Why ‘Jaws’ Became More Terrifying Without the Shark

Norm Wilner of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) explains how the seemingly unfortunate malfunction of Bruce, the animatronic shark, made the iconic film Jaws more frightening than originally planned.

“Jaws” is the greatest accident in the history of cinema Brilliant, right? Unforgettable even. But here’s the thing: That’s not the movie Steven Spielberg set out to make. Spielberg had originally wanted the great white shark that menaces the people of Amity Island to be a constant presence in the film. But it turned out saltwater wasn’t exactly conducive to animatronics.

Wilner further explains that this need to pivot and the way director Steven Spielberg handled it made Jaws the enduring blockbuster that it became.

On any given day in the summer of 1974, Spielberg and his crew had to figure out a way to represent the monster they couldn’t show, suggesting its presence through John William’s insidiously simple score, employing a subjective camera for its underwater P.O.V., showing us glimpses of its carnage, or even representing it by, shall we say, alternative means. It worked. It worked brilliantly. From its very first scene, Jaws grabs audiences with its simplicity and its intensity, but we still wouldn’t regard it as a classic if we didn’t care about the people at its centre. …

Lori Dorn
Lori Dorn

Lori is a Laughing Squid Contributing Editor based in New York City who has been writing blog posts for over a decade. She also enjoys making jewelry, playing guitar, taking photos and mixing craft cocktails.