One thing is pretty clear in today’s society; movies that we have loved in the past are being revived, modernized for the current cinema audience. The horror genre is abound with classic films being remade, revamped, and rebooted, all in a vain attempt to cash in on the well-established franchise. But lately, through a simple Google search, I stumbled upon something that sent shockwaves through my system. There’s talk of JAWS remake.
JAWS came out in 1975 and has terrified movie audiences ever since. I know after watching the first film as a small child, I stayed out of my bathtub for fear of being eaten (In my defense, I was under 10).
The last time I appeared on this blog, I delved into the depths and explained why JAWS is still considered the greatest shark movie of all time. I spoke about the storytelling, the direction, the score, and how there’s always room in pop culture for the menace from Amity Island. I even briefly went into how other shark films pay homage to JAWS, either through subtlety, like a number plate being pulled from a shark’s mouth, or by being a flat-out recreation.
But, if a single film can deliver all that forty-plus years on, does it really deserve a remake? If it can still terrify audiences upon their first viewing, do we really need it rebooted and told in a more modern environment?
There are always pros and cons of remaking any film. What will original audiences think? Do we change the story completely, or shoot it scene for scene? Who would we cast as these iconic characters? are just some questions that would plague the minds of those involved.
Let’s break the above questions down and look at them one by one, starting with Who Would You Cast? Let’s face it, Roy Scheider (Brody), Richard Dreyfuss (Hooper), and Robert Shaw (Quint) had a chemistry that is hardly easy to recreate. It is a well-known fact that Shaw and Dreyfuss didn’t get along and this conflict allowed them to hone in on the tension and bring it to life on the big screen.
If JAWS was being filmed today, chances are Hooper would be played by someone young, with mass appeal for a younger audience. He would be attractive eye candy who is bankable at box office.
Quint is a rough, tough old sea dog. Robert Shaw nailed this role, creating a memorable character that has truly stood the test of time. But if he was being cast today it is almost certain that Quint would fall prey to political correctness. Half the iconic lines would be considered too crass for modern audiences as the film fights to be labelled PG13. I guess we’d no longer hear the term “Here’s to swimming with bow-legged women.”
Chief Martin Brody was sheriff of Amity Island, but above all he was a family man. Raised in the tough, crime-filled streets of New York, his appointment as Chief was a lifestyle change. Little did he suspect he’d be hunting down a man-eating shark in the serene town of Amity Island.
But if he was being cast today, Brody would either be dealing with a pending divorce, or be made a widower. He would also be struggling with the dual role of being a single parent to two young boys as well as chief of police. He may even change genders, opting for a female lead in order to appease the PC crowd.
But it’s not just the leads that would fall prey to outrageous character changes. There’s plenty of supporting roles in JAWS that are just as important as the three leads. Brody’s wife, Ellen, Mayor Larry Vaughn, the two children, Michael and Sean, as well as the remaining colourful locals of Amity Island would all be revamped to fit in alongside the new leads.
Even the victims like Chrissie Watkins and Alex Kintner wouldn’t be spared subtle changes. Chrissie may go from swimming nude to wearing a bikini while Alex would most likely age up, becoming a teenager.
Character design and changes go hand in hand with the storytelling. Strong characters make for a strong story. If JAWS does fall victim to a remake, would it be made shot for shot of the original, or would it be completely revamped with a new storyline to make way for the different variants of characters we mentioned above?
Psycho fell victim to the remake plague in 1998. It was redone shot for shot, keeping true to the original story but subtlety modernizing it by being in colour instead of black and white. Also noted, Marion stole $400,000 instead of $40,000. This was panned by critics and fans alike. People were quick to slam the casting choices, the director’s choices in shot for shot remaking, as well as the rather wooden acting.
In 2010 A Nightmare On Elm Street was remade, bringing child murderer Freddy Krueger back to life. This story was completely different to the original film. Different characters played out a different, darker story in which Freddy was no longer a child murderer, but a child molester. Some elements from the original film were included, like Kris being thrown around the room as Freddy attacks; a perfect homage to Tina’s demise in the original movie. Again fans and critics slammed the attempt. They didn’t connect with the characters nor did they enjoy having the backstory of one of horror’s biggest villains tweaked.
JAWS already possess a strong story. The tension and suspense is brought forth by the convincing characters and their well thought out backstories. If JAWS were to be remade shot for shot, a lot of that magic regarding storytelling would disappear in a similar fashion to Psycho. Sure, you can add modern elements to the film. After all this time, I’m sure Hooper would have more advanced equipment. But would that really do anything to strengthen his role? Would having the Orca as a more powerful vessel result in a different aftermath? And what about Mythbusters stating that you can’t physically blow up a shark by shooting an oxygen tank? Surely that would have to be taken into consideration, thus altering one of the most climatic endings in cinematic history. Subtle changes like that take away from the original feelings of adventure and narrative.
Looking at the other end of the spectrum, changing the story completely would be just as abhorrent. The initial magic, the bonding and playful comradery between the main three characters, would be gone. The quaint sea-side town that seems welcoming to visitors would lose its charm. But above all the original story, that has successfully stood the test of time since its release in 1975, would slowly fade into the background as newer generations of movie buffs flock for a high action, modernized version of events. Potentially with a CGI shark.
Which brings me to our final question; What Would Original Audiences Think?
I ran a poll on Twitter asking if my followers wanted to see a JAWS remake. 37 people voted and the results were as expected. 27% said yes, they would be open to a remake, while 73% were against it. Most people that I spoke to were very much against taking another classic and twisting it to fit in with today’s society. One person I spoke with suggested that with better effects the movie would be more memorable. When pressed for more information she stated that the shark could be CGI and thus making it more visible. The problem I have with CGI sharks is how badly dated they look within a few years. JAWS used practical effects that, yes are dated, but still manage to scare the poop out of a first time audience member. Films like Sharknado, Shark Night 3D, and Bait 3D opted for use of CGI. It’s obvious that the sharks are computer generated and as time goes on, the more unrealistic they look.
But what made JAWS so effective to begin with was the fear of the unknown. It was a fantastic ploy the hid the menace in our own imaginations, heightening the tension and making the shark’s eventual reveal all that more riveting. You were literally sitting on the edge of your seat when Bruce reared his head and Brody had to declare “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” If you make Bruce CGI and show him continually throughout the film, the mystic of what’s lurking beneath the glassy surface is gone. The suspense that JAWS thrived on would disappear.
While a case can be made for a remake, and no doubt the rumours of one will persist, the question is does JAWS really need to be remade? The answer is no. Not when the original film is still so effect forty plus years on. Not when we’re still humming that theme of impending doom. Not when our imaginations still run wild as we stand on the sandy shores of our local beaches, wondering what’s lurking beneath the waves.
And at the end of the day, remake or a completely new story, one thing is for certain; it will instantly be compared to the original JAWS.