JAWS: What's Hidden Beneath the Surface

Updated: Aug 20, 2020

The movie that almost drowned beneath the ocean waves.

JAWS: What's Hidden Beneath the Surface

Let me begin by saying, I love sharks. Not only are they the masters of the ocean, but they are my absolute FAVORITE animal. In fact, I'm actually going to college specifically to study sharks. That’s right, a true Matt Hooper in the making.

When I was really getting into horror movies in my early teen years, Jaws was one of the first ones I watched. Yes, unfortunately I followed my viewing up with all of the sequels right after. Don't worry, we won't talk about those.

I'm not sure I'll ever get sick of watching JAWS and other shark movies (Yep, even the Sharknado, Check out my article here.) So buckle up because I'm going to share some of my JAWS - and shark - knowledge.

To sum up the plot:

If for some reason you don’t already know...

Amity Island is a small lovely place in New England. A shark drifts into town and eats a girl, then a little boy... And don't even get me going on the dog (I HATE when the dog dies) Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) recommends they close the beaches to protect the people. The heartless greedy Mayor refuses. (Oof, sound like Florida anybody?)

More people get eaten, before eventually one of cinemas best trios is sent out to hunt the shark Moby Dick style.

But let’s be real… I just wasted your time, because everyone knows Jaws and the plot.

Now, here's what you might not know:

The mechanical shark worked... Sometimes.

The mechanical shark, nicknamed "Bruce" or "the Great White Turd", rarely worked during the filming process. In fact, it had so many issues that the script had to be rewritten during production. That's how Spielberg had the idea for the brilliant (And famous) shark Point of View shots. Which, if you ask me is far scarier.

JAWS: What's Hidden Beneath the Surface

"Shooting in the ocean will be easy"... (Seriously, why would Spielberg think that)

Shooting on the Atlantic ocean sounded like a cool idea, and clearly the end product was amazing... The reality on the other hand led the production to skyrocket in budget. Everything that could go wrong, did. Imagine trying to run a production while predicting weather patterns real time. Spielberg's decision TRIPLED the cost budget and the time it took to shoot.

In one instance of the ocean being, um, an ocean... The boat (The Orcha) actually sank - with cameras full of footage still on board. Somehow, the footage was recoverable.

Captain Quint REALLY loved alcohol.

Robert Shaw, who plays Quint, had some issues with drinking. During one scene he reportedly had been so intoxicated that every take was unusable. Embarrassed, he requested to try again the next day, nailing it on the first try.

Hooper and Quint didn't get along.

We all know the existing dynamic between Hooper and Quint, but what we didn't know was that extended when the camera was turned off. According to Dreyfuss, and Spielberg himself, Robert Shaw often took it upon himself to haze, belittle, and pick on the poor young Matt Hooper. That’s right. Shaw and Dreyfuss’s real life relationship was almost identical to Quint and Hooper’s onscreen dynamic. I don’t know about you, but that makes me love watching their scenes together even more. In Shaw’s defense, Spielberg and Dreyfuss have admitted that Shaw’s brash personality made for more realistic scenes between the two, which overall benefited the film tenfold.

The film was based on a novel... Kind of

Peter Benchley's novel of the same name was released in 1974. So yes, the movie was a direct adaptation of that, but it was tweaked heavily throughout. Removing what Spielberg deemed as the more "boring parts".

One of the biggest differences you'll hear about is the affair that was cut out of the film - between Ellen Brody and Matt Hooper.

(Spoiler Warning) If for some reason you need a spoiler warning for JAWS in 2020... In addition, the way the shark dies in the book is much less... Explosive. He's killed with harpoons, a lot of harpoons. This is shortly after Hooper is killed by the shark, which doesn't happen in the movie, either.

Peter Benchley also wrote the screenplay for the film. And he also appears in the film, as the news anchor!

Overall, if you liked the movie, the novel is worth a read - at least to see the inspiration for the film!

The Novel was not based on true events... According to the Author.

In 1916 off the coast of New Jersey, horror-struck the beaches, leaving the waters bloody. Charles Vansant was attacked while swimming in the ocean, reports say something had grabbed a hold of his leg and ripped open the flesh. The wounds tragically led to Charles dying at 6:45PM the same day.

Scientists at the time were unsure what had caused the fatal injury - perhaps a large mackerel, or maybe a turtle. Yes, at the time, a school of turtles (which don't even travel in packs, by the way) was a more likely suspect than a shark.

In the following days, several more people were killed in the same type of incident. A young boy, Lester Stilwell, was grabbed in Mattawan Creek further up the coast in New Jersey while swimming in the river with his friends. This time though, the man-eater was identified.

When Stilwell's friends saw a large shark pull the boy under they ran for help. However, despite their best efforts, they were unable to save Lester. A bounty was put out for whoever could catch the shark - just like in the movie - and people went crazy.

Eventually, a Great White Shark was found with human remains in its stomach. By that time there had been 5 attacks - 4 of those ending fatally - in just 12 days.

While JAWS and this case from 1916 have many similarities, Peter Benchley denied that his story was based on these attacks

A lot of sharks died... STOP KILLING SHARKS

Ever since the 1916 attacks, sharks have been prosecuted in large numbers, even more so since JAWS hit theaters in 1975. Stats show MILLIONS of sharks are killed every year by humans, leading to many different species nearing extinction. This led to even Peter Benchley quickly regretting his novel due to the fear and shark massacres it caused.

Benchley honorably spent the remainder of his life advocating for shark conservation, attempting to fix the damage from his story by educating people about the ocean.

What JAWS got wrong... and right (Some Shark Facts):

Great White Sharks do live in New England.

This was a topic that I passionately debated as a kid growing up in New England. (NO ONE BELIEVED ME) To be fair, they were extremely rare in the Gulf of Maine, which stretches from Canada to Cape Cod. (The fastest warming body of water in the entire world, thanks global warming)

The reason for their leaving was simple, one of their favorite foods - Grey Seals - which were pretty much pushed into extinction until recently.

Sharks don't actually "go rogue" and attack people. Most shark attacks on humans are the shark "investigating" people. They don't have hands and are confused about what a person is, the only way they can interact is with their large mouths, that just happen to have lots of teeth... And powerful jaws.

Some Great White Sharks are known to migrate thousands of miles each year, but it's unclear why.

Great White Sharks will leave an area if Orcas are present, because Killer Whales - true to their name - will 9/10 times fuck a shark up. Maybe that's why Quint's boat in the movie was called The Orca?

If you're interested in reading more about Jaws, or the 1916 attacks, check out these books:

Did you know any of these facts? Do you like JAWS? Let us know in the comments!

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