Cinema Monolith

Reviews of movies from my giant DVD tower, and more.

Jaws: The 40th Anniversary Screening

Jaws - 40th logo final squareAs many of you know, this summer marks the 40th anniversary of the release of Jaws, and two months ago I celebrated the occasion by attending a screening of the film held at my neighborhood theater, the Harkins Arrowhead 16, which is just a short walk from my apartment here in Arizona. As I found out later, this wasn’t the officially sanctioned Turner Classic Movies presentation that was being held at cinemas across the country, but a local Tuesday Night Classics screening that happened to be scheduled during the film’s anniversary month of June. Which was fine with me, because a) the cost of a ticket was only $5, and b) Harkins has the best theater popcorn in the world.

But first, of course, I had to get the ticket. I’d gone to a Harkins screening of Jaws last year in Chandler, arriving there a half-hour early, and was lucky to get one of the last remaining tickets to what turned out to be a sold-out show. I wasn’t going to risk missing out this year, and though the screening this day was on a workday weeknight, I was able to race home and arrive at the theater box office nearly two hours before the 7:00 start time. I paid my five bucks and asked the cashier how many tickets had already been sold, and he told me only a few. I then asked if it was being shown in one of the smaller auditoriums, like it had been a year ago, or were they upgrading to one of their medium-sized screens. No, he said, it was being shown in their largest auditorium, the formidable #1, which was usually reserved for blockbuster openings on Fridays.

I told him I’d gone to the previous year’s showing, and how the auditorium then was one of the smaller ones, and he replied, “Well, they must have learned their lesson.” I agreed, and with that I headed for home, secure in the knowledge that not many tickets had been sold, and with the largest screen and seating capacity in the entire building at my disposal, there wasn’t much need to worry about a packed house and a lack of quality seating. Still, I decided I was going to arrive 45 minutes before showtime, just in case.

After I cleaned up and changed out of my Jaws - movie ticketbiking clothes, I grabbed my $1.50 refill cup and free popcorn refill bag and walked back to the Arrowhead 16, an easy six-minute jaunt door-to-door, and approached the main entrance, expecting to see a large, frenzied crowd milling about. Nope, just a few people at the box office window, no doubt preparing to see Pitch Perfect 2 or San Andreas 3D. Since I already owned a ticket, I went straight inside and discovered…a large, frenzied crowd milling about. Or more specifically, a mob of Jaws fans lined up on the near side of the lobby, a line which began at the entrance of theater #1 and zig-zagged along a stanchioned path to the lobby doorway I’d just entered!

Scurrying employees were quickly putting up stanchions as fast as movie-goers were filling them…and they were rapidly running out of room in the lobby. I wasted no time collecting my bag of popcorn and drink from the concession stand and made my way to the end of the mile-long procession, and while I waited I thought about last year’s packed screening, and wondered if this was such a good idea; maybe I should’ve held out for the official presentation at the multiplex down the road. Then I remembered my last experience at the AMC Westgate a few years back (read about that slight bit of mayhem here), and thought about the 8-mile trek I’d have to make by bike to get there, and decided I was better off right where I was.

Soon enough, the line began moving, and once inside the auditorium I made a beeline for my usual spot: top row, last row on the far side. But alas, it was taken, as I’d already anticipated, but thankfully there were plenty of open seats left all around me, so I settled for one a few rows down, smack-dab in the middle…not a bad location at all. It didn’t take long for the theater to fill up, and without wasting time with previews or commercials or warnings about where to exit during fires, the 40th anniversary screening of Jaws began. And like last year’s sampling, this one was also a flawless print, either a digital projection or one from a Blu-ray, and like my five screenings in 1975, and the re-release in 1979, and last year’s show in Chandler, and the dozens of times I’ve watched it at home, I was still utterly entertained and hopelessly mesmerized.

The crowd around me—both young and old, which was cool to see—was great, and not once did I have to contend with inconsiderate talkers or cell phone users or those constantly walking back and forth to the snack stands; like me, and like it should have been, everyone was there to watch a movie. And as I said, after dozens of viewings, it was still an awesome experience, and so much more thrilling and real on the big screen. I discovered things I’d never noticed before (like Chief Brody’s truck in the background of the billboard scene), and people still jumped when the shark appeared through the chum to growl at Brody, and laughed when Hooper crushed the plastic cup, and screamed when the fisherman’s decapitated head suddenly materialized from the boat’s damaged hull. It was just so easy to get caught up in it all, thanks to Mr. Spielberg and a trio of wonderful actors, and a treat for me to be transported back once again to the summer of ’75.

Jaws - photo Brody reaction

And just like four decades ago, when I was twelve years old and sitting with my parents and my brother at our first-ever screening at the bygone Fashion Valley 4 in San Diego, I was once again left in a pensive mood when Brody and Hooper dog-paddled with their yellow barrels to shore, and the short end credits appeared while John Williams’ wistful end theme played out. And when the final shot of the Martha’s Vineyard coastline faded away, and screen went dark and the house lights came up, the man seated next to me, who’d brought his two kids to what was probably their maiden viewing, leaned my way and said, “Still fun, even after forty years.” Yes sir, I couldn’t agree more.

As I left the theater, and began my walk home under warm nighttime skies, I thought about the fact that this wasn’t the approved 40th anniversary exhibition, and how I missed out on the special pre-movie introduction from TCM’s Ben Mankiewicz, and how I possibly missed out on a commemorative poster that may or may not have been handed out for free. But in the end, I got to see my favorite movie on the big screen once again, surrounded by a good and enthusiastic crowd, which helped make the night that much more enjoyable. So I had no complaints, save for the fact that I was going to have to wait ten years for the next such celebration.

And I’d like to thank everyone for sharing Jaws Month with me, and to give a special thanks to those who took the time to make a comment or two after each post. If you’ve never seen Jaws, and I can’t believe you’re reading this and haven’t, I hope my series of articles has given you a nudge (or a hearty shove) towards maybe renting the film someday and giving it a look. And unless you’re my sister’s husband, you shouldn’t be disappointed.

Harkins TNC flyer


8 comments on “Jaws: The 40th Anniversary Screening

  1. Stu

    Excellent! Very cool to read about your movie-going experience Todd, especially seeing as it was the biggest screen in the cinema. Someone told me about this the other day – have you heard of it? If there was anything like this in the UK I’d probably go:


    • Todd Benefiel

      Yes, I have heard of this, and I love Alamo Drafthouse…they do cool things like this all the time. I just wish I lived close enough to one where I could enjoy it (I think most are in Texas). Years ago my girlfriend and I went to something similar: a screening of Key Largo at Tidelands Park on Coronado Island in San Diego, where the screen was floating on San Diego Bay, and we all watched from a grassy shoreline sitting on blankets under a night sky.

      Good lord! I just checked the Alamo Drafthouse website, to see where they had theaters…and they’re opening one in Phoenix! But it’ll be way on the other side of town, in Chandler; in fact, if I’d still lived in Gilbert, it would be close enough for me to bike to. Arrgh! Guess it’s time to buy a car!


      • Stu

        Cool! I think this kind of thing is a relatively new phenomenon in the UK (lots of outdoor screenings, these days, whereas you guys have a history of it with drive-ins and the like), but I’m all for it. Some films just really fit an unusual (or outdoor) setting. The Alamo Drafthouse, the Harkins Arrowhead…what is it with your cinema chain names? They sound quite exciting compared to ours (for example Tarquin’s Tea and Moving Pictures Emporium, Cuthbert’s of Kensington Grange, The Dick Van Dyke Theatre, etc. etc.)


      • Todd Benefiel

        I had to look up your theater names to find out: were they real, or fake? They appear to be…FAKE! But pretty funny just the same, and quite a nice job of making them sound like fussy, antiquated UK cinemas! And by the way, other theaters with cool names I frequent in my area include the cine-Capri and the Valley Art, as well as the Harkins Camelview in Scottsdale.


  2. Thanks for sharing the theater going experience. This film will still be fun after 80 years! I took my sons 2 years ago to see it on the big screen here in Canada and realized that I should have been introducing it. They had a young lady who obviously works at the theater chain reading out a few facts and stumbled over the pronunciations of Scheider and Dreyfuss. I felt sorry for her but quickly put up my hand to claim the free passes for answering a trivia question. “How much was the initial bounty placed on the shark by town council?” Bang! no problem for guys like you and me.


    • Todd Benefiel

      Three thousand dollars! Can you imagine you and I walking onstage at that theater, politely taking the mic away from that befuddled employee, and regaling the Jaws crowd for over an hour with stories and facts about the movie? Nice score of those movie passes, by the way!


  3. Paul S

    In 2010 I was lucky enough to watch Jaws at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square, London. It was a sell out and nobody was left in any doubt about the genius of Steven Spielberg. Not that there ever was any doubt.

    The crowning moment of the night, for me, was when Chief Brody delivered the immortal line “you’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Most of the audience spontaneously cheered and applauded. It was a wonderful, communal moment between strangers that, for those very few seconds, brought us all much closer together. It was a moment of magic, a moment of joy and a moment that acknowledges the importance of what Spielberg, Scheider, Shaw and co achieved with this film.

    Of course there’s no guarantee an audience will react the same way every time Jaws is screened. It’s the un-plannable magic of having the right people, in the right place, at the right time. Plus, you can’t help but feel, Jaws was having a good night, it was ready to perform. But then, Jaws is always ready to perform. Some films have good days and bad days, but not Jaws.


    • Todd Benefiel

      Hi Paul, thanks for the visit! Strangely enough, I recently checked out the Prince Charles Cinema on-line after a blogging friend had mentioned it, and I can only imagine what a great place that would be to see Jaws (or any film), and have an enthusiastic crowd there with you to experience it. I’ve seen Jaws twice at local theaters in the past two years, and I agree with your comment above: both times I was lucky enough to be surrounded by a great audience, who helped make watching the entire film a ‘communal moment’. (And by the way, I’d love to be at the Prince Charles on October 17th to see the 70mm presentation of The Thing!)

      If it’s possible, I’m going to try to see Jaws every summer on the big screen, and I’m hoping the right people will be there with me each and every time. To paraphrase Hooper at the end of the film, when he’s paddling to shore with Brody, “I can’t imagine why there wouldn’t be.”


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