Roy Scheider’s Chief Brody walks round the side of the boat. He’s casually pulling on a cigarette and tossing meat into the ocean.
The meat is bait.
Bait for a terrible foe.
Bait for Jaws – a genetically engineered tiger who lives in the sea.
The silence is shattered as the terrifying creature leaps from the waves and roars into the face of the hapless police chief.
At least, that was the plan. But Jaws is being played by a man in a tiger suit and he simply does have the necessary propulsion to leap up from the waves, also he’s swallowed a lot of water and in the midst of an awful coughing fit.
Wearily, director Steven Spielberg calls ‘cut.’ He was concerned. Very concerned. He had big plans to dominate family blockbusters for the next twenty years before experiencing a fallow period in the early 2000s and then bouncing back to become a genuine elder statesman of filmmaking.
That was never going to happen if Jaws didn’t hit big.
“I’d read Peter Blenchley’s novel Jaws and admired it very much,” said the director during a 1985 Wogan interview.
“But I always felt it would be improved by replacing the shark with a genetically engineered tiger that lived in the sea.
“It just seemed like the obvious choice to me.”
Sadly, however good a concept a genetically engineered tiger who lives in the sea was, the practicalities of filming were proving insurmountable.
“It was just a guy in a suit, so the roars of a genetically engineered tiger just sounded like a man. He was also far to small to convince as a tiger, and you can’t really expect a man to spend a huge amount of time in the water without, you know, drowning.”
So, reluctantly, Spielberg reverted to the original concept of Jaws being a shark. The film completed and it is widely considered that the arduous shoot was worth it for the resulting film which has since garnered classic movie status.
As an interesting post script to the story, the man who played the genetically engineered shark who lives in the sea was none other than Oscar-winner Tommy Lee Jones who credits the gruelling experience with inspiring his performance as the hard-bitten marshall in The Fugitive.
“He was a genetically engineered tiger who lived in the sea too,” said Jones in a 1993 Wogan interview.
“At least he was metaphorically.”