the surf, the next we see a floating piece of wood, which can’t be good. Showed that anyone could be next and that this fish didn’t care who it devoured. It takes someone with balls to have an animal die on screen.

Estuary victim

As a child this death haunted me when I closed my eyes. A man in a row boat comes to help Michael Brody and chums on their boat when the unfortunate soul is tipped from his boat and seen hanging to the side of his upturned craft to only have the open mouthed shadow of the Great White sweep up to him and drag him sinking beneath the waves, For me, at that moment I certainly don’t see a mechanical shark.

Only his leg is left, which can be seen drifting to to the bottom of the ocean floor. I used to try and convince myself that perhaps he survived but I think his estuary victim credit tells me what really happened…

Ben Gardner

jaws (1)We might not see him meeting his maker but we join Matt Hooper in the fright of his life when his head comes bob, bob bobbing along. Even now you know it’s coming but just not exactly when. This moment was captured in the safety of Editor Verna Fields’ swimming pool due to the film needing a jump moment. It certainly got it.

Quint

Ironic as Quint is roughly translated as five in Italian and he is the fifth human victim of the movie. Early he and the crew of the Orca drank to their legs so it was only fitting that this was the way he went, legs first. Nice blood explosion in the mouth as well before he is dragged to his watery grave.

Jaws

Well I say watery grave as he exploded with the shark several minutes later. A master stroke of tension as the Orca slowly sinks with Brody and rifle on its mast, which if you notice is ticking down to his ‘death’ like the second hand of a clock. Smile you son-of-bitch indeed.

JAWS 2 (1978) AKA THE ONE WITH THE ANNOYING TEENAGERS ON BOATS

Water skier

Also the poster girl for Jaws 2. A technically brilliant scene that showed that even those on water skies were not immune to the jaws of doom. The photography and tension in this scene is one of the highlights and showed how much more versatile the shark models and special effects were only three years later. Clearly lots of lessons had been learnt. It’s two for one on the deaths front here as the boat manages to pour petrol all over herself and then fire a flare at the shark blowing herself up and scarring the shark, just to make her all the more sinister (boo, hiss). We do get another payoff though as the corpse comes in one the tide straight into Chief Brody’s arms.

Boy on boat

Much of the film is spent routing for the shark to pick off the annoying teenagers, something of a pre-curser to Halloween and Friday the 13th as the shark is basically stalking and slashing (or should that be gnashing) them. The best death from these has to be that of Eddie Marchand who is dragged (echoing Chrissie in the first film) across the water and slammed into his boat – he hangs on for dear life and even pulls part of his boat with him as he is dragged under leaving his now hysterical girlfriend alone.

Helicopter pilot

Hey we are safe! Don’t count you chickens yet kids. Shark Vs quite frankly rubbish 70s helicopter and kills pilot with a quite frankly lame beard. In the original we never see what happens but on the Jaws 2 DVD there is great footage of him under the water as well. Worth checking out.

JAWS 3D (1983) AKA THE ONE AT SEA WORLD

Philip FitzRoyce, played by Simon MacCorkindale

A shame TVs ‘Manimal’ couldn’t change into a fish as he might have escaped this monster. Notable as we see and hear him being crunched up inside the shark’s mouth and then have him dangling like a piece of food stuck between his teeth. Was nice they tried something different with a death.

Now I know this film has been slammed but I actually really like the concept, essentially Jurassic World of sorts in many ways, and the ending to the movie. It’s a variation on the original but I like the original way they tried to do it. I certainly found it tense and exciting. I even like the 3D explosion – the blood and guts quota is certainly all here – and even have a soft spot for the upper and lower 3D jaws.

JAWS THE REVENGE (1987) AKA THE ONE WITH MICHAEL CAINE AKA THE ONE THAT’S NOT MUCH COP…REALLY IT ISN’T

Sean Brody

A film of little note, this could be included alone for the death of the franchise. It does have its moments in places though and none more than the death of the youngest Brody, Sean, who is now a cop in Amity like his old dad was (Scheider decided against this one so they killed his character off screen – as shameful as the whole Alien 3 Newt death – what a waste). Still Sean Brody is worth a mention as one of the main original characters to kick the big yellow barrel, juxtaposed with Christmas Carols and sepia shots of the original, just to remind us how crappy this film is.

Men Vs Beast: Jaws – the making of a modern classic

BRITISHQUAD134-2Jaws is 40 and is one of the most iconic, oft-imitated, readily quotable movies ever, but like Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz, its making of is almost as legendary as the movie itself.

It’s hard to think that the then 27 year old Steven Spielberg almost turned down the chance to direct the movie that launched a thousand nightmares and was the first film to smash the $100 million barrier, but at the time the Director felt that the film was too similar to the man versus (mechanical) beast of Duel (1971).

The original schedule of 52 days tripled due to the problems of filming on location, not so much filming at Martha’s Vinyard, which doubled as the quaint Amity Island, but more the filming at sea, which almost left the whole production at sea. Previously most movies set at sea were filmed in giant tanks with a pre-filmed backdrop but being on a real sea, on a real boat it was made the experience that successful.

The 12 hour days were not wholly productive as only four were devoted to actual filming, due to the poor weather and the not wholly co-operative shark (it sank on its first test and practically exploded on its second), but in the end these were the elements that helped make the film the success it was.

The Beast

jawsiInitially the Producers, Richard Zanuck and David Brown, thought(!) that they might be able to hire a man to train a Great White to perform a few simple tricks and do the rest with miniatures. Thankfully this route was not pursued and it soon became very clear that there was only one man who could make this monster fish a reality, the retired Bob Mattey, who created the giant squid for Disney’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea some 20 years earlier.

Jaws and Christian Bale both might have too many teeth but his strops pale into insignificance next to ‘Bruce’ (the name Spielberg fondly called the shark after his Lawyer) who was cross-eyed and his jaws would not shut. This, however, proved to be Spielberg’s masterstroke as he had to be more inventive and hide the shark behind the camera for as long as possible, its presence suggested by twisting camerawork and the now unmistakable primeval music composed by John Williams, thus allowing the audience’s mind to create the horror of the shark, all 25 feet of him. And of course those rather cannily placed yellow barrels!

No matter how well the shark performed or how well it was hidden when it didn’t the filmmakers knew that the audience would need to see real sharks, and that is exactly what they got with amazing footage from Australian husband and wife diving team, Ron and Valerie Taylor.

Thankfully Great Whites do not grow to 25 feet in length so to make the shark look larger for the Hooper cage dive a smaller cage and midget were used to get some spectacular footage. But the best was yet to come when the shark destroyed the cage, and almost the boat, thankfully the pint size stuntman, Carl Rizzo, was not in it at the time and after seeing the ‘attack’ on the boat promptly locked himself in the toilet. The footage remains in the film, which effectively meant the shark helped rewrite the book and ensure the survival of Richard Dreyfuss’ character.

The Men

BN-EU471_jawsph_G_20141001063022The original books author, Peter Benchley, and old pal of Spielberg, Carl Gottlieb, are listed as the screenwriters of the project but beneath the surface of the credits it is revealed that several different people helped stamp their authority on the project.

Benchley had two passes at the script and then the Pulitzer winning playwright (and scuba diver), Howard Sackler, was brought in to beef up the script. One of his greatest additions was the Quint USS Indianapolis monologue. This one moment, more than any other, has been the one that has become fabled in who should take the credit for the powerful moment when Robert Shaw’s character retells his World War 2 shark encounter. Future Apocalypse Now and Conan scribe, John Milius, had a crack at it with Shaw himself, an accomplished playwright, also gave it a polish and honed it to the perfection you see on scream, depending on whose tale you listen to of course.

The great thing about the hours of waiting to film meant that the main actors (Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw) all got to hone their characters, got to know each other and also got to rework their dialogue with co-screenwriter, Gottlieb (who also played opposite Mayor of Sharksville, Murray Hamilton) who often updated dialogue only 24 hours before the shoot, which perhaps goes someway to explaining why these three characters and their words – which even Tarantino would be proud of – and every nuance is so spot on and crisp almost 35 years later.

Other unsung heroes of the movie also had to include camera operator, Michael Chapman, who practically filmed the last third of the movie handheld, which helped give it that realistic, fresh look. And he even saved vital film from a sinking Orca, narrowly saving his skin and the dailies. Finally, there is Editor, Verna Fields, who won one of the three Oscars (it was nominated for four) for the film and edited the movie on location as the footage slowly crept in, not only editing around the underperforming shark but also continuity problems of an ever changing sea and sky, not that you’d notice.

She was also instrumental to adding the ‘head in the boat’ scene that was shot in a swimming pool and added long after filming had wrapped.

Unfortunately due to the many plaudits Fields got for the film, she, at the time, was seen as its hero, rather than Spielberg. That Oscar can’t have helped either, as a result the two never worked together again.

By the end of the film the shark may have been dead but the blockbuster as we know it today had been born. The Spielberg Executive Produced and Universal released Jurassic World smashing the $500 million global opening weekend barrier and US opening weekend record must be the near perfect 40th birthday present, especially with a small cameo appearance from a certain Carcharodon Carcharias.