Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

A Journey… With JAWS

Jaws_movie_poster(4)

Inspired by Iba’s look-back post in July of a seminal box office film, and Universal’s 100th anniversary release of the digitally remastered and fully restored version to Blu-ray Disc (made available just last month), I showed Steven Spielberg‘s definitive film, Jaws, to my kids this passed Labor Day to help complete the summer. It was my son’s and daughter’s first time with the motion picture that some say started it all… the summer movie blockbuster craze. And they loved it. Without a doubt, if you have a hint of adoration toward this movie, this is the version to have in your collection — and I’ve owned nearly every VHS and disc of the motion picture through the years to compare it against. I guess my personal history with the film is its own testament to that fact.

Back in June, for the official start of the warmest season of the year, I recalled in a TMT my initial experience with the film in 1975. It began a unique stint with the film adaptation of Peter Benchley’s bestselling thriller novel in the years since its blockbuster première. I can easily say it is the one film I’ve seen the most times… like ever. Yes, you’d be correct to surmise, given my age and love for watching movies, that this 70s era film would have gathered a fair amount of viewings spread over the decades. You’d be right, and wrong. I think you’d be surprised to learn how large and front loaded that number really was.

As I covered in the post, I caught Jaws on its first Saturday on what’d turn out to be a phenomenal first-run. I then called my cousin shortly after getting home to talk with her about said event. She’d not seen the movie, as yet. Well, we’d fix that. My cousin lived on the southeastern suburb on L.A.’s border. So, she and I met up at the Lakewood Center cineplex the very next day for the 1 PM screening. I wanted to see this partly to re-experience the film, but to also watch those around me (especially with the one who was the closest-to-a-sister I had growing up) react to the film. Given the amount of popcorn I saw flying and the squeals heard in the movie auditorium, I wasn’t disappointed.

I’d see the film one more time that summer, weeks later, once the hoopla died down. The total was three for ’75. Hold that number in your head.

Later that year, right after the Christmas holiday but before the Bicentennial Year landed, I’d quit the part-time restocking job I had at a liquor store in the City of Bell (yes, the very same small and incorporated stead of this scandal). Due to that job dispute (over work-hours, btw), and still in need of pay while I finished my college session, I found other employment to make ends meet (sort of). It’d also lead to the longest legacy (for its relative duration) in my cinema viewing. I became a projectionist in the same movie theater I attended as a kid growing up in the area. The Huntington Park Warner Theatre. Little did I know the shark had circled back and “gone under the boat” with this change.

As I chronicled years ago, but have moved that archive here, my duties there left an imprint when it came to motion pictures. None more so, than with Jaws. Upon the film’s summer re-issue around the midpoint of 1976, I’d be put on a collision course with the beast once more, as I noted in a later post from that blog series:

“The theater owner booked this blockbuster for the summer of ’76 (a year after it debuted) in the hopes that it would somehow work its box office (and concession stand) magic for him. It absolutely surprised the hell out of me by doing just that. It played at the theater for not one, two, or three weeks… but SIX straight weeks!

Even my brother (the same guy who hired and trained me at the theater) came back to watch this (without paying for a ticket, of course). For my entire stint there, I can count on one hand the number of times we were allowed to open up the balcony for patrons. We did that for the first couple of weekends on this film run.

By week three, all of the working projectionists could perform a changeover without watching for cue marks. We knew the movie so well we could do it by listening to the soundtrack and dialog alone. No one was happier to see it go than the crew in the booth (we were so sick of it). I couldn’t re-watch that movie again till sometime in the 90’s.”

Working some weeknights and all the weekends then, I’ve estimated I screened this film, for the moviegoers who bought tickets, ten times… for every week it was booked there. I’m not kidding. Sixty times was the low ballpark figure I came up with for me re-experiencing it during the 200th anniversary year of the U.S. You could inflate that figure even more, if you’d count (fairly or unfairly) the flick I projected for a week a couple of months prior: Grizzly (aka Claws). Substitute a bear for the shark and woodlands for the waters off of Amity Island, and its the same damn movie, people. For a feature film that I’d loved, I had gone to the polar opposite end in a year’s time.

Like the free Pepsi we, the theater staff, consumed as a rare perk (and grew so tired of), I could, and would, not partake in the film for years thereafter. Not even ABC’s 1979 television broadcast of the film could bring interest — nor the initial 1980 VHS tape release. Wasn’t happening. Here’s the thing, though. I did come back to Jaws, eventually.

It began with the 20th Anniversary VHS widescreen Collector’s Edition in 1995. Simply, enough time had elapsed. The bad memory dimmed. That, and Jaws was once again on sale to consumers, this time approaching what I remembered. The original widescreen format of that theatrical screening from long ago was now available (instead the cropped aspect ratio of the first tape). It had rekindled and stirred… something… in me. The giddiness with a dark presence under the waves was back. Moreover, I once more was enthralled with the gratifying screenplay and dialogue that Benchley and Carl Gottlieb had rigged — which had actually improved upon the story by excising some of the potboiler aspects of the novel. The first impression of ’75 became the pleasurably nostalgic that time around.

The film had captured me afresh. So much so, I’d purchase each new version of the film, as Universal periodically milked it, through the years since. Teed it up, too, periodically. Although, I have to admit those were lonely screenings. I was forbidden by she-who-must-be-obeyed from showing it to my children (during their impressionable phase) for the longest time. By this year, Steven Spielberg’s film lit anew in high-definition. The muddy, soft, and washed out colors from the neglected prints used for the old tapes and DVDs was replaced with a pristine look not seen by these eyes since a certain Saturday afternoon in June far, far in the rearview. Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw (“Say, wasn’t he in The Sting, dad?”, one of my kids would say), and Richard Dreyfus were again young, or alive, once more. And still embattled by you-know-what. So, by the time I caught the thrill and glee in my children’s eyes as they sat and watched this a mere ten days ago, I knew after 37 years Jaws and I had come full circle. Especially, when my children, at their fullest, roared in delight with their old man on this iconic line alone:

“You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

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38 Responses to “A Journey… With JAWS”

  1. ruth

    It’s amazing how this movie is so iconic and stands the test of time. Great background on this one Michael. Btw, it’s funny but I was watching For Your Eyes Only last night and during the underwater scenes, I could’ve sworn the music sounded a bit like John Williams’ JAWS when they went into the sunken ship! 😀

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  2. J.D.

    Excellent recollections! This was very interesting to read as you draw a personal connection to this film over the years. I was too young to see it first run in theaters but I do remember watching it on TV and home video many times over the years and have owned copies of it in various incarnations. But man, does the new Blu-Ray transfer look great.

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    • le0pard13

      Yeah, doesn’t it look fantastic? It was great to intro the film to my kids with the Blu-ray. Thank you very much for the kind words and comment, J.D.

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  3. Fogs' Movie Reviews

    Wow. I cant imagine being sick of Jaws.

    I CAN however see how such an experience as you had would be akin to a “Clockwork Orange”-esque aversion treatment. LOL. I can see how you’d wind up avoiding this one for 20 years or so 😀

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  4. PaulDBrazill

    I remember standing in ln line for about half an hour to get in to see it . It was during the school summer holidays and the main question when we went back to school was ‘How many times did you see Jaws?’

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  5. Shell Sherree

    Jaws scared the BeeGees out of me when I saw it as a youngster! But I loved that line {watched like most of the movie through my hands over my face} and still think it’s one of the best ever written! I’m glad you’ve been able to watch it with your kids at last!

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  6. Jamie Helton

    I was too young to see “Jaws” in the theater when it came out, but my older friends told me everything about the film. We would pretend our neighbor’s trailer was the Orca and bounce back and forth on its single axle as the pretend shark was “attacking us.” I was finally old enough to see “Jaws 2” in the theater, which was entertaining to a 10-year-old. Then a year later, they re-released the original for two weeks prior to putting it on TV. I was blown away! My friends’ recitation of the plot did nothing for the shock and suspense that awaited me. I saw the movie repeatedly that one week, and by the fourth viewing I could take my hands away from my eyes when poor Ben Gardner’s head popped out of the hole in the boat. No other movie since “Star Wars” two years before had such an impact on me, and none has since. It captured my imagination and has never let it go.

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    • le0pard13

      That’s a great memory, Jamie.

      “It captured my imagination and has never let it go.”

      Perfectly sums up this film.

      Thanks very much, my friend.

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  7. Vickie Lester

    Love how this movie is a running thread through your life. As a kid, I was forbidden to see it. As a teenager I liked to swim in the ocean and I avoided it, and now, I better get to it! Thanks for the encouragement 😉

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  8. Paula

    What a great story. I’m glad the film became interesting to you again and that you were able to pass your love down to your kids. I didn’t see this until I was a teenager but it scared me plenty. In fact, I’ve only watched the whole thing once. Thank you for taking up my slack 😉

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  9. Marianne

    I watched this movie on TV while babysitting once. I had no idea the kids had gotten out of bed and were watching it behind the couch. 7 years later they were still talking about being scared to death from that night. I think everyone has a Jaws story.
    I don’t know what their problem was… It is PG after all.

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    • le0pard13

      Ha! Great story (if that event didn’t bring a reprimand from their parents, that is ;-))! I think you’re right about this. Everyone has a ‘Jaws’ story. Good point about its rating, Marianne. Thank you very much.

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  10. Mummbles

    Thank so much for sharing this story. I can say JAWS is my favorite movie of all time (as of now) so I love to hear anything about it. I have rewad 2-3 books on the movie and also just bought the bluray. The movie looks more amazing now then ever. I have seen it twice on the big screen as well but I am sure nothing would beat seeing it with an entire auidence who didnt know what they had in store, oh I so wish I could be in those first few weeks and watch the movie with an audience who had no idea what thrills they were in for. I am glad you came back to the movie with fresh eyes, anything watched that many times over and over does tend to get old.

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    • le0pard13

      Oh, yes. The film looks absolutely splendid on Blu-ray. The film and I have come a long way together. Probably, this is the only film that could have made such a journey. Thanks, mummbles.

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  11. 70srichard

    Great story, that six week period could be daunting for anyone, even the most devoted fan. I should be prosecuted for child abuse, my kids saw it at four and five years old (it’s a story). I have a few posts on the film, I’ll write up something else after we see it on Friday. Thanks for the link.

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    • le0pard13

      Ha! They were four and five at the time? Well, it did have a PG-rating ;-). I’ll be sure to head over and read some of your stories with the film, Richard. Thanks so much for the read and comment, my friend.

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