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Jaws has an infamous, gory deleted scene — and it's good that Spielberg cut it
Jaws is one of the few movies that most fans can agree is pretty much a perfect blockbuster. Steven Spielberg's 1975 horror-adventure hybrid about a 25-foot great white shark feasting on the WASPy citizens of Amity Island is a masterpiece in restraint. Boasting memorable characters like Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and Quint (Robert Shaw), and Spielberg's tense, less-is-more approach to revealing the shark, Jaws creates an ominous atmosphere. The killer shark lurking under the surface, threatening our heroes, is almost scarier in the audience's imagination.
But there's one deleted scene that would have changed all that, one that die-hard Jaws fans still obsess over: the bloody death of the man in the estuary who saved Brody's son.
It's one of horror's most infamous deleted scenes, and it is easy to understand why Spielberg ultimately removed it from the final cut. When Brody's eldest boy, Michael, is sailing with friends in the estuary, the shark arrives and capsizes their boat. A man in a paddleboat calls out to them, asking if they are OK, moments before he goes into the water — and becomes the shark's fourth meal. The scene would have continued with a horrified Michael staring in shock as the man emerges in the beast's, um, jaws, and grabs the boy as the shark knifes across the water — with the man gushing blood as the shark drags both of them several feet through the enclosed sea. The man lets go of the frightened boy as the shark bites down harder and drags his prey down below the blood-slicked surface to snuff out his screams.
While Spielberg did film the scene, it has never been officially released. But fans got a glimpse of it in 2015, thanks to some behind-the-scenes footage on Jaws' 40th anniversary Blu-ray, in the making-of documentary titled "The Shark Is Still Working." Check it out below:
The scene proved too violent and gory to include in this PG-rated summer horror movie, much to the chagrin of the genre's hardcore fans. But had it been included, it likely would have disappointed them and, ultimately, prevented Jaws from becoming the classic it is.
Tonally, the scene doesn't work. Its inclusion would be unable to shake hands with Spielberg's overall approach to scenes featuring the shark, as the director conditioned audiences to experience the terror at ground level with the characters. Viewers primarily suffer through the tense build-up and gut-punch aftermath of attacks, as the movie leaves out the more gruesome middle sections. (With the exceptions of the opening sequence, the Alex Kintner attack, and Quint's demise, Jaws' kills are largely bloodless affairs where the shark is kept out of sight or relegated to brief, nightmare-fuel glimpses.)
By grounding the horror at "human height," every panicked gasp Jaws' victims take or victory its heroes earn feels like one of our own. The grisly death of the good Samaritan in the estuary would have violated that contract Spielberg made with his audience; it would have been a shock for shock's sake. An excuse to indulge in fake blood excess that leaves nothing to the imagination, and risks everything the movie has achieved thus far in succeeding as a masterpiece in character-driven studio fare.
Jaws is that rare horror entry that is beloved by fans despite how unlike a horror movie it is. Sure, it has memorable kills and delivers the thrills expected from the genre (you can't think of or see a shark without also instantly associating the apex predator with this iconic blockbuster). But John Williams' unforgettable theme, or the shadowplay scene at the dinner table between Brody and his youngest son, or Quint's famous Indianapolis speech — those beats are often among the first things that pop into fans' minds when they think of this 1975 classic, not necessarily gore and terror.
A bleeding, screaming man, clutched in his killer's mouth full of knife-like teeth, dragging a young child in his arms, would have done more harm than good for the final project. It's a memorable moment, to be sure, but an unnecessary one.
Like the good samaritan's leg at the bottom of that estuary, this deleted scene from Jaws was wisely left on the cutting-room floor.