Jaws is undoubtedly one of the finest films ever made. Back in 1975, when it was released, critics questioned its summer-time outing, but the film terrified and stunned audiences with its unforgettable tension, killer theme music, sharp acting and that robotic shark.
But the film didn’t just affect cinemagoers. It also changed cinema. The idea of summer blockbusters then became the norm and in cinematic realms, it opened the doors for filmmakers to create truly petrifying movies for non-niche audiences. Forty years on, the film is considered a great, and in honour of its anniversary, DIFF is hosting a special screening of Jaws at The Beach, JBR, on Saturday December 12, 7.30pm.
Richard Dreyfuss, who played Hooper, the young oceanographer in the film, says his entire career was catapulted from that one role, and as he recollects, he could well have missed the boat. “My first reaction was to say ‘no thanks,’” says the actor, now 68. “Even Spielberg asked why, and I said, “I’m lazy and I’d rather watch it than shoot it.” A fateful change of mind made the then 26-year-old run back to Spielberg. “I happened to see a film that I had done the year before and I thought that I was so terrible in that movie, that if it was sold in the United States then I would never get another job ever, so I called Steven back and begged for the job.” He adds, “It was the fear of total unemployment that changed my mind. It was just apparent that I would never work, so I’d better get a job quick, and then I had the greatest adventure of my life. The stories about Jaws outnumber ten films you could name and it was an extraordinary process.”
Despite taking the job, Dreyfuss initially had little faith in the film’s success. “I thought it would tank,” he exclaims. “I mean, the shark didn’t work! So I thought, ‘I don’t know how this is going to be anything but terrible’. It didn’t even occur to me until then, just how brilliant Steven Spielberg was because he made that film work, without a shark.”
The film was plagued with problems. The mechanical shark, named Bruce after Spielberg’s lawyer Bruce Ramer, suffered many malfunctions, and the director hadn’t factored in the problem of the sea salt corroding the mechanisms. Another issue was that the film was late and massively over budget, and getting the film completed required all hands on deck. “We had to start from scratch – we had no script, we had no shark, and we had to write the script every night and come up with ideas that would replace showing the shark, because it looked like a toy!” Dreyfuss laughs incredulously as he casts his mind back, reflecting on how far filmmaking has come. “It was a desperate camaraderie among everybody, and we were in this war. We were in a war to make a good film.”
With many films that take on a legendary status over time, many stories and rumours abound, and it’s often been documented that Dreyfuss and fellow protagonist, Robert Shaw, who played Quint, the rugged shark catcher, had a lot of tension on set. But Dreyfuss reveals to us that simply wasn’t the case. “Actually, these stories are completely outside and silly,” he says, quashing the fables. “We got on all of the time, apart from maybe 50 hours – and that’s no exaggeration – and it’s too bad that people have come to accept silly stories when in fact, we were pretty damn bonded at the hip. Robert and I were friends, 99 percent of the time. If he had an extra drink then it turned bad, but that was very rare.”
Jaws is one of those few hallowed films that stick in the mind. People often remember when they first saw it, it leaves such an impression on the viewer, whether watching it for the first or the hundredth time. Dreyfuss tell us that he too remembers his first time watching the film. “I was absolutely terrified, I screamed when everybody else screamed, I couldn’t believe that I was in it, when the film ended I couldn’t believe that it was me. You know, I’d still never walk into the ocean from the beachfront. I would scuba dive, because I can see all around, but let me tell you if you want to get me off the beach and into the water – there isn’t enough money in the world!”
The film will be screened, quite aptly, at The Beach opposite JBR, as part of the film festival, and Dreyfuss will be making an appearance to film fans before the opening credits roll in Dubai. This is the actor’s first time to the emirate and he’s clearly excited to be part of the festival and celebrate the film’s legacy. He reveals, that much like when he ran back to Spielberg for the Jaws job, he’d been begging to come to Dubai. “I always found begging was the best way to do it. Kind of like standing under a girl’s window and begging to take her out. That’s basically what I did with Dubai. I’d been meaning to come to Dubai for years, and this time at the festival is the best and most appropriate time.”
But while the film is playing at The Beach, you still won’t find Dreyfuss getting back in the water. “I might put my toe in – as long as you can guarantee that I can see to the bottom!”
Jaws screening: Free admission, first come, first served. Sat December 12, 7.30pm. The Beach, JBR.