The shark is approaching — an enormous 25-footer. We may not see it right away, but we know it's coming, because, with only two alternating notes — E and F if you're wondering — John Williams' iconic score tells us that death is nipping at our heels. It begins slowly, like the pulse of a matchless predator staking out its next meal. Then a second, racing pulse is added to the mix — this is the prey. Then a third is added, the throbbing pulse of white-knuckled audience members, sitting on dry land, in the dark, watching helplessly while a killer shark wreaks bloody havoc along the coast of Amity Island, a New England resort dependent on beach tourism. Jaws was never just a horror movie.
In 1975 audiences lined up in record-breaking numbers to see an aquatic creature feature where the monster was often conspicuously absent. The "creature," which "survived millions of years of evolution without change, without passion, and without logic," was evoked primarily by Williams' soundtrack and the screaming and flailing of its victims. The more immediate threats were greedy humans worried that some whistle-blower will yell "shark," and businesses will have a panic on their hands on the Fourth of July.
Jaws was a risky proposition for Universal Studios. Producers knew the property was hot, but the creative team started out with no script, no shark, and no cast. The 27-year-old director, Steven Spielberg, had some experience with horror, having worked on episodes of TV's Night Gallery. But his first film, Sugarland Express, had tanked at the box office. Riding the wave of an effective (and unheard of) $700,000 TV advertising campaign, this big fish story starring Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss, quickly became the highest-grossing film in box-office history. Well, until Star Wars came along two years later and the battle of the age of summer blockbusters began in earnest.
On Wednesday, June 24th, Memphis audiences will have another chance to experience the original blockbuster as it was meant be experienced — on the big screen. To celebrate its 40th anniversary, Jaws is screening at 500 theaters across America. You can catch it at the Paradiso at 7 p.m. But you're probably gonna need a bigger boat.