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Jaws’ Iconic Poster Wasn’t Created for Steven Spielberg’s Movie

The iconic image ranks among the greatest in all of cinema As it turns out the movie borrowed the Jaws poster from its source material Two years before Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope Steven Spielbergs Jaws broke box office records around the world and launched the age of the blockbuster The story of a great white shark terrorizing a beachfront tourist town became a phenomenon and sat atop the alltime box office charts for a brief time until A New Hope dethroned it two years later It did so after a rocky development process that has become the stuff of Hollywood legend.

Jaws magic hinged on several serendipitous circumstances That included things like the films mechanical shark breaking down forcing Spielberg to rely on far more effective Hitchcockian suggestion and of course the score from John Williams That also included the movies poster which was so iconic in and of itself that there has never been the need to update it As it turns out it wasnt made for the film Spielberg inherited it from the source material Bantam Publishing released Peter Benchleys novel Jaws in 1974 and it became an instant smash prompting Hollywood to snatch up the rights The book differs from the movie in many ways containing several mainland subplots involving the towns corrupt mayor and a love triangle between Matt Hooper and the Brodys none of which were the storys main selling point The cover promised a killer shark and the visual it used was impossible to resist.

The books hardcover copy featured a protean version of the iconic image with artist Paul Bacon using gray images against a black backdrop to frame the scene But it was the paperback cover that truly struck a chord switching black for white and suggestion for terrifying detail Artist Roger Kastel was tasked with creating the image according to a 2015 article in the New York Post Kastel flipped through the first few pages of the novel and quickly found his scene the sharks attack on swimmer Christine Watkins that opens the story He used model Allison Maher to serve as Watkins swimming blissfully along the oceans surface while an impossibly large shark rises unseen from the depths towards her It was a terrifying image which among other things helped the novel overcome its routine lack of focus.

Spielberg and Universal Pictures recognized the storys true selling point and stripped the novel of its superfluous subplots With the shark now front and center the novels cover became all the more compelling Bantam let Universal use the image for the poster correctly considering it free publicity It became an instant hook for the Spielberg blockbuster and it remains one of the single greatest pieces of promotional art of all time Sadly Kastels original painting has been lost to time with the artist unaware of its exact location and the Post article reporting its whereabouts unknown Thats shocking considering its legacy and instantly recognizable status Much like Williams score the poster has come to encapsulate the movie The Library of Congress selected Jaws for the National Film Registry in 2001 One hopes that the poster went along for the ride.

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