There are certain films that hold a unique place in history… and Hollywood had better keep their grubby, remaking mitts off of them! While the trend to “re-imagine” or “re-envision” everything around them has been going on for some time, these films have so far managed to escape the fate of some of their less fortunate compatriots. I speak of course of…
SACRED COWS The 25 Movies They’d Better Never Remake.
These films are not just near and dear to our hearts, they should be considered OFF-LIMITS to those jerks at the studios. The films on this list were special when they premiered and continue to be so today, and we’re going to explain why they shouldn’t be remade – as well as why they can’t be. So enough jabbering, on with the list!
Day Nine: Jaws (1975)
DIRECTED BY: Steven Spielberg WRITTEN BY: Peter Benchley & Carl Gottlieb (based on Benchley’s novel), with uncredited work by John Milius, playwright Howard Sackler, and Robert Shaw. STARRING: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton.
THE SACRED RUNDOWN
When the sleepy island community of Amity is rocked by a sudden shark attack, Amity’s sheriff, Chief Brody (Scheider), a former big-city cop who is afraid of the water, wants to close down the beaches. But with tourist season about to ramp up, the Mayor (Hamilton) and other city officials refuse to listen to him. To aid his cause, Brody calls in Matt Hooper (Dreyfuss), a shark expert. As the attacks continue, it soon becomes clear that tourist season is over, whether or not the Mayor shuts the beaches down, so the town agrees to pay Quint (Shaw), a local badass, to kill the monstrous fish. Quint, Brody, and Hooper take to the ocean to hunt the beast, but soon find themselves the ones being hunted. Bickering, barrels, bonding, sea-shanties, and explosions ensue.
THE REASON IT’S SACRED
We all love movies here, but let’s be honest… even the average good movie is generally a bit like a corny joke – it worked, you enjoyed it, but once you know the punchline, there is little reason to hear it again.
The best movies are like songs, where even once you know all the words and riffs and drum-breaks by heart, you still crank the volume when it comes on the radio for the umpteenth time. And just like with many great songs, sometimes you don’t even realize just how brilliant a great film is until you’ve seen it several times.
Like many Jaws fans born after the film originally hit theaters, I first encountered the film on television. Luckily for me, when I was growing up the only thing the TBS Super Station aired more often than Beastmaster were the Jaws films. As a wee and undiscerning child, the Jaws franchise all blurred together for me; I actually liked Jaws 3 the best, because of its Sea World connection. My discovery that the original film was not only the best in the series, but was in fact a fucking brilliant masterpiece of the cinematic craft, was a slow burn. But sometimes the most profound epiphanies are. Really, saying that Jaws is the best film in the Jaws franchise is a bit like saying that Earth is the best planet in the solar system.
I don’t remember exactly how old I was (probably a freshman in high school) when I had my epiphany, but I do remember that it was during Quint’s Indianapolis monologue (about sharks picking off the survivors after his WWII ship was sunk by a Japanese torpedo – for those non-Jaws-savvy people out there). As a kid, I had always found this scene boring. Now, even though I’d heard it a dozen times before, I was electrified. It dawned on me, this scene wasn’t just awesome… it was good, like Oscar good. This was some serious shit here. Then this happened over and over again with various scenes in the film – the pacing of the opening sequence, the subtly of the dinner scene with Hooper and the Brody’s, the chaos of the town hall meeting, every goddamn thing Robert Shaw says and does in the film – until I finally had to announce to my friends, “I’ve discovered something… I think maybe Jaws is one of the best movies ever made.” To which I of course got a bunch of blank stares, “Jaws? The shark movie?” And so went my life until I reached college and discovered, with a sigh of relief, that Jaws was indeed considered a masterpiece. I happily have no fear that anyone will question the film’s placement on the Sacred Cow list.
Jaws sometimes takes a little heat from film historians, as it is oft credited with being the beginning of the end for the much praised (especially by baby boomers) artistic golden age of cinema that surged from the late-60’s through the 70’s, and eventually gave way to the much disdained blockbuster craze. There really isn’t any denying it, since we’re talking about box office numbers here, but I’d like to throw out there that Jaws is in many ways the perfect culmination of that golden age’s ideals and possibilities – a perfect synergy of 70’s artistic nuance and good old-fashioned Hollywood entertainment.
Steven Spielberg never found a better home for his signature Norman Rockwell by way of Robert Altman style than Jaws.
Amity lives and breaths like a real lived-in place. Populating the film
with non-actors (all the rage at the time) alongside scenery devourers
like Shaw and Dreyfuss shouldn’t work. But it does. Frankly the whole movie should’ve
been a disaster. We all know the stories about how “Bruce” the
mechanical shark barely worked, which inspired Spielberg to shoot most
of the shark scenes in POV. But the script was a disaster too.
Benchley’s original drafts hewed very close to his book, which Spielberg didn’t like, but instead
of getting someone like William Goldman to rewrite it, they moved into production and Spielberg got
improv comic Carl Gottlieb to fix things up while they were shooting. Gottlieb had assisted in the
improvisational re-writes on M*A*S*H (1970), and Spielberg wanted that Altman-esque feel, characters talking over each other, often drowning each other out. You know, for his killer shark movie.
This strange decision is entirely why Jaws
works on the level that it does. Every weird little character in the
film – from the man describing kids karate-chopping his fence, to Bad
Hat Harry, to the doomed Ben Gardner, to the moronic fishermen who think they’ve
caught the shark, to the members of the town meeting – makes Amity
pulsate with fun and textural detail. And the dialogue! Jaws sneak attacks you
with amazing dialogue:
Mayor Vaughn: Martin, it’s all psychological. You yell barracuda, everybody says,
“Huh? What?” You yell shark, we’ve got a panic on our hands on the
Fourth of July.
Quint: And, you know, the thing about a shark… he’s got lifeless eyes. Black
eyes. Like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be
living… until he bites ya, and those black eyes roll over white.
Brody: Foreground, my ass!
Quint: I’ll catch this bird for you, but it ain’t gonna be easy. Bad fish. Not
like going down the pond chasin’ bluegills and tommycods. This shark,
swallow you whole. Little shakin’, little tenderizin’, an’ down you go.
Hooper: He ate the light.
Brody: It’s only an island if you look at it from the water.
Ellen: My husband tells me you’re in sharks.
Hooper: Mary Ellen Moffat. She broke my heart.
And one of my favorite toasts…
Quint: Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women.
Goddamn, I could go on here. I’m having a blast!
Composer John Williams’ instantly memorable shark theme.
The horrific skinny-dipping shark attack prologue.
The “Hitchcock” dolly-zoom on Brody when the shark attacks the beach.
Hooper’s autopsy of the original victim: “This was no boating accident.”
Brody and Hooper’s dissection of the tiger shark: “He didn’t eat a car, did he?”
Quint’s chalkboard scraping introduction.
When Brody first gets a good look at the shark: “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
When the shark submerges with two barrels.
The three men drunkenly comparing scars.
Quint’s Indianapolis speech.
The tension breaking sing-a-long of “Show Me the Way To Go Home.”
Brody’s explosive showdown with the shark: “Smile you sonofabitch!”
WHY A REMAKE WOULD MAKE ME RUN OFF SCREAMING
Because what is great about the film is not really replicable. The shark is actually the worst part of the film, yet that’s the angle from which any remake must obviously evolve – it’s a shark movie; it’s called Jaws. The story itself is painfully simple and has already been mooched, repurposed, and reimagined countless times in the past 35 years. A remake now is going to feel boringly commonplace and uninspired, so any would-be filmmakers are left with little choice but to tamper with the formula purely for the sake of tampering.
A natural move would be to return to the source material. Aside from character names and overall structure, Spielberg’s film is not a particularly faithful adaptation. And with good reason. Peter Benchley’s book isn’t that great. But you could do a faithful adaptation. You could turn Hooper back into a sleazebag who has an affair with Ellen Brody, keep the original anti-climactic ending, drop Quint’s backstory, have the Orca crew return every night instead of staying out at sea, kill Hooper, etc, but some very creative and smart people already chose to change all that for some very creative and smart reasons.
Part of Jaws unique appeal is the way it effortlessly straddles the lines between a big studio adventure film, an intimate character drama, and a creature feature horror film. This is certainly not a natural combination, and any remake will be hard pressed to pull off the balancing act. Likely the film would have to move further into one of the three categories to gain footing, but too far in any direction will sink the film.
Also… CGI. “Bruce” is a clunky animatronic behemoth. I love the stupid looking bastard, but modern audiences expect something better. But, where the frustrating limitations that Bruce imposed on Spielberg opened the door to creative solutions, CGI is opening the door for too much shark.
A single frame from the greatest reaction shot in film history.
WHAT WOULD PLATINUM DUNES DO (WWPDD)?
Michael Bay’s been producing remakes all over town, using his Platinum Dunes company as a front. So naturally he’d be the logical choice to spearhead any attempt at remaking this classic. How would it pan out, you ask?
Ian Somerhalder is cast as Chief Brody, with January Jones as Ellen Brody.
To cut down on the sausage-fest factor, Matt Hooper is changed to Maddy Hooper, a sassy inner-city girl who decided to become an ichthyologist after watchingShark Week as a kid. Rihanna wins the part after Beyonce drops out.
In an attempt to connect with fans of the original film, Richard Dreyfuss is offered the role of Mayor Vaughn. Dreyfuss happily takes the paycheck, then phones-in the fuck out of the part. Also, after test audiences say they wished Mayor Vaughn had been eaten by the shark, reshoots are done to now include a tangential moment in the final third of the film where Vaughn illogically decides to go fishing and is killed by our big fish.
In the film’s one piece of interesting casting, Terry O’Quinn is given the role of Quint, but the role becomes excessively watered down in an attempt to avoid comparison with the original film – no more singing, for one. And since the timelines no longer work, out is the Indianapolis, in is a lame childhood tragedy monologue about witnessing his father get attacked by a shark while surfing.
There is concern that modern audiences won’t accept the structure of the original film, so more characters are added to the Orca crew for the second half of the film – including Ellen Brody, who has been given the added backstory of having served in Iraq for what is seen as much needed Grrrl Power. “Of course I’m going with you. Who is gonna watch your back?”
Also on the Orca crew are a couple new “red shirt” characters, a Discovery Channel reality TV personality (topically poking fun at Steve Irwin), played by comedian Rob Huebel, and his nervous cameraman, played by new SNL addition, Jay Pharoah. They both die, of course.
Because PD is so proud of their awesome CGI shark, they don’t feel the need for all the POV shots from the original film. We see the shit out of this shark. Including an “awesome” shot where we follow a victim inside the shark’s mouth.
To capitalize on the current popularity of footage of great white sharks jumping out of the water, our new CGI shark jumps out of the water… a lot. In fact, that’s how Rob Huebel dies. While Pharoah is taping him, the shark jumps across the bow of the ship, and takes Huebel with him.
Instead of “Show Me the Way To Go Home,” now the Orca gang bonds over singing Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing.”
In an attempt to maintain the illusion that this isn’t a remake, but simply another adaptation of the book, the film keeps Benchley’s original ending, where the shark dies from exhaustion. Then after the test audience hates it, they do a reshoot… with an even bigger explosion than the original film!
During pre-production, Spielberg brought George Lucas and John Milius to the effects shop where “Bruce” the mechanical shark was being constructed. As a practical joke, Milius and Spielberg closed the shark’s jaws on Lucas, when Lucas stuck his head inside to get a better look. Prophetically, Spielberg and Milius couldn’t get the shark’s mouth to re-open. When Spielberg and Milius were finally able to free Lucas, the three soon to be powerful men, ran from the workshop like scared children, convinced that they’d done horrible damage to the machine shark.
Rebuttal:Troy Anderson: Why does every remake have to go through Platinum Dunes? You can re-tackle Jaws without having to shit on Benchley or Spielberg. Taking a cue from O.J. Simpson…this is how I would do it.
• Make it a period piece. Give a brief explanation from Hooper about the 1960 shark attacks off of Long and Block Island. Via narration from Hooper, he explains how Captain Frank Mundus took his charterboat from Montauk and headed out after the sharks. Then, we cut to several shots of Mundus harpooning sharks from his boat. The brutal act was soon made illegal. ̶
6; Keep in Hooper’s POV, as we arrive in Amity where the Mayor is arguing with the police over the Fourth of July weekend bash. The younger Hooper reports to the Police Chief and we start to work in the darker relationship issues that Benchley explored. • The Shark is talked about in hushed whispers. The Medical Office won’t let Hooper see pictures of what happened to poor Chrissie Watkins and the local man found in the estuary. The Mayor says that everything is fine, but Chief Brody remains quiet. Brody knows that something’s out there, but he refuses to tell Hooper or his family. • Keep the book’s subplot about Ellen, but don’t let it overpower the story. Lorraine Gary didn’t have shit to do in Spielberg’s version. Jaws is a popular male-powered film, but let’s give a lady something to do. • Hooper is now feeling like crap. The Sheriff hates him, the Sheriff’s wife wants to screw him and the Mayor just wants him to go away. When the personalities come to a standstill about how to handle the situation, Alex Kinter is eaten alive on the evening of July 2nd. • The town is in an uproar, as most of the citizens just saw a child devoured by a shark. The Mayor tries to work damage control, as Hooper goes to the phone. He contacts Mundus, but he refuses. For Mundus, you’ve got the room for a stellar cameo. Mundus refers Hooper to Quint. • Quint shows up and I will concede this to Joshua, you can’t top Spielberg’s intro for the character. Pay direct homage. • July 3rd. The crew is loaded up and on the Orca. The morning and daylight hours are wasted, as they can’t find a sign of the Shark. That evening and into the night; the men bond. Quint talks about his time in the Navy. We allude to the Indianapolis, but don’t directly focus on it. Chief Brody stares daggers at Hooper, as he just knows that Hooper fucked his wife. • That night, Hooper is prepping his gear when Brody comes out to talk to him. Brody pulls a gun and lets him know that he knows what’s going on and pushes Hooper into the exploration cage. Giving him an hour’s worth of oxygen, Brody releases the winch and drops the cage into the Atlantic. • This is where we get our first shot of JAWS. Before this, I wouldn’t even have the shark onscreen. I’d even keep the POV shots to a minimum. Make that shark into KEYSER SOZE for fuck’s sake. • JAWS does passes at Hooper. Smacking into the cage, as Hooper flips the fuck out. The shark will be CG, but it can also be done with some practicality. I’m looking at how Del Toro shows Abe Sapien’s scenes in Hellboy by way of puppetry and in-camera FX. • In terms of design, let’s stick with basic nature look of the Great White. But, make the fucker big. The shark is a monster and book-learnin’ Hooper should realize upon first sight that he’s out of his element. • Right when it looks like the Shark is going to tear the Cage in half; the Winch pulls Hooper up to the surface. Hooper passes out.
That would be the first hour.
The problem with modern classics is that we let the celebrity of the material scare us. While we don’t want some things to be remade, we shouldn’t be scared to attempt something new.
I’m a huge fan of Benchley’s original work and I was able to obtain a first edition of the novel in 2008. A lot of the movie fans tend to crap on the book because it’s a product of its time. While taking a lot of its inspirato from real shark attacks and related feats of manly goodness…it’s still pretty dated.
Embrace the 70s antiquity and cash in on the Grindhouse style appreciation of the genre lovin’ mid 1970s. But, feel free to use the wonders and tools we have at our disposal today. What’s more important to me is getting rid of the Spielberg wonder and awe.
This is a film about man vs. nature and that shit is worth exploring. Anyone outside of Brody was a utility player that was more concerned with function than personality. I’m not saying that the Spielberg formula doesn’t work. I’m just saying that we need a different approach. Bring the horror back and give America a non BP reason to avoid the beaches.