By Buz Wallick
Like man landing on the moon or John F. Kennedy being assassinated, anyone who has seen Jaws remembers the exact time and place and how they felt when they first saw it. I myself remember sitting on a waterbed close to the floor in my mother's small apartment 100 miles away from any beach. From that point onward I was that kid who would run away screaming when a wave would wash onto the shore and then go chasing it back down until another wave crashed in its place, forcing me to run away screaming again.
I was not alone. Jaws did to the oceans what Psycho did to motel showers and what Silent Night Deadly Night 2 did for garbage day. Very few films have had such a phenomenal impact on people's lives. Anyone familiar with Jaws knows that it has gone down in history as not only one of the greatest films ever made, but also possibly the hardest ever to make.
What the filmmakers behind Jaws did not anticipate was that their mechanical star, known as Bruce, would not work on set. However, this factor and Steven Spielberg's spot on direction made Jaws one of the most terrifying and entertaining films ever created. It has spawned merchandise, a theme park ride, video games, rip-offs, a legacy of fans, and inspiration to many filmmakers. It is this impact and legacy that proves The Shark is Still Working.
This is the subject matter of the documentary The Shark is Still Working: The Impact and Legacy of Jaws. First off, let me state that I've read Carl Gottlieb's Jaws Log, own four different editions of the film including the laser disc and VHS versions along with the DVD special editions, and have seen countless making-of documentaries and interviews with the filmmakers about the struggle that was creating Jaws. I even own an original vinyl of the soundtrack. Needless to say I love Jaws and consider myself a relative expert on the subject matter. Going into The Shark is Still Working, I was not expecting to learn anything new. This, however, was not the case.
The documentary goes through not only the tremendous hardships that faced the filmmakers on set but also the humble beginnings of the book, the marketing of the film, its initial release, its inspiration to other filmmakers, and its journey into the pop culture psyche. No other documentary on Jaws has ever come close to covering all the bases that The Shark is Still Working does. It is easily one of the most extensive and enlightening documentaries about a film ever created.
Here we have brand new interviews with Spielberg, Gottlieb, Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider (who also narrates), John Williams, Joe Alves, Bill Butler, Richard Zanuck and David Brown, and Peter Benchley. They all repeat what has already been said about the making of the film; however, what makes these interviews interesting is their description of what came after the movie's release. One example is Gottlieb, who tells the story of how he and Spielberg would go and sit in the back of the theatre during the Ben Gardner head scene to watch the audience's own heads bob up in unison. They even feature footage that I didn't know existed of audiences reacting to the classic scare. Another is Spielberg’s account of what happened to the original Orca boat.
Along with the usual suspects, they feature new interviews with a multitude of different people from Percy Rodriguez, the voice actor for the Jaws trailers, to a long lost interview with Craig Kingsbury, the man who played Ben Gardner and taught Robert Shaw his salty fisherman accent. This just goes to show how in depth this documentary is. All of the players in the film's success come forward and give their unique perspectives on what it was like for them on their own side of the island.
There is also a great portion of the doc that deals specifically with Robert Shaw. The most interesting bits of this section come from Dreyfuss, who admits that there really was a "working class hero crap" rivalry between the two. It is a great look into the man, and I’ll admit that I teared up a bit during its conclusion.
Along with the filmmakers of Jaws, The Shark is Still Working also features interviews with filmmakers who have been inspired by the film. Bryan Singer, Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Eli Roth, and many more go into great detail about how the film continues to influence their work and career today. Greg Nicotero also goes into his recreation of Bruce the shark for Jaws-Fest ‘05. The documentary also features interviews with many of the film's fans including our very own Sean Clark. Every angle and base is covered.
One of the greatest aspects of the whole doc is that it features behind-the-scenes footage and stills that have never been seen before. How they found such items is beyond me because I didn’t realize that they even existed. The documentary carries right through the making of Jaws to the night the Academy Award nominations were announced and video of Spielberg’s reaction to him not getting the Best Director nod. This is only the tip of the iceberg of the kinds of things The Shark is Still Working digs into.
My only complaint is that they spend a little more time than they should at Jaws-Fest in Martha’s Vineyard. The interviews they got there of fans and all the filming location stuff is fantastic, but there is a lot of fluff that follows around everything that goes on with Jaws-Fest that would work much better as a DVD special feature. Cutting some of this portion would also greatly help the flow and time of the documentary since it runs about three hours long. Now, as a rabid Jaws fan, I found three hours of Jaws stuff pure bliss; however, there are a good 20 minutes spent at Jaws-Fest that could be better spent elsewhere. It’s also in the middle of the documentary and would probably work better towards the end. This is, however, my only complaint, and it is a very minor one.
The creators, James Gelet, Jake Gove, Erik Hollander, and Michael Roddy, are all in love with Jaws; and their contagious affection leaks through with the amount of effort and respect they have put into this documentary. It's made for fans by fans. Watching The Shark is Still Working made me fall in love with Jaws all over again. Through all the blood, sweat, and tears that was put into making Jaws, the guys behind this prove without a shadow of a doubt that indeed, The Shark is Still Working.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch Jaws. Again.
4 1/2 out of 5