Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Jaws Breakdown

Hello everyone and welcome as always! If my last blog on the smooth dogfish wasn't clue enough, I have returned from all the wedding festivities that were going on and am ready to hit the ground running again. The wedding itself was an amazing event and the mini honeymoon we went on was very relaxing and fun as well. So from now until late October I'll be back at this pretty regularly. I mentioned a few blogs back that I would be taking some time to look at different shark movies and basically have some fun with them and provide some educational input as well. The reason I'm doing this is because many people actually do believe what they see in the movies. As you'll see as we progress through this blog and future blogs like this is you can't believe everything you see on the silver screen. Oh and before I begin I guess I should put out the obligatory SPOILER WARNING in case you have not seen the movie.


Jaws was released in 1975 and quickly became one of the most well known movies to ever exist. Directed by Steven Speilberg and based off a novel by Peter Benchley, Jaws is the story of a massive man eating great white shark that terrorized people and on Amity Island. Amity Island is a fictional island that was set somewhere in New England. The inspiration for both the book and movie however were the very real 1916 New Jersey shark attacks which I'll touch on as the blog continues on. The production of this movie was plagued with problems. It went over-budget and took longer to finish than anticipated. In fact, the shark that was used in the movie had a plethora of problems of it's own that caused the shark to appear less in the film than originally anticipated. Instead, Speilberg had John Williams compose the ominous music that plays when the shark is in the area, but not always seen.

The famous opening scene of Jaws shows the shark attacking a girl swimming in the Ocean while her friend passes out drunk on the beach at just the oh so wrong time. The parallel here to the events of 1916 is that Charles Vansant, the first victim in 1916, was killed while swimming alone with a companion (in his case a dog) unable to help from the shore. 

The movie progresses as police chief Martin Brody (Roy Schneider) enlists the aid of shark hunter Quint (Richard Dreyfuss) and oceanographer Matt Hooper (Murray Hamilton) to hunt down the shark that was terrorizing the beachgoers all while trying to keep the peace on the island and give hope to the town that everything is under control. Amity keeps it's beaches open for a time and sure enough more people are killed by the shark, including a child. This sends the town into a shark hunting frenzy. One pair of fishermen come in contact with Jaws who basically rips the dock out from under them. Both fishermen survive the attack. Quint offers his shark hunting services for a massive fee of ten thousand dollars, but Brody originally refuses the offer. One of the boats brings into port a large tiger shark which prompts the mayor of Amity, Larry Vaughn to declare the shark problem is over. On the fourth of July the shark attacked again, this time killing a man who was in close vicinity to Chief Brody's son and near the same beach that Vaughn's children were at as well. This causes Vaughn to hire Quint to go after the shark. Both Brody and Hooper accompany Quint on his journey. While trying to bait the shark to the boat, it pops up in a rather comical if you ask me scene. Right after one of the most famous lines in Hollywood is spoken by Brody.... "We're going to need a bigger boat". Quint manages to harpoon three barrels into the shark and Hooper manages to get a tracking device on it as well before it vanished into the depths.

After a night of drinking Quint tells the tale of the U.S.S. Indianapolis, an American ship that was sunk in World War II. After telling the story, the men sing some drunk sailor songs (Show Me the Way to Go Home) until Jaws decides to ram the boat a few times causing the engine compartment to leak. After a quick confrontation, the shark vanishes again with Quint's boat, the Orca largely disabled. After a limited success repair attempt on the Orca, the men manage to get the shark tied to the boat, only for it to drag the boat further out to sea and causing more damage to the boat in the process. Hooper enters a shark cage and decides to face the shark in the water. Jaws makes quick work of the cage, but Hooper manages to hide in a reef. Jaws then goes full whale on the boat and breaches onto it. Quint is grabbed and eaten by the shark that again breaches onto the boat. In an attempt to get the shark to back off, Brody shoves an air tank in it's mouth. With the tank still in it's mouth the shark again goes after Brody, but he manages to shoot the air tank with a gun causing it to explode thus blowing Jaws to pieces. Hooper surfaces and the two celebrate and paddle back to shore.

 For me some of the most memorable scenes from the movie include the following... Another parallel to the 1916 shark attacks is the shark entering into a pond and attacking people, including children. In 1916 Lester Stillwell, Stanley Fisher, and Joseph Dunn were attacked in the Matawan Creek, a freshwater creek located in central New Jersey. Both Stillwell and Fisher lost their lives, but Dunn would be rescued. In the movie, a sailing instructor is killed and eaten by the shark. Interesting to note that in 1916 all bodies from the attacks were recovered contrary to Jaws eating everybody. Even more interesting to me is that Jaws is a Great White whereas many scientists believe that the Bull Shark is responsible for the 1916 attacks. As a big fan of history I also fancy Quint's tale of the Indianapolis. One thing to note in that scene however is that it is believed that Oceanic White Tip Sharks were responsible for scavenging on those who were deceased or near deceased. In Quint's tale, Tiger sharks picked the men off one by one.


So where is the fun in this movie. Well it comes in knowing a little about sharks and knowing that Hollywood doesn't always equal reality. For one, some species of shark are known to breach. as you can see Jaws demonstrating in the picture above. However sharks are only known to do this while hooked and by sharks I'm generally talking about the Shortfin Mako shark which commonly breaches while hooked and sometimes lands in boats on accident. Great Whites will breach in certain part of the world, but they are not at all known to jump on the back of the boat and act like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. 


In addition, sharks are not known to literally go Pacman on a boat and just start eating it's way through the boat. Nor have they proven to be intelligent enough to ram an engine compartment until it floods with water. Perhaps the most outrageous thing in the movie is at one point the shark breaches and literally roars. I'm sorry I can't think of a single shark that roars. I mean sea robins croak and what not, but never have I heard a fish of any kind let out a literal lion-esque roar. Incredible! This literally scared the crap out of people in the 1970's.

At the time that fear was justified. We knew so so so sooooo little about sharks back then that it's no wonder that this movie plunged the world into a shark panic. Now though the impacts of this movie has stretched far and wide and caused the author of the book, Peter Benchley to say "Knowing what I know now, I could never write that book today". He also said "Sharks don't target human beings, and they certainly don't hold grudges". Two huge phrases that really opened a lot of eyes to what had happened. No matter how many times Benchley said the book and film are fiction, people still feared sharks in a way they had never done before. After Jaws was released shark hunting skyrocketed. Great Whites became trophies. Some fisherman considered it doing their duty to go out and kill these animals. If you don't believe that simply go on Youtube, the videos are not difficult to find at all. Though Peter Benchley has sadly passed away, his wife Wendy continues to fight for sharks to this very day.

Partially thanks to the movie, Great White populations have plummeted around the world. Shark finning, long line fishing, trophy hunting, and fear have all contributed to this shark's populations to decrease around the world. In just over 30 years following the movie, this species of shark has ended up of the IUCN's Red List as Vulnerable. This shark is now a protected species and in some areas it seems that the populations are increasing which is amazing news. Every day more and more people are becoming aware of the truth about these animals through the efforts of individuals like Wendy Benchley and countless others who want these sharks to have a future.

Jaws is probably the most historically influenced shark movie there is. This is why this blog had a more serious tone. The upcoming shark movie blogs are a bit more outlandish as I looks towards movies such as Deep Blue Sea, Sharknado, and others. Stay tuned for some Hollywood/Sci-Fi fun coming soon!


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