Erik Hollander’s ‘The Shark Is Still Working’ answers pretty much everything you could ever want to know about the making of Steven Spielberg’s 1975 breakthrough film ‘Jaws’ and a few things that aren’t all that interesting.Running longer than the film it documents, “The Shark Is Still Working” is usually satisfying because the movie has made such an indelible mark on our culture. If there is some nagging question you’ve had about “Jaws,” like who painted the famous poster or how scientifically valid the movie is, it will probably be answered.
Hollander and his crew managed to score interviews with most of the major “Jaws” contributors who are still with us. Novelist Peter Benchley died shortly after giving his remarks in the documentary, and trailer announcer Percy Rodriguez passed away a few weeks ago, so “The Shark Is Still Working” has some invaluable insights that even casual fans of the shark hunting tale will enjoy.
Spielberg’s detractors have often accused him of sacrificing the content of his films at the expense of special effects, but as the films producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown reveal the Hollywood magic needed to make convincing shark attacks was sorely lacking during the making of “Jaws.”
Bruce, the mechanical shark created for the movie, frequently malfunctioned, so Spielberg often had to make viewers imagine a ravenous great white was mauling Massachusetts swimmers. Using composer John Williams’ eerily primal score, Spielberg and his crew made viewers think they were witnessing the rampages of an aquatic predator when they actually weren’t.
In “The Shark Is Still Working,” Spielberg admits he might have made a much different movie if he had had access to computer generated effects, and it might not have earned the millions of admirers it now has. It’s doubtful viewers would have cared if the characters defeated the shark if the performances for Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss weren’t compelling.
Directors Steven Soderbergh and Bryan Singer, who have both made arthouse and commercial films, site “Jaws” as an influence. Singer even named his production company “Bad Hat Harry” after a line in the film.
In addition to chronicling the film’s difficult production (Bruce wasn’t the only thing keeping Spielberg behind schedule and over budget), Hollander and writer James Gelet examine how “Jaws” revolutionized the way movies were marketed and how tie-ins became as important as box office receipts.
The most enjoyable segment of the documentary is listening to Rodriguez demonstrating how he delivered the chilling narration during the trailers that lured viewers to the theaters in droves.
At three hours, “The Shark Is Still Working” manages to satisfy geek curiosity by sheer overload. A few cuts and some better pacing might have helped. The film’s structure seems a little too loose and could use some focus.
There’s a fan convention at the end of the film that seems as if it would be more fun to attend than watch at home or in a theater. The site of legions of fans applauding a replica of Bruce just doesn’t seem that cool if you’re not there.To their credit, Hollander and Gelet give little mention to “Jaws 3-D” or “Jaws: The Revenge,” which nobody wants to remember. There’ so much juicy content in “The Shark Is Still Working” that the filmmakers can be excused for occasionally biting off more than they can chew.