Tied to the movie’s 35th anniversary, “Jaws: The Inside Story” provides an exhaustive look at the summer blockbuster that turned Steven Spielberg into a brand name and rewrote the rules for summer movies. Drawn in part from an earlier doc, “The Shark Is Still Working,” as well as fresh interviews, it’s a fascinating account that could easily have had a few bites taken out of its two hours in the editing suite without losing much. Even so, fans will find much to feast upon, hearing from cast and crew in addition to inhaling rare clips from the difficult, five-month production.
Even those who know most of the backstory — how shooting on water inflated the budget, dragged out the production schedule and threatened to sink Spielberg’s career before it really got started — will find plenty of tasty tidbits littered along the way.
Sure, we might know that the mechanical shark’s failings actually “would be the key to the whole movie” — inadvertently resulting in a threat more implied than seen, thus adding to the terror, and how that came together in the editing. But it would take a real aficionado to have heard Charlton Heston wanted the role of Chief Brody, or that Roy Scheider, who got it, was slapped 17 times in a single day to complete one memorable scene.
There’s also a marvelously revealing interview with a nervous, clearly agitated, then-26-year-old Spielberg on the 105th shooting day — when the movie was roughly six weeks over schedule and 100% over budget.
As for the cast, the producers recall how Lee Marvin famously passed before Robert Shaw took the Quint part, proceeding to have an antagonistic offscreen relationship with co-star Richard Dreyfuss. For his part, Dreyfuss (who also said no initially) recalls doing a TV interview in which he trashed the movie and his performance prior to its release — and there’s footage to back that up.
The agony associated with the production, of course, eventually gave way to the thrill of victory, with Spielberg remembering a man racing past him to vomit in the lobby during an early screening. Grainy night-vision video reveals audiences collectively screaming at pivotal moments, conveying the impact “Jaws” had on crowds who would never look at the ocean quite the same way again.
Director John Milius — a Spielberg friend who contributed to the Quint soliloquy about his experience aboard the ill-fated USS Indianapolis — also remembers a Hawaii trip with Spielberg, who said he feared going into the water, suspecting that sharks might have a score to settle.
As this Bio doc makes clear, though, Spielberg and company caught a cinematic wave with “Jaws” like few before or since — and, improbably, rode it all the way into history.