Tag Archives: Jaws

The terrifying motion picture from the terrifying No. 1 best seller.

Jaws premiered 35 years ago today, and the internet’s abuzz about it. Plenty of articles, blog posts and e-partying, which I think is really great. Turns out there are many of us out there who call it My Favorite Film. It’s a nice community to be in. (I’ve included a few links below.)

This film is a part of me on a molecular level1, and I’ve already done two posts on it (Before and After and The Many Faces of…). I have many more Jaws-related posts in me, however, I fear they’ll all quickly devolve into bitching about the bad sound mix done in 2000 (see my Before and After post if you don’t believe me). But I don’t want that kind of anger to taint this wonderful anniversary.

Tell you what: my post today will be predominantly about a great moment within Jaws—and towards the end of the post, maybe I’ll grumble a little about what it sounds like in the theaters today.

OK, here’s the scene, which I’ll call the Whale Song scene: Brody, Hooper and Quint are on the Orca, and Quint’s just finished his Indianapolis story. The mood is as quiet as the film will ever get—on the Orca at least—and the silence is interrupted by the sound of a whale in the distance. Naturally, this freaks out Brody, land-lubber that he is. Pay attention to the whale’s interaction with the others…

This is as beautiful as it gets. Gentle, haunting. Let’s break it down, since I think it gets even better under scrutiny:

       -Quint’s story ends. The guys are humbled by his tale. All of us (Brody, Hooper and the audience) have a better understanding of what drives this shark hunter.
       -The whale cries; Brody reacts; Hooper explains, “It’s a whale.”
       -Quint sings with a small smile, “Farewell and adieu to you fair Spanish lady…”
       -The whale cries again.
       -Quint joins the whale, continuing, “Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain…”
       -The whale cries the last time.
       -Hooper picks up as soon as the whale is done: “Show me the way to go home…”

In a nutshell, Quint duets with the whale, making his spiritual kinship with the sea even more pronounced than his Indianapolis story did. In fact, you could say that, yes, he’s got issues with sharks but not with the ocean. It’s obvious this is a man who plans to die at sea.

And the fact that Hooper follows his lead—singing a song that asks for “the way home”—could be seen as foreshadowing Quint’s ultimate demise2   a couple of reels later. (Tellingly, in the first version of the script to include the singing, it’s Quint who begins “Show Me the Way to Go Home.”)

I don’t normally read this much into films, but Jaws is so chock full of subtleties, nuances, and idiosyncrasies I’m inclined to think everything is there for a reason. By all accounts—Carl Gottlieb’s The Jaws Log; Laurent Bouzereau’s excellent “The Making of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws”; comparing the few drafts of the screenplay floating around the internet against the end result—this was by-the-seat-of-their-pants filmmaking, with re-writing and improvisation happening at every turn—and yet the young director had a vision and a clear focus on the characters’ purpose within the scheme of the story. Therefore, it’s very likely (to me) that Spielberg directed Robert Shaw to imagine he was singing with the whale.

It bears another viewing…

Of course, a sound effect this distinct prompts questions from an old sound editor like myself: Who picked the actual sound? Who placed it in the film, timing it the way it is? I wouldn’t be surprised if it were Spielberg, perhaps even choosing it prior to shooting. At the very least, a sound effect this important would have been settled upon in the editing room, with input from editor Verna Fields. I can’t imagine the film going through the entire picture edit without any whale sound there, waiting for a sound editor to dig up something appropriate. It’s just too important a sound effect.

But I do have an idea what the scene would sound like without that whale sound. As I wrote in my first post, Jaws was originally mixed in mono (for which it won an Oscar), and when it came out on DVD in 2000, it was remixed for surround sound. Yet for some still-unknown reason, many of the film’s juiciest sound effects were either missing or replaced by something noticeably different or inferior. Sadly, the Whale Song scene, one of my favorite sounding scenes in the film, has been decimated…

I know I said I wasn’t going to bitch too much in this post, but here goes:

       1. The interplay between the whale and Quint and Hooper is gone. Instead, the whale now cries the same time as Quint, which leaves those pockets of silence wide open. The average ear, hearing a film for the first time, is trained to listen to the characters, and any sound placed beneath them will be a distraction. When I used to sound edit, we had a basic rule: it was OK to have sound FX/design wedged in between lines of dialog. (Joe Sixpack, when hearing a sound effect snuck in between some dialog, isn’t going to say, “Hey, they stuck that sound in there because nothing else was going on!” Trust me on that.)
       2. This new whale sound is creepy and happy at the same time—but definitely not mournful in the way the original is. It also sounds like the whale was miked closely when it was recorded and it still sounds that way. Gone is the feeling of distant crying.
       3. Where are all those great boat creaks and groans?! Now the scene sounds like it was filmed on a soundstage (it wasn’t). Check this out. This short clip begins with the new mix and then crosses over into the original, personality-filled mix. (You may have to crank this up for full effect.)

For the life of me, I can’t figure out why any of this was done. But I do know this: if Jaws ever gets its long-overdue theatrical re-release, it will have this anemic mix—and that’s a shame.

But, hey! Enough of my old man grumblin’! Back to the celebratin’!

I’m going to leave you with a couple of gifts. First, here’s those links to some very interesting Jaws-related blogs and articles:
       –Radiation-Scarred Reviews has been doing a week-long Sharkathalon, which includes posts about shark films before and after Jaws as well as links to other blogs posting about the film.
       –Too Much Horror Fiction has some great samples of Jaws in print; and its sister blog Panic on the 4th of July has equally exciting examples of Jaws posters.
       –Hunting Bruce, or, on the Trail of the Jaws Shark, an NPR piece about a journalist fulfilling a life-long dream of literally touching the mechanical shark

And lastly, a song. The song. And this might be the version the guys were referencing:

The Andrews Sisters – Show Me the Way to Go Home (2:49, right-click to download)

I suggest you crank it up, grab a friend or two, and sing along.


BACK TO POST 1 Obviously, Jaws is the Big Mac Daddy of Quotable Films. Oh, sure, there’s “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” and “Back home we got a taxidermy man–He’s gonna have a heart attack when he sees what I brung him!” Y’know, the quotes we hear peppering our everyday lives. But I’m talking about a deeper layer, like “(inhale).” That’s when Brody gets out of bed, inhaling and standing up straight, which is how I’ve gotten out of bed most days of my life. Or this old chestnut: “(sniff).” Of course, I’m referring to Brody walking down the street of Amity, sniffing sharply then looking up at the birds. I do that one every Fall day.

BACK TO POST 2 Or is it “demeeze”?


Filed under Film, Gripes

The Many Faces of Jaws

Thirty-four years ago, I saw Jaws for the first time. My grandmother took me for my birthday, and nothing’s been the same since. Actually, the impact began before I saw the film in ’76. It really started the summer before with the outrageous hype and this poster…

This legendary image actually began as the paperback’s cover, drawn by Roger Kastel, an artist under contract with Bantam Books. If you look closely—and you don’t even have to look that closely—you can see that the woman (“Chrissie” from the opening of the book/film) is pretty damned naked. Besides seeing the film for my seventh birthday, I got the soundtrack, too, and would listen to it under (big) headphones while staring endlessly at this cover. In fact, for my birthday party that year, I snuck several of my guy friends into the bathroom so I could clandestinely show them the naked woman on the cover—but then my mother busted in and broke us up. (How did she know?!)

As a kid who loved humor as much as movies, the inevitable Mad magazine cover was equally as important in my early years. (Hell, I knew their parody, Jaw’d, months before I saw the film.)

But there is other artwork for Jaws worth noting. First, the original 1974 Doubleday hardcover takes a little thunder away from the iconic movie poster. This is clearly more esoteric, but the basic notion is already in place. Also, it too has the fishhook “J.” Lastly, unlike Kastel’s painting, this one evokes a night attack, which adds an extra chill to it. (It’s a shame no artist is noted on the dustjacket.)

In 1978, Jaws 2 arrived, and so did this lame-o poster. This took a great thing and made it stupid. I mean, sure the original was hyperbole, but this one was just plain dumb. I knew it even at the age of nine.1

What was a real drag, however, was that Universal Pictures didn’t stick with their teaser campaign…

Not only did it have the best possible tagline (that film’s only legacy), but it had a new look: Evil was reapproaching and it was all red, red, red. I saw this in TV Guide a month before the film was released and it knocked the wind out of me. It’s a shame Universal chickened out and played it safe, poster-wise.

Of course, this notion of Universal selling the viewer short has continued. If you read my first post, you know the disdain I have for the re-mixed Jaws on DVD. But my anger covers more ground than that. Have you seen the DVD cover artwork? Check it out…

It’s shiny so it doesn’t scan so easily. Therefore, I’ll point out the discrepancies between this version and the original it’s based on. The differences between the sharks are silly and almost negligible. The new shark is much more robotic and less defined. It’s more like an arrowhead and less like a fish. The eyes, however, are more lifelike but they look like they’re crossed. Also, they added some teeth to his upper jaw; I guess he wasn’t menacing enough in the original poster.

But it’s Chrissie that gets the most damage:

Besides the fact that they changed the position of both her arms (why?), they also added enough foam to remove any hint of her naked body below the surface. I could go on about the ugliness of PC revisionism, but what’s the use? I can’t figure these people out. The poster in its original form was perfectly fine promotion for 30 years, for the paperback, the film, the soundtrack, the VHS tape, etc., so why change it?

I will say this: that little bit of tease in the poster, as slight as it might be, happens below the water’s surface, and I always thought that’s what draws the shark: It’s what he sees. (It’s worth noting that the tagline for the film was “She was his first.”) So if you obliterate that detail of her body, obscure it with foam, well, it removes a layer of horror, the psycho-sexual kind. And you may remember that Chrissie’s death in the film also has plenty of sexual overtones.

So all that new fancy packaging gets us is a shiny, cross-eyed robot-shark staring at a sexless, glowing foam-creature. Hmmm…It makes me think of a reaction from “Clod Hopper,” Richard Dreyfuss’s character in Mad magazine’s Jaw’d:


BACK TO POST 1  For what it’s worth, I think the cover of the Marvel Comics tie-in with Jaws 2 hit the nail on the head.


Filed under Film

Jaws: Before and After

Screw any introduction of myself (that will come later). I’m just going to leap into this blog thing. My first post is both praise for my favorite film and an indictment of a drop in standards.  When Jaws came out on DVD in 2000, I was understandably thrilled. Pretty quickly, however, I was appalled to see—hear—that the sound was quite different than I had remembered…

How did this happen? How did the sound of a three-ton shark crashing through the side of a boat go from sounding like a ’73 Buick Riviera driving into your living room to Zelda Rubenstein dropping a champagne glass in your kitchen? I can only speculate.

Y’see, Jaws was originally mixed in (glorious) mono, and, naturally, that doesn’t sit right with the present-day sound-crazed home-theater owners. So when it was time to make the DVD, Universal did what was necessary to make a 5.1 mix for the film, which included re-recording several sound effects. And whoever was hired to do that phoned it in. (The whole film is missing chunks of great sound FX.) And someone (Universal? Spielberg?) gave it a stamp of approval. And this new mix was the only soundtrack available on the DVD!

And so here I was, a sound editor buying his All-Time Favorite Film, cringing at a desecration and daydreaming of the day when the word “blog” would be invented. I should be clear that I wasn’t the only one to think the sound FX work for Jaws was amazing: this film won only three Oscars, and one of those was for its Sound.

Gratefully, when Universal did its money-grubbing 30th Anniversary Edition DVD in 2005, the mono track was included—though it defaults to the 5.1 mix, which I think (as I’ve made perfectly clear) sounds like shit. And as I note in the clip, if you’re lucky enough to see a new print of Jaws (which looks gorgeous, BTW) in a movie theater, it will have this less-than-thrilling soundtrack.

One of these days I’ll post more examples of the tremendous inadequacy of the new soundtrack. Laughable and sad.

And yes, I welcome—encourage—anyone who was responsible for the sound FX on the remixed Jaws to drop me a line. I’d love to hear what you have to say to a fellow sound editor.


Filed under Film