JAWS’ Mechanical Shark, Bruce!
Duunnn dunnn... duuuunnnn duun... duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn dunnnn… I was a kid in 1975 when Steven Spielberg’s movie Jaws was released. I vividly remember when it was released; probably because I was on summer vacation in Ocean City, Maryland! The weather was not great one day and we couldn’t go to the beach, so we decided to see a movie instead. Trust me, seeing a movie like Jaws while on a beach vacation, is not the smartest thing to do! I remember being terrified after seeing the movie and spent a lot of time close to shore on that particular vacation. If you remember, Jaws was a movie about a great white shark that attacked beach goers with a fury. It was seemingly indestructible with a personal score to settle.
Had I known the real story behind the menacing shark in Jaws, I would probably not have been as terrified. The shark in the movie, obviously, was not real. It was a mechanical shark designed especially for Jaws. The shark was a full-size, pneumatically powered creature. It measured approximately 25 feet long and weighed thousands of pounds. The shark was amusingly referred to as, Bruce, by the film crew.
The movie was shot on location in Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, and most of the filming took place in the water. Filming in the water was a challenge itself. The mechanical shark was not ready when the movie started filming and when it finally arrived, it was sadly unrealistic.
The great white was supposed to be an intimidating beast but was anything but intimidating. The eyes crossed; the teeth were too white; the jaws (ironically) didn’t close properly; and, maybe best of all, it had a big dimple that made it look like Kirk Douglas. Not a great return for a $250,000.00 investment!
When seen out of the water, the shark didn’t look even remotely real. Although it was built to the specifications that were requested, the shark in the movie was supposed to have been a great white but was not quite physically correct.
Adding to the challenges already in place, the fact that the shark was mechanical also muddied the water (pun intended). Anything mechanical is subject to malfunction and malfunction it did. The sea air caused much of the malfunction, interfering with the basic mechanics of the creature. At one point, it actually sank to the bottom of the ocean and had to be retrieved. Bruce required no less than 14 operators in order to control all of the moving parts.
Because the shark malfunction so much, it was not well seen throughout a lot of the movie. There were some scenes that were originally written to include Bruce the shark, but they had to be rewritten in order to be show without him. In a way, this only added to the mystic of the creature. It actually caused anxiety to heighten with audiences. Everyone was just waiting for the other shoe to drop. The fact that the shark wasn’t as visible ended up working in the favor of the producers and added to the success of the movie.
Steven Spielberg was sure that the delays and challenges, including going grossly over budget with the production of Jaws, would seal his fate in Hollywood. Throughout filming, he was sure the movie would lead to his demise. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Jaws was just the beginning of his successful career. Not only did it work out for Spielberg, but for audiences everywhere!
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