Nothing quite says "summer movie" like Steven Spielberg's 1975 film Jaws -- which made it one of first films I thought of when I learned that we were going to be highlighting scenes we loved from summer movies here at Cinematical. The only challenge was picking one scene I love in a film filled with memorable moments. Rather than go with one of the more obvious choices (Quint's monologue, the opening scene, and the famed "You're gonna need a bigger boat", etc.), I decided to go with a scene that doesn't get discussed as often as many others: the estuary shark attack.
There are a number of things that make this particular scene unforgettable: it's the first time we get a really good look at Bruce -- the film's mechanical shark -- also, it's gory (there's a shot of a severed leg sinking to the ocean floor ... ), it's intense (Chief Brody's son is in the water while the attack is occurring), and it was altered from what Spielberg had originally intended because he felt the scene as he had envisioned it was too gruesome. Plus it's really well shot, which is something a lot of people tend to overlook when discussing Jaws.
In the scene, everyone has just begun to calm down after a false shark citing (two kids with a fake fin and scuba gear) when a painter working near the estuary spots the real shark in the water. When she starts screaming about it, Chief Brody's (Roy Scheider) initial reaction is to assume it's another false alarm. However, when his wife mentions that their oldest son is in the pond with his new sailboat, Brody jumps into action.
The boys are having trouble getting the sail raised, and actor Ted Grossman (billed as the "estuary victim" in the IMDb credits) is rowing toward them in his tiny boat to lend assistance. The shark hits the boat from beneath, knocking not only Grossman into the water, but also capsizing the sailboat too. Spielberg shows us the actor clinging to his upside down vessel as the huge shark is closing on him from beneath the surface and then takes him under. It's the first time we really get a good look at the film's monster and it's terrifying. The director then cuts to a long shot of the water from the beach, where we can hear Grossman screaming, then cuts back to a shot above the water, where the shark has breached the surface and is attempting to devour his victim.
We get the gross out moment a few seconds later, when Spielberg shows us Grossman's severed leg trailing blood as it sinks to the bottom of the estuary. The scene then shifts to what appears to be a shot from the shark's perspective as it moves toward Brody's son, then veers off for deeper waters.
That's how it appears, but that's not how it was intended. Spielberg's initial plan was for the shark to swim toward Michael Brody with Grossman still alive and in its jaws. Grossman would then push the child out of the way, thereby saving the kid's life. The perspective shot wouldn't have been the shark's at all (it's above the water ... ) but rather Grossman's. The director decided this scene was too much and it was never included in the film. A shame, really, because it would have definitely added some extra punch to an already horrifying sequence. One nerdy reason to be happy Spielberg cut the scene -- shown in the picture above -- is because the proportions are all off. Grossman is too close to the dorsal fin to be in the mouth of a shark that size.
The rest of the scene deals with Brody and his wife pulling Michael (now in shock) from the water, before ending with a great shot of the open ocean framed between two bridge supports. We know the shark is out there somewhere and that he's going to strike again.
Jaws was the prototype for the summer blockbuster movie and this particular scene does a great job of highlighting why the film steamrolled everything in its path. It's one of the smartest and most intense monster movies ever made, and it still makes me a little wary of taking a dip in the ocean. Check out the estuary scene below and then share your favorite Jaws memories in the comments section.