“Experience ‘Jaws’ like never before” is how Imax is offering the opportunity to see the film in 1,200 locations. Meanwhile, modern blockbusters marking the official last gasp of summer are actually being shown not in theaters but in homes, as big streaming titles swallow up the world of premium TV.
‘Jaws’ gets its big shot weeks after Spielberg’s ‘ET the Extra-Terrestrial’ hit its 40th anniversary, each playing in product-hungry theaters that have yet to fully rebound from the global pandemic that shuttered them in 2020.
Few films symbolize the relationship between Hollywood and summer more than “Jaws,” a film that has influenced entertainment industry business practices, inspired filmmakers and changed the way many people view the ocean.
“Jaws” snatched commercial victory from the jaws of defeat, overcoming technical difficulties, production delays and nervous studio execs to validate Universal’s bet on Spielberg, then 20 years old.
Beyond financing the film, Universal’s bet rested on its release in over 450 theaters, an unprecedented launch at the time designed to preload the film’s box office. The film’s broad introduction was also accompanied by a major network television publicity blitz, built around a campaign featuring the signature poster and tie-in to Peter Benchley’s bestselling book.
“Jaws” paid off with strong box office returns, breaking records and swimming in over $260 million in the United States.
Studios quickly recognized that there was something different about the summer, a time when kids were out of school and people were perhaps looking for some type of theatrical escape.
Perhaps most of all, “Jaws” embodied how the shared experience of watching movies can enhance their impact. A documentary about the film illustrated this point, with the studio filming night vision footage of moviegoers collectively reacting to key moments, such as the shocked gasps when a dead fisherman’s head suddenly pops out of his boat.
Watching “Jaws” also made a strong impression on a generation of directors. Steven Soderbergh told The New York Times that seeing the film at the age of 12 was “a turning point” for him, echoed by talents like the late John Singleton, who recalled a similar feeling while watching the movie in a drive-in.
The irony, of course, is seeing “Jaws” revisit the theatrical waters at a time when movie attendance has gone through various stresses and changes, some related to the pandemic, but others to the realities of improving options. home viewing and playout systems as streaming availability matures. On today’s larger televisions, something like “The House of the Dragon” or “The Lord of the Rings” can look and sound quite impressive, even in a living room.
The only thing viewers don’t get in this setting are the cues associated with other people reacting the way they did when “Jaws” first thrilled and terrified moviegoers in 1975, tapping into deep fears about what might be hiding beneath the waves.
In that sense, when Chief Brody said in one of “Jaws’ signature scenes, “You’re going to need a bigger boat,” he’s only half right. Because in terms of the full movie experience, how audiences discovered “Jaws,” even on an Imax screen, it’s not just size that matters.
“Jaws” is re-released on select Imax screens in the United States on September 2.