Daniel David Gothard: ‘Seeing Is Believing…’

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I remember being 7 years old and nagging my parents for weeks to take me to see Jaws – this was on its original release in 1975. They eventually agreed, both of them fairly drunk at the time after a post-Christmas Sunday lunch.

The film had an A rating (the equivalent of a PG today) and I don’t think anyone at the BBFC had seen anything quite like this kind of film before, or expected the impact it would have on filmmaking in the future – the beginning of the ‘Summer Blockbuster’ – and those in the position to allow young minds to experience the sheer terror and suspense cannot have imagined the long-term fears Spielberg’s classic would nurture.

I love the film now and have seen it many times – laughing as Richard Dreyfus crushes his paper cup to match Robert Shaw’s beer can crunch, nodding at the classic moments such as, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” and wincing as the massive head of the Great White appears. But I still cannot bring myself to swim in the sea, and even when I swim in a pool I hear the ‘Der-Dum’ opening of John Williams’s classic ‘Shark Theme’.

It’s easy, 40 years later, to be cynical about the special effects of the shark. But I can assure you, in 1975, at the age of 7, that music, that fin and those shark scenes WERE the scariest thing anybody had seen on film. Plenty of horror films had come before, but the simple story: small beach town, tourists, sunshine, fun … MASSIVE SHARK EATING PEOPLE! was akin to a shockwave in the minds of most film viewers.

Jurassic World is due for release in a few weeks, the 4th film in the 22 year franchise. My 8 year old son, Natty, is desperate to see it. He has seen the first three films and hasn’t suffered any post-view nightmares – quite the opposite, his fascination with dinosaurs, possible velociraptor plot-lines, etc, has grown exponentially. So Spielberg – executive producing on Jurassic World – has managed to draw another generation into the world of terror and suspense. That is quite an impressive record.

One scene from a Jurassic World teaser trailer that has particular resonance for me is the feeding of the massive sea dinosaur. His meal? A Great White Shark.

Perhaps one day I can finally swallow my terrifying memories and once again enjoy the water – just when I think it’s safe …