JAWS: The Sharksploitation Edit (Steven Spielberg/The Man Behind the Mask, 1975/2009)

The Criterion Collection, a continuing series of important classic and contemporary films presents JAWS: The Sharksploitation Edit.

criterion logoA gigantic great white shark terrorizes the summer resort town of Amity Island and no one is safe from its bloody maw.  In the wake of its carnage, the local police chief, an oceanographer, and a professional shark hunter dedicate themselves to finally stopping the beast with some assistance from an unlikely source.  Can they put aside their bickering long enough to save themselves and the town from the monster below?  The Man Behind the Mask’s fanedit JAWS: The Sharksploitation Edit pares down the original summer blockbuster’s character development and slow burn tension, expanding the body count and producing a bloodier, sharkier version that grabs hold and never lets go.

Disc Features:

  • High-definition digital master, with DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack on the Blu-ray edition
  • Interactive lexicon cataloging incorporated material
  • Interview with Steven Spielberg
  • Audio commentary by faneditor The Man Behind the Mask
  • Roundtable discussion with Robot Chicken co-founder Seth Green, Robot Chicken: Star Wars cowriter Breckin Meyer, actor and faneditor Topher Grace, Slash Film writer Peter Sciretta, and Fanboys director Kyle Newman
  • From Cornell and Conner to Fanedit.org, film scholar Michael Zryd on the found footage film tradition

The greatest strength to this pair of fanedits is the choice to root them in a 1970s grindhouse aesthetic.  By selecting this low budget, sensationalistic, even primitive industrial mode, French faneditor The Man Behind the Mask allows himself the freedom to indulge and experiment.  If there are missteps in pacing, narrative cohesion, or consistency in tone, then they can be accepted as the vagaries endemic to exploitation cinema generally and failures are converted into successes in the name of industrial and generic fidelity.  The most obvious amendments to the original Jaws made by TMBTM are an accelerated narrative pace and more extensive, more violent shark attacks.  Fans of JAWS: The Sharksploitation Edit are often quick to embrace the move from a 124 minute film to a brisk 102 minute edit.  Part of the original film’s success rests in the ability of its narrative to breathe, allowing characters to develop, reveal themselves, and defy assumptions.  In compressing the film and truncating sections of dialogue and exposition, JAWS doesn’t so much erase this content as rely on it, aware that viewers know the original film and its characters and are able to read the fanedit already having notice of its principal figures.  And for those unfamiliar with Jaws, either because they haven’t seen it or can’t recall it in detail, the thinner characterizations of JAWS can be accepted as in keeping with its grindhouse aesthetic of cheaply made, sensationalistic films sometimes lacking full narrative cohesion.

Certainly JAWS‘s more extensive shark attacks stand out.  TMBTM relies on a number of aquatically inclined natural horror movies, including Jaws 2 (Jeannot Szwarc, 1978), Jaws: The Revenge (Joseph Sargent, 1987), Orca (Michael Anderson, 1977), The Last Shark (Enzo G. Castellari, 1981), Spring Break Shark Attack (Paul Shapiro, 2005), and Blue Water, White Death (Peter Gimbel and James Lipscomb, 1971), as well as various shark documentaries by National Geographic and the Discovery Channel.  But extra minutes of bloody water does not a classic make.  JAWS distinguishes itself with a host of ancillary changes that makes the fanedit unpredictability thrilling.  Frequent replacements of John Williams’ score in favour of diverse tracks like Nana Mouskouri’s “Deep and Silent Sea,” The Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl,” Metallica’s “The Unforgiven III,” Bill Frisell’s “Spanish Ladies,” Manowar’s “Warriors of the World,” Townes Van Zandt’s “Dollar Bill Blues,” and Iggy Pop’s “Go for the Throat” (used extensively through a shark attack montage) shifts JAWS from a Hollywood production (with a characteristic Williams classical score) to a grindhouse cut aiming for sensationalism, currency, and youthful audiences.  Inserted dirt and debris, sound pops, and clumsy film repairs give JAWS textural authenticity as an overused, improperly cared for, exploitation film print.  Incorporated black and white footage, such as a dated shark documentary that is either included in or interrupts a news broadcast and naval survival footage superimposed over the shark hunter’s story of the USS Indianapolis‘ sinking, provides JAWS with moments of experimental flair and art house ambitions occasionally present in grindhouse efforts.

These changes and insertions are only the most obvious ones made in The Sharksploitation Edit and credit should be given to TMBTM for the further variety of sources drawn upon to produce such an elaborate fanmix.  Fanedits, particularly those done by the French faneditor, should be recognized as engaged in the experimental tradition of the found footage film epitomized by esteemed works like Joseph Cornell’s Rose Hobart (1936) and Bruce Conner’s Cosmic Ray (1961).  Jaws gets leaner and meaner in The Sharksploitation Edit, drawn down into the low culture horror genre that Spielberg managed to free the film from while creating the summer blockbuster.  JAWS in many ways emulates what might have been expected from Spielberg’s film had it been another natural horror film and not the tentpole event that every studio since has sought to reproduce each summer.  Yet, by retrofitting Jaws into something less polished and more exploitive, TMBTM finds a new chemistry that adds freshness and verve to a familiar classic nearly 40 years old.  Reduced, reused, and recycled, JAWS: The Sharksploitation Edit is a highly entertaining effort in modern filmmaking technology and pomo nostalgia.  This winner of Fanedit.org’s 2009 Fanedit of the Year is a compelling sign of the times in need of a wacky “C.”

Credits:  An interactive lexicon of content would be a fascinating feature given the complexity of the fanmix.  It would also provide an important forum for ascribing credit to constituent elements and allow for cross promotion to other right-holders.  An interview with Jaws‘s director Steven Spielberg would provide a forum for him to discuss his impressions of the fanedit and his views on the use of his work generally – perhaps a particularly interesting discussion given his recent comments with George Lucas on the impending implosion of the current film industry.  An audio commentary by TMBTM would provide him with an opportunity to discuss his intentions for the fanedit, his views on the appropriate use of remix, and review the extensive and time-consuming efforts required to produce a fanedit of this caliber.  The panel is generally constructed with The War of the Stars in mind and so we’ll leave that for the following post, however there is little doubt that those participants could provide an engaging and entertaining discussion of Jaws and JAWS.  Michael Zryd is a well known film scholar on both found footage films and genre cinema, making him the perfect individual to canvass the intersection between fanedits and the broader experimental film tradition.

6 thoughts on “JAWS: The Sharksploitation Edit (Steven Spielberg/The Man Behind the Mask, 1975/2009)

  1. Anonymous July 5, 2013 / 1:01 pm

    That was a very nice read. Thanks.

    • telboyd June 19, 2015 / 6:14 pm

      Love your fanedits! Where have you gone (from fanedit.org)?

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