Before June 20, 1975, there was no such thing as a summer blockbuster. Enter Steven Spielberg, a killer Great White, a jackpot of one-liners (You’re gonna need a bigger boat), and you’ve got something big.
Jaws was actually bigger than big. It was huge. And it managed to keep a lot of people out of the water.
“My little brother wouldn’t even go into a pool after that,” laughs Jaimie Arsenault, a self-described Jaws fanatic from Lowell.
What else can anyone expect from a film version of Peter Benchley’s bestseller about a man-eating shark who comes to dinner at a summer resort community?
Jaws played in theaters for months and earned more than $470 million — remaining the biggest box-office hit of all time until George Lucas bumped it from the top spot two years later with another summer smash Star Wars. Following Alfred Hitchcock’s style of building suspense (we don’t see a whole lot of shark until later in the film), Spielberg did wonders when setting his camera out to sea, giving us what we wanted — a shark’s-eye view of vulnerable and naked limbs splashing just offshore, a fin the size of a child knifing through the water and bodies disappearing beneath the waves.
Throw in an actor like Robert Shaw who plays briny, madman fisherman Quint, and it adds to the horror. One of the film’s greatest scenes has Quint, with an Ahab-like glint in his eyes, retelling his own nightmare aboard the sinking U.S. Navy cruiser Indianapolis. After being torpedoed by a Japanese submarine in 1945, hundreds of men were eaten by sharks before help arrived. The memory makes Quint even more determined to see this particular shark go down.
But that is the classic appeal of Jaws and why, 40 years later, it still works. Unlike zombies, vampires or demons, the black-eyed, razor-toothed mechanical marvel of this film (nicknamed Bruce by the cast) cuts closer to home. Sharks are real and the thought of what could be strikes at a primal fear in all of us. Anyone under 12 may want to stay home.
Playing at The Luna Theater June 20. Visit lunalowell.com for showtimes.