By Dom Cioffi
Forty years ago this summer, on a Friday night in June, Universal Pictures released the film “Jaws” to curious audiences across the country. Within days it would become a monumental hit and a cultural phenomenon.
The film is now regarded as the very first summer blockbuster because Universal took a unique approach with the film’s distribution.
Up until “Jaws,” the major studios rarely released a quality film to multiple theaters in multiple cities (the norm would have been five theaters in a couple cities). Universal decided to try a different approach by opening “Jaws” in 464 theaters on the first weekend, accompanied by a massive television marketing campaign in the days leading up to the release. It also tied-in numerous merchandising gimmicks including games, clothing, beach towels and posters (you name it and Universal slapped the “Jaws” logo on it).
The studio was taking a big gamble with this unprecedented approach, but the risk paid off. Within a couple weeks “Jaws” had recouped its production costs and after 78 days it passed “The Godfather” as the highest grossing film of all time. Eventually it became the first film to surpass the $100 million mark.
I remember seeing “Jaws” as a child and like so many other people (kids and adults alike), I spent the next several years being wary whenever I entered a large body of water – ocean or lake.
Eventually, however, the fear of a shark gnawing on my leg dissipated. Sure, there might be a fleeting thought when someone joked about it on a beach vacation, but for the most part I calmed my anxieties by relying on the statistic that you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than be bitten by a shark.
However, all that changed this summer.
It’s not uncommon for my wife to plan our summer vacations months in advance and that was certainly the case this past year when she booked our summer beach rental in the days following Christmas.
Someone had suggested Emerald Isle in North Carolina (just south of the Outer Banks) as a wonderful beach community to visit. I questioned the distance from our home, but my wife assured me it would be well worth the extra time to get there, adding that it would be especially gratifying because it was home to numerous endangered sea turtle nesting areas that the locals maintained.
Months passed by and as the summer weather kicked in, we began to get excited about our beach vacation.
And then the news reports started: People were being bitten by sharks up and down the Carolina coast. No one died and many escaped serious injury, but a few lost limbs. Nevertheless, the repeated reports dampened our mood.
I checked the locations of the attacks and as luck would have it, Emerald Isle was right in the middle of all of them. I began to research information regarding shark attacks and eventually learned that it is best to avoid the ocean at dawn and dusk (primary feeding times), steer clear of piers where people are fishing, and try to avoid entering the water with any open wounds – common sense stuff.
In an attempt to figure out why so many attacks were occurring this summer, I began to research information from marine biologists. That’s when I discovered that sharks absolutely love eating baby sea turtles and this year’s harvest was exceptionally plentiful. Perfect!
Nevertheless, we headed to the beach this past week and for the first time in years, I was uber-conscious of my surroundings while in the water – not just for me, but mostly for my young son.
Days went by with my wife and me on high alert. Every time our son entered the water, one of us was scanning the horizon looking for danger. Eventually, however, our anxieties lessened to the point where we were barely paying attention.
And then, on our second to last day, as we were calmly sitting in our beach chairs enjoying the day, my wife suddenly leapt to her feet, exclaiming in a very concerned voice that she had just seen a shark. I laughed at her for about one second and then caught sight of a fin cutting through the waves about 100 feet off shore, right behind where our son was swimming.
As we both ran down to the shoreline to urge our son to exit the water, he suddenly pointed into the surf and joyfully exclaimed, “Look, mom and dad… dolphins!”
Oblivious to our initial concerns, he casually walked out of the water and proceeded to give us a lesson on how it’s “wicked easy” to tell the difference between a shark fin and a dolphin fin.
This week’s film, “Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation,” also features someone with a lot of smarts, but in this case he’s a rogue spy who’s uncovered a secret agency intent on wreaking social havoc around the earth.
You have to give Tom Cruise credit: as strange as his personal life may be, he does a great job of not letting it filter into his movies. His newest outing from the popular “Mission: Impossible” franchise is a testament to this fact.
If you’re in the mood for lots of action, adventure and intrigue wrapped up in a true summer blockbuster, then definitely give this film a try. An unpredictable “B” for “Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation.”
Got a question or comment for Dom? You can email him at [email protected]