Jaws wasn’t just a movie. It was a cultural force of nature, spurred on by a series of fateful breaks that turned it into the very first summer blockbuster. One of those came from composer John Williams, who created the simple two-note motif that he described as “grinding away at you, just as a shark would do, instinctual, relentless, unstoppable.” Another one came from the dorsal-finned antagonist. Malfunctioning mechanical sharks forced a then 27-year-old Steven Spielberg to take a page out of Alfred Hitchcock’s book: show less, and heighten the terror. It worked. Not only did people queue up around the block to see the movie, it became the first film to earn $100 million at the box office, cementing Spielberg as one of the greatest directors of all time.
David Bigelow, 51, remembers watching the film as a kid and being blown away. He can also vividly recall what the day was like when a tow-headed boy was dragged under by razor sharp teeth in the opening scene. That’s because, like much of Martha’s Vineyard, David had a firsthand perspective into the production of the film, which was primarily shot on the island. The 5-year-old David was playing an extra, a cameo encouraged by his drama teacher. For anybody else, that’s where the tale would end—a fun dinner story to share amongst friends. But David had greater aspirations.
Now a post-production colorist for PBS, David is a repository for all things Jaws. He has spent the better part of three years interviewing the movie’s cast, crew and Vineyard locals for a docu-drama series called Making the Monster. Since at least half the film takes place on a Nova Scotian lobster boat called the Orca, David went ahead and secured a similar-looking vessel named Lydia that would be used to remake some of the scenes.
Gallery: Return of the Orca
The Orca wasn’t just a boat. It was a shark-hunting vessel used by Quint, and a place of solitude for Spielberg while he shot Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. (The original Orca was left on the back lot of Universal Studios, until it was unceremoniously bulldozed; while the Orca II, nothing more than a fiberglass hull with inflatable barrels of air to make her rise and fall, fell into disrepair.) When the pandemic sidelined production on Making the Monster indefinitely, David pivoted towards a new goal: transforming Lydia into the Orca III, an educational vessel for shark research expeditions off Martha’s Vineyard. He is partnering with marine biologist Greg Skomal, or the “Matt Hooper of Cape Cod,” to survey Martha’s Vineyard’s great white population.
“I think because of the publicity around recreating the Orca, people will actually be tuned into the shark research more. They’ll want to find out what the Orca is learning,” says David. “Greg does most of his work on Boston Whalers and center consoles off Cape Cod, but I think putting him in the Orca will really get the word out on these misunderstood creatures. And Greg is obviously excited. He can’t wait to be on the pulpit of that boat tagging sharks.”
David has sought the assistance of Jaws production designer Joe Alves and build chief Chris Crawford, the two men responsible for designing and building the original vessel. Restoration will begin in early September on Martha’s Vineyard, where the Orca III will remain to serve out her conservation mission, as well as providing commercial tours to die-hard fans of the 1975 film. Sea trials are tentatively planned for November.
With over three weeks left, their Indiegogo campaign is in full swing. Already 162 backers have contributed over $9,000 to the goal. Perks include embroidered hats, t-shirts, posters, video diaries and discounted tours. And a few lucky backers will have their name engraved alongside Alves’ signature on a commemorative plaque mounted on the cabin door. If the Orca III receives enough funding, their goal is one fans of Jaws know all too well: David and his team will build a bigger boat.