the interesting aspects about movies these days is that we live in an era where
so much of the curtain behind moviemaking has been pulled back that it’s
redefined the way we watch films. We’ve been fortunate enough, especially as
geeks or genre fans or whatever you want to call yourself, to enjoy films not
just as entertainment or works of art, but also as phenomena that register in
pop culture and make a lasting impact. As far as genre films, we’ve grown used to this creating
separate factions of fandom like Trekkies or Browncoats, who go on to form a
lasting subculture that immortalizes and transforms the central property into a
star around which fanfic, websites, conventions, and everything else imaginable
revolves and thrives. But the more visible galaxies of Star Wars, Star
, or Lord of the Rings have eclipsed an equally-sizable and mature
fanbase that gives their allegiance to one of the original blockbuster
franchise properties, Jaws.

It’s not
that Jaws
fans haven’t been well-served, exactly. They’ve enjoyed a series of
increasingly questionable sequels, conventions, documentaries, books, websites, merchandise, and a
permanent spot in the pop culture lexicon among other treats. But there remains
such a sizable love for “the original” blockbuster film, and so little official
material to satiate it. Thus, Jaws fan, collector, and all-around devotee Erik
Hollander stepped up and assembled what is inarguably the be-all, end-all
definitive look at Jaws in the form of a documentary called The Shark Is Still Working.

But is it
the definitive look at Jaws, the film? Jaws, the fans? Jaws,
the phenomenon? Jaws, the inspiration? It’s all that and more. The film is
3-plus hours of every tidbit you could possibly want to know or see about this
living, thriving…thing. How and why it endures. And though Hollander briefly
appears in the latter part of the film, this isn’t a Michael Moore-style
personal journal. He gathers brand new interviews with everyone still available from the original film, people involved
with the sequels, filmmakers inspired by the sequels, and everyone in-between
to give as complete a perspective as possible. Narrated by Roy Scheider,
the film strikes a clear arc starting with an assload of behind-the-scenes
footage and new interviews regarding the original film that takes up the first
third of the movie. The middle section (and the one that will test the patience
of casual viewers most) turns its eye toward fandom by covering the 2005 Jaws
Fest, the enduring Web presence, and countless Jaws-related dealers,
superfans, and such. Finally, you get a strong finish focused on its cultural
impact and the legacy of Jaws. By the time it’s done, you can’t name a
notable fan, cast member, or associated celebrity (e.g. Percy Rodriguez) that
hasn’t weighed in with a spirited offering. And that’s the virtue of The
Shark Is Still Working
– it’s a well-made film by a fan interviewing
principals who are also fans, and the love that everyone involved still has for
this is palpable and intoxicating.

Yet, as
of right now, the film hasn’t gotten theatrical distribution yet, and in its
current form, I’m not sure that it will. After having watched it, I feel like
there should be two versions of it, and it’s because the film is capable of
appealing to both hardcore Jaws fans and also a broader
audience who only know it through pop culture shorthand – just not
simultaneously in a version exceeding 180 minutes. It’s not that there’s dead
material that needs to be cut out to make the film move faster, because it actually
moves surprisingly quick for such a detailed and lengthy piece of work. But I
think that this extensive look at all (and I mean all) things Jaws is going to be a tough
theatrical sell, and it’s going to need some sort of buzz-generating theatrical
run to get casual folks to watch. People are used to leaner, meaner theatrical
versions of their flicks these days, and they’ve likewise come to expect
a fleshed-out DVD with extras galore to make that purchase worthwhile. Right
now, the film feels like you’re getting the super-duper edition DVD thrown at
you upfront, and it’s probably going to be off-putting to some casual people
who would end up loving this baby if they were eased in. If this current
version were what people saw, I couldn’t imagine what they could offer in the
way of supplements in a latter version, which might be a crummy way to look at it, but it’s a realistic one in terms of giving this film the best chance possible to succeed.

it’s possible that Universal will look at this as the ultimate supplement and
grab it quietly for mere home video distribution, and I think that would be a shame.
We’ve gone a generation or two beyond the original, and far too many people
only know the film through pop culture references and or have yet to discover it
altogether. A documentary this well-done could certainly create genuine new
fans and spark fresh (and well-deserved) interest in Jaws, but not without
some tweaking and a canny promotional (and probably online-intensive) campaign
to go along with it. In its current form, The Shark Is Still Working is a joy
to watch, but it feels archival and
home video-sized. With some choice tweaks, it could become an even fiercer film
that belongs in theaters, and that’s where I hope this eventually ends up.

Meanwhile, they’ve just a released a trailer that you can check out by clicking here.