English: Great white shark (Carcharodon carcha...

Great white shark (Carcharodon carcharias), Isla Guadalupe, Mexico (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jaws, the Steven Spielberg movie, was released on June 20, 1975.

I watched it again a few weeks ago.

Everyone remembers the distinctive John Williams musical score.

It includes the Great White killer shark’s signature ba-dump, ba-dump (played by a tuba), every time it is in the water.

This signature musical line is reinforced by looking through the water from the water, as though from the shark’s perspective.

I remembered little of the movie, so it was fascinating to watch it again.

First off, there was the anomaly of smoking.

The opening scene has teenagers sitting around a campfire smoking, with several teenagers in the background who were probably smoking pot.

The sheriff’s wife has an ashtray prominently displayed on her bedside stand.

Several of the main characters smoked.

When Was Smoking Banned from Movies?

Smoking has never been banned from movies, but, under pressure from groups like  Smoke Free Movies, in 2007, Harvard told Hollywood they should ban smoking in any film that was accessible to children, which means G, PG or PG-13, 85% of all movies.

In response, the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) announced that cigarette smoking would be a factor in rating movies.

Also in 2007, Walt Disney announced they would no longer show smoking in any of their movies, which, until then, had shown 18% of the smoking in youth-oriented movies.

Universal Pictures followed suit, banning smoking in youth-rated movies they produce.

20th Century Fox had already had such a policy since 2004 for movies with contemporary settings.

Jaws was rated PG and produced by Universal, so would have come under the smoking ban for films aimed at the youth market.

Smoke Free Movies continues to push for all movies that depict smoking to be rated R.

The Horror of Human Behavior, Not Just the Shark

Then, there was the anguished mother who confronted the sheriff after her son was killed by the shark.

“You knew all those things [that a young woman had probably been killed by a shark the night before].”

“But, still, my boy is dead now.”

“And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

The sheriff, from New York City, set aside his own reservations in trying to accommodate the mayor and the town doctor, who were concerned about the loss of revenue if they closed the beaches on the Fourth of July weekend.

Now, we’d see lawsuits for wrongful death over such negligence and the greed of the town leaders would be tempered by their fear of being held responsible for the deaths.

But, the heart of the story is man against shark and the famous line, once they find the shark, “You’re going to need a bigger boat, ” was improvised by the actor, Roy Scheider.

There were a series of similar shark attacks on the Jersey shore in 1916 by a killer Great White shark, though author Peter Benchley, who wrote the novel on which the movie is based, as well as the screenplay, denies they were an inspiration for his story.

And, just like in the movie, there is a real expert who keeps a record of all shark attacks, measuring the wounds and trying to determine the size and species of shark.

He is the curator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, George Burgess.

He also describes the arc that people go through that parallels the movie: shock, denial, ignore reality, go kill some sharks.

The last phase is bring in an expert to decide how to proceed.

Shark experts can identify the species of shark, which will tell them what their normal habits are and where they usually live.

Shark attacks against people are usually one-offs.

Multiple attacks suggest a rogue shark that is injured or deformed.

I was struck by the credits to shark photographers, Ron Taylor and Valerie Taylor. 

Real shots of Great White sharks were mixed in with the mock-up created by the studio.

Because the Great Whites they filmed were smaller than the animatronic shark that eats the boat, they had a smaller version of the shark cage made.

One of the real sharks they were photographing got caught in the cables and destroyed the cage.

Spielberg liked the scene so much they kept it and rewrote the script to incorporate the destroyed cage, letting the scientist hide on the ocean floor.

But, the little person they were using to shoot those scenes refused to enter the cage again.

By the way, the shooting star was real.


Carol Covin, Granny-Guru

Author, “Who Gets to Name Grandma? The Wisdom of Mothers and Grandmothers


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