Jaws: the secret of a brilliant and dangerous trick of Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece

A cinematic masterpiece and demonstration of Steven Spielberg’s precocious genius, “Jaws” remains the ultimate, perfect and terrifying summer thriller, more than 45 years after its release. And to shoot one of his most intense sequences, it was necessary to go through a trick as clever as it is terrifying…

Jawsan epic shoot

To present his second feature film in 1975, JawsSteven Spielberg went through a shoot that has become legendary. Recurring problems on the mechanical sharks used, initial budget of 4 million which eventually peaks at 9 million, teams struck down by seasickness, Robert Shaw (Bart Quint) and Richard Dreyfuss (Matt Hooper) who could not see each other, boat which sinks, script constantly retouched… The list of setbacks is long.

But the young director already had his genius, and his determination finally paid off. Jaws is a huge successan exemplary horror thriller that still stands out today from most productions of the genre.

Jaws ©Universal Pictures

Since the mechanical sharks made for the film offered a very limited realism, Steven Spielberg made the choice to often suggest his presence, to animate it also by his point of view, with for example these terrifying underwater shots between the legs of the bathers. But for some shots, he resorted to pictures of real white sharks. Especially for one of the scenes in the final sequence.

The shark in the film is large, very, very large, of a size that is rarely found in nature. It was obvious that the real white sharks filmed for this scene would have a more standard size, namely around 4 meters. When that of the film is estimated to be approximately double. A problem of scale to which the production provided a solution.

Job profile: stuntman, diver and very small

It is in the edition of Time of June 23, 1975, a few days after its release in American theaters, what is thus told how Carl Rizzo, a former jockey turned double for the cinema, found himself embarked on a boat off the coast of Australia for a task kept secret during production. Very small in size, about 1m30he is comfortable with horses but much less with sharks.

On board a small ship with shark specialist – and survivor of an attack – Rodney Fox, as well as the couple formed by Valerie and Ron Taylortwo very experienced divers and directors of documentaries on great sharks, Carl Rizzo is equipped with diving equipment for children and placed in a cage also reduced in size to create the illusion. Seasickness, fear, cold water and the presence of a real white shark are difficult for him to bear. But the couple Taylor and Carl Rizzo must produce several images. Especially for the sequence where Matt Hopper is attacked by the shark, forcing him to flee with great blows of fins and hide. And in several shots of this sequence (video below, from 2’51), we see the shark destroy the cagein furious movements.

A rampaging and destructive white shark

Valerie Taylor thus recounted this sequence in the passage from his biography, Valerie Taylor: An Adventurous Life, dedicated to filming Jaws :

We tried to convince Carl to go back to the cage, but his fear had returned. (…) Carl kept repeating “I don’t feel it” while Rodney tried to coax him.

Rodney was fixing Carl’s regulator when the new shark went around the boat’s rudder. He approached the hull and banged Carl’s cage cables attached to the winch. At that moment we all had an adrenaline rush. The animal circled around the rudder again and banged hard against the cage. He then panicked and jumped on it, getting caught in the cables that held the cage to the winch. Suddenly the small boat began to tilt violently, taking all the weight of the shark.

The animal, which weighed at least half a ton, struggled with incredible energy, using all its terrifying power to free itself from the cables and return to the depths. Everything about the boat flew, the shark using every muscle to escape, its large tail fin sweeping across the deck. The beast was standing almost on its head, and its most violent movement was the last, which cut the cables with a loud noise. Rodney then pulled Carl towards him, before in a fountain of foam the shark, the winch, the cage and part of the boat disappeared.

Authentic, movie-ready images

having escaped in extremis to a fatal accident, Carl Rizzo is then shocked. Dazed, he struggles to come to his senses. He thus asks the crew if he is injured, mistaking a red hydraulic fluid spilled by the shipyard for his blood. Fortunately, his reluctance to enter the cage saved him. Realizing what had just happened, Valerie Taylor says that the stuntman then ran to the bathroom to vomit…

Jaws ©Universal Pictures

Ron Taylor was able to film the entire scene from above. It then goes back up with great images. Rodney Fox, Valerie and Ron Taylor had been asked by Spielberg to box 16 shots. In addition to these, they therefore offered him the fury of the shark tangled in cables. That Spielberg had no harm to be integrated into the script and the final cutto further sublimate his film and first masterpiece.

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