“Experience ‘Jaws’ like never before” is the way Imax is pitching the opportunity to see the film in 1,200 locations. Meanwhile, the modern blockbusters marking the official last gasp of summer are actually premiering not in theaters but homes, as big streaming titles swallow the world of premium TV.
“Jaws” gets its closeup a few weeks after Spielberg’s “ET the Extraterrestrial” made its 40th-anniversary return, each playing in theaters hungry for products that still haven’t fully rebounded from the global pandemic that closed them in 2020.
Few movies symbolize the relationship between Hollywood and summer more than “Jaws,” a film that influenced the entertainment industry’s business practices, inspired filmmakers and changed how a lot of people view the ocean.
“Jaws” snatched commercial victory from the jaws of defeat, overcoming technical difficulties, production delays and nervous studio executives to validate Universal’s gamble on the then-twenty-something Spielberg.
Beyond bankrolling the movie, Universal’s gamble hinged on releasing it in more than 450 theaters, an unprecedented launch at the time designed to frontload the film’s box-office haul. The movie’s wide introduction was also accompanied by a major advertising blitz on network television, built around a campaign that featured the signature poster and the connection to Peter Benchley’s bestselling book.
“Jaws” paid off with handsome box-office returns, breaking records and swimming off with more than $260 million in the US.
Studios quickly recognized that there was something different about the summer, a time when kids were out of school and people might be seeking a certain kind of theatrical escapism.
Perhaps foremost, “Jaws” embodied how the shared experience of watching movies could enhance their impact. A documentary about the film illustrated the point, with the studio shooting night-vision footage of movie-goers 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 powerful 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 reminisced about a similar sensation watching the film in a drive-in theater.
The irony, of course, is seeing “Jaws” revisit the theatrical waters at a moment when movie attendance has experienced various stresses and changes, some related to the pandemic but others the realities of improved home-viewing options and delivery systems while the availability of streaming matures. On today’s larger TVs, something like “House of the Dragon” or “Lord of the Rings” can look and sound pretty impressive even in a living room.
The one thing viewers don’t get in that setting are the cues associated with other people responding as they did when “Jaws” first thrilled and terrified movie-goers in 1975, tapping into deep-seated fears about what might lurk beneath the waves.
In that sense, when Chief Brody famously said in one of “Jaws'” signature scenes, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” he only got it half right. Because in terms of fully experiencing movies the way audiences discovered “Jaws,” even on an Imax screen, it’s not just the size that matters.
“Jaws” is being re-released on select Imax screens in the US on Sept. 2.