Tracy Lee Curtis

Turning 40 bites – just ask ‘Jaws’

I heard on the radio that “Jaws” is turning 40 this summer. I about ran off the road, because if “Jaws” is 40, how old does that make me? I remember going to that movie in 1975. And the fit I pitched at the notion of going to the beach that summer. Or any summer. Ever.

But Googling it to confirm it really was four decades ago, I came across lots of trivia about Spielberg’s great white adventure.

Did you know Spielberg wasn’t the original choice for director? The first choice was scrapped because they didn’t know the difference between a whale and a shark.

Jaws doesn’t even fully appear in a shot until an hour and 21 minutes into the two-hour film. And not as a ploy to build tension, but because the mechanical shark rarely worked. Spielberg nicknamed it “Bruce,” after his lawyer, Bruce Ramer. And I don’t know if that was because Ramer was really aggressive or just really mechanical.

About a quarter of the movie was filmed from water level to give the audience the perspective of treading water. Moviegoers loved the camera work, but complained that their arms got tired.

The film was based on the book by Peter Benchley, who was a news reporter for the Washington Post and has a cameo in the film as a news reporter on the beach. You know you’ve come full circle when you’re a news reporter who writes a best-seller that gets turned into a movie in which you play a news reporter.

Proposed titles for the bestseller included “The Silence of the Deep,” “Leviathan Rising” and “The Jaws of Death.” No way that movie would have made a bazillion dollars if it were called “Leviathan Rising.” Kids couldn’t remember that, much less say it. Especially if they had a lisp.

In the opening scene, to achieve the jolting motions of the shark attacking the swimmer, a harness with cables attached to the actress’s legs was pulled by crew members back and forth along the shoreline. Spielberg told the crew not to let her know when she would be yanked back and forth, so her terrified reaction is genuine.

And when the first victim’s hand is found in the sand, Spielberg said the fake arm they had looked too fake. So they buried a crew member in the sand with her arm sticking out. I guess the only thing more terrifying than seeing the movie was actually working on it.

The film’s most famous line, Roy Scheider’s “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” was an ad lib. And Spielberg initially did not like the music, saying it was too simple. Not only did “Jaws” win an Oscar, but I think it coined the quote “less is more.” And of course the more memorable quote, “You’ll never go in the water again.”

And 40 years later … I haven’t.

Curtis: tcurtis@charlotteobserver.com

See ‘Jaws’

“Jaws” is coming to Concord Mills and Stonecrest June 21 for its 40th anniversary. More info: www.fathomevents.com/event/jaws

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