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Monday, June 18, 2012

Staring Into The "Jaws" Of Fear Itself

Okay, so here’s a dumb question for you all.  How many of you have seen a shark up close?

I will admit that I have not.  The closest I have come to seeing a shark is probably on the Discovery Channel during Shark Week.

And certainly, sharks are not creatures that people should dismiss as being harmless.  Sharks have the power to cause serious bodily harm, and even death to those who approach them. 

It’s estimated that between 1580 and 2008, there have been over 2,200 confirmed shark attacks worldwide.  The country with the most fatalities due to shark attacks is Australia, with a reported 214 deaths linked to sharks.  Western Australia, in particular, seems to be the part of the country that has recorded the most shark attack fatalities. 

However, if you compare those numbers to that of the United States, they tell a different story.  According to the International Shark Attack File (and who knew that one of those actually existed?!?), the United States has had a whopping 1,085 shark attacks over the last four hundred years, but only about 4% of those have resulted in a fatality, the lowest rate for shark attack related deaths in the world.

But before you begin thinking twice about swimming in the ocean at Myrtle Beach or the Hawaiian Islands, consider this.  The odds of getting attacked by a shark in the United States are about one in 11.5 million.  The odds of dying from injuries sustained in a shark attack are about one in 264.1 million.  You’re more likely to die in the ocean from drowning than you are to be eaten by a shark.  Not that either option is considered to be ideal, but just putting this information out there, just in case you have any concerns.

And, consider this.  There are over 360 different species of sharks in the ocean, yet the vast majority of shark attacks in the world are caused by only four species; the oceanic whitetip, the bull shark, the tiger shark, and the great white shark.  And it also seems that the more equipment that a person is wearing, the less likely a shark is to attack.  In a 2010 French film called “Oceans”, a bunch of divers wearing air tanks and scuba suits were able to swim around the sharks without the sharks attacking.  It’s only speculation, but many believed that it was possible that the sharks could sense the unnatural elements of the divers (the scuba gear and tanks), and were more willing to accept them as temporary outsiders.  But, keep in mind that’s just speculation.  I probably would not recommend that you try it.  Though, it does make sense.  I imagine that swimmers, surfers, and water-skiers have more exposed skin, which may as well be the equivalent for a dinner bell for sharks.  And, of course, having a visible cut that has blood residue can also attract sharks to you.

But, again, the statistics state that the odds of getting attacked by a shark are significantly low.  One shouldn’t worry too much.  And, even if you do get attacked by one, the odds of dying are low as well.  Just ask shark attack survivor Bethany Hamilton, the surfer who lost an arm in an attack, but still continues surfing today!

Despite the rarity of shark attacks though, people still have a fear of them, largely brought out by various horror movies and films that depict graphic shark attacks on screen.  In fact, the late author Peter Benchley even attempted to dispel the myths that sharks were nothing more than man-eating beasts.  It was rather ironic for Benchley to make these claims, given that one of his most famous works of literature involved a man-eating shark.  In fact, the book was so successful that it was made into a movie, and it became one of the biggest summer blockbusters of the twentieth century.

I’m sure you can make an educated guess as to what the Monday Matinee is for today, but if you still aren’t sure, perhaps this theme song from the movie will jog your memory...or prompt you to swim to the nearest coastline in absolute terror.

We’re going back to June of 1975, the month that “Jaws” was released in theatres nationwide.  This was the movie that helped bring Steven Spielberg into the mainstream film world as a director, and starred Roy Schieder, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Murray Hamilton, and Lorraine Gary.  When the movie was released on June 20, 1975, it was expected to be a success from the beginning, but I don’t think that the people who worked on the film knew just how much of a success it would eventually be.  The original film was made with a budget of nine million dollars, and ended up making a total of nearly half a BILLION dollars at the box office.  Now that is what I call a nice net profit.

The deal with “Jaws” is that it was widely praised by critics, and it was really considered among the first wave of “summer blockbuster” films that were commonplace during the late 1970s and throughout the next few decades.  “Jaws” was also successful enough to spawn three sequels between 1978 and 1987...though admittedly the sequels couldn’t hold a candle to the original.

That’s not to say that the production of “Jaws” was just as perfect as the movie that was eventually made.  Truth be told, the production of the film was plagued with many problems.  The film went over budget, and shooting ran a lot longer than anyone had initially thought it would.  Spielberg almost abandoned the project to go work on the film “Lucky Lady” because he feared that he would be typecast as the “truck and shark director”.  The only reason Spielberg stayed with the project was because Universal vetoed his departure.  To add to the frustration, the mechanical sharks that were used for filming the shark attack scenes kept malfunctioning, delaying production even further.  Despite these issues though, “Jaws” proved to be a huge hit anyways.

And to think that the movie started off so quietly...

In New England, on Amity Island, a young woman by the name of Chrissie Watkins gets bored at the beach party that she is at, and decides to go off on her own to have her own fun.  Her idea of fun is to go skinny-dipping in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, which I’m sure delighted many of the male viewing audience of the movie.  Unfortunately for poor Chrissie, she meets her demise naked and in the middle of the ocean as she is pulled underwater by a powerful force.  When her remains are found on the beach, the medical examiner informs the Chief of Police, Martin Brody (Schieder) that the cause of death was likely caused by a shark attack.  Brody is immediately concerned for the safety of the tourists and townspeople, and immediately wants to close the beaches.

However, Mayor Larry Vaughan (Hamilton) does not want to do that for fear that the reports of a shark in the water would destroy the tourist season, and ruin the town economy.  Amazingly enough, the medical examiner changes his mind and says that Chrissie Watkins died in a boating accident.  Brody is uncomfortable with it, but reluctantly goes along with the explanation.

But then a second person is killed, a young boy.  And this time, the boy’s mother announces that she has placed a bounty on the shark that killed her son.  This prompts a lot of amateur shark hunters to spread out in hopes of killing the shark.  In addition to the amateurs is at least one professional shark hunter, Quint (Shaw).  At the same time, a marine biologist named Matt Hooper (Dreyfuss) does a second examination on Chrissie’s body, and comes to the conclusion that the girl did die from wounds sustained in a shark attack.

A few days later, a group of fishermen catch a tiger shark, and at first, there’s relief all over the community, as the townspeople believe that the shark attacks will finally stop.  But after an autopsy reveals that there are no human remains inside (an autopsy that the mayor refused to make available to the public), Brody and Hooper come to the grim conclusion that the shark is still out there.  When they come across the wrecked remains of a fisherman’s boat with the fisherman’s body still inside along with a shark tooth nearby, the possibility was definitely there.

However, possibilities weren’t enough concrete evidence for Mayor Vaughan to close the beaches, and when the 4th of July weekend arrived, tourists from all over came to celebrate the beginning of summer vacation.  It doesn’t take long for things to go completely pear-shaped.  A prank that was caused by a few children sets everything in motion.  While the people on the beach are in panic mode, they fail to notice that the shark is swimming around a nearby estuary.  The shark claims its fourth victim, a man, and Brody’s son witnesses the whole thing, going into shock as a result.

At this point, Brody is more determined than ever to get rid of the shark once and for all.  He persuades Vaughan to let Brody and Quint go and kill the shark, with Hooper tagging along as well.

And, hey, that’s all I’m going to give you on the movie plot.  I can’t spoil ALL the fun!

But, seriously, don’t let a movie like “Jaws” scare you from swimming in the ocean.  Shark attacks are very, very rare.  So, take some comfort in that before you watch this movie!

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