A quiet beach on the coast of New England. A gentle breeze blows over the calm ocean on this warm summer night and the full moon shines bright on the water's surface. We keep drifting in the water, relaxing and enjoying this perfect holiday. Nearby small waves start to form quietly out of nowhere. Nearly silent and unnoticed a gray fin rises out of the water and approaches us quickly. Suddenly and without warning a massive beast jumps out of the water directly in front of us, his mouth wide open with his long sharp teeth ready to bite...
This scene could be part of one particular film: "Jaws", the 1975 classic in film history from world famous director Steven Spielberg and with the unforgettable score from John Williams, distributed by Universal Pictures. The story is based in and around the fictional tourism town Amity, located on Amity Island somewhere near the coast of New England. In the middle of summer season a great white shark terrorizes the peaceful island with several deadly attacks. Only because of his throughout dedication and against almost everyone in town chief of police Martin Brody finally manages to find and destroy the shark.
Soon after the film's release a new scene was added to the popular Studio Tour at Universal Studios Hollywood, staging an attack of the tram by the evil great white shark. Several years later planing began for a new Universal Studios theme park in Orlando, Florida. Besides attractions based on films like E.T., Terminator and King Kong the great white shark was about to get his very own attraction and themed area. The park and the attraction opened on June 7th, 1990.
Park visitors entered a charming small town which looked like a typical old fishing village of New England. A giant artificial lake served as the setting for the main attraction, Jaws. A maximum of 8 boats for 48 passengers each (8 rows, 6 persons per row) operated on the water, providing a theoretical capacity of up to 2500 persons per hour for the attraction. Similar to the Jungle Cruise at Disney parks a track system was put in place on the bottom of the lake which was invisible to park guests and served as a predetermined path for the boats to follow. The boats themselves swam on the water like normal boats and were powered by a diesel engine. A middle island and the clever arrangement of buildings and other theming served as natural sight barriers, ensuring that during the 5 minute ride only scenes and show effects for the own boat and point in the story were visible to riders.
Jaws didn't had a good start to begin with. Universal used complex new ride systems in combination with massive special effects for many of their new attractions in Florida. Especially with Kongfrontation, Earthquake and Jaws massive problems occurred on and after park opening. But while Universal fixed most of these issues at the first two attractions no satisfying solution had been found for Jaws. Breakdowns with the necessary evacuation of park guests from the ride happened almost daily. After many unsuccessful attempts to fix those problems the park finally decided to close the ride down again only shortly after it's opening. The entire track system along with several effects and animatronics was completely removed and rebuilt with the help of another company. While the first half of the ride stayed almost entirely unchanged the second half underwent some major changes: Gone were scenes like the shark biting and turning the boat and at the end exploding from a grenade inside its body. Therefore several new theming elements had been added as well as a large amount of explosions and other effects. The boats of the old version were sold to Las Vegas for the MGM Grand Adventures Park's Backlot River Tour attraction which unfortunately only operated for about 3 years from 1993 to 1996. The new version of Jaws opened in spring 1993 and worked much more reliably.
However after 12 years the attraction suffered another setback: Due to enormous increases of the crude oil price the ride remained closed for almost the entire year 2005, followed by a seasonal opening schedule only on more crowded days with reduced capacity and effects to save costs. This lasted until February 2007 when Jaws became a regular attraction again after many complaints from park guests.
Still, the fundamental problems of high costs for diesel, propane, skipper and maintenance remained. Because of this it was only a matter of time until the end of this beloved attraction would come. Eventually on January 2nd 2012 "Jaws" together with the "Amity Island" area was closed forever and torn down to make room for new attractions.
Let's risk a journey back through time directly to Amity Island, New England!
As soon as we enter this charming small fishing town it becomes perfectly obvious what day it is today: There are flags and banners of the united states everywhere and a cheerful atmosphere – it's independence day, the 4th of July! We stroll around the village on the beach and soon find ourselves in front of a large boat house. "Captain Jake's Amity Boat Tours" is spelled on a sign above the entrance – what could be more fun than a relaxing boat tour on such a wonderful day? One of the skippers greets us as we enter full of anticipation. While waiting for our tour the local television network (WJWS Channel 13) keeps us informed about the latest events, activities and important news of the day on Amity Island. The offers shown seem to be more than fishy to us and induce more laughter than real interest – but we are getting a little concerned as well: What can we expect from Captain Jake's Amity Boat Tours? An advertisement praises the completely refurbished boats, now they even have seats and a roof! But no time to worry further as one moment later we already take a seat in our boat. Let the tour begin!
As soon as everyone has taken their seats our skipper reminds us of a few fundamental safety rules. In case of a shark attack we are perfectly protected by a 40mm grenade launcher! A short check with base and off we go to our tour on board of Amity 6. Now our skipper introduces him properly again and welcomes us to the best – and only – scenic cruise on the island as we will visit some of the actual spots where back in the year 1974 that bad old shark "Jaws" devoured some pour and innocent islanders. Gently we float past the house from chief of police Martin Brody who back then did hunt and kill that shark and became a legend in his own time.
Our skipper wants to talk further but is suddenly interrupted by a mayday call. Barely can we understand skipper Gordon from Amity 3 who's crying and shouting for help before the signal is lost. What has happened? Base doesn't have any further information and so we continue our cruise with an uneasy feeling, always looking out for the missing boat. Right behind the lighthouse we are shocked: The wreckage of Amity 3 is sinking into the ocean! There could be only one reason for this... Suddenly: Shark! In the distance a shark fin rises out of the water and is getting closer to us! The skipper is freaking out and desperately calls Base for help. The shark dives under our boat, rocking it from side to side. Base responds to use the grenade launcher – this thing is actually loaded? The shark fin emerges on the other side, one shot and one gigantic water geyser. Damn, missed! A second shot – missed again! What should we do? Our skipper decides to take the boat into an old boathouse and wait for help there.
As we enter it gets dark and quiet. Are we safe? Wait – what was that noise in the corner? Our skipper takes his flashlight and shines his light through the dark room. A noise again and it's getting closer! Some old fishing boats fall into the water in front of us. The shark is here and we are trapped! Let's get out of here quick! Our skipper tries to accelerate the boat but it won't drop into gear. Barrels with water topple over besides us. Finally, the boat moves again, full speed ahead. The doors are coming closer and closer when suddenly on starboard the shark dives out of the water and attacks our boat!
We barely escape and make it out of the boathouse – but what now? Finally chief Brody calls by radio that he is on his way and will be with us in 10 minutes. 10 MINUTES? We'll be shark bait in 10 minutes! Our skipper desperately steers the boat to the open sea and in panic runs from left to right on the lookout for the shark. Again, this time on port side he appears again and starts his next attack! Completely surprised the skipper pulls the trigger of his grenade launcher, not only missing the shark again but also directly hitting one of the large gas tanks on shore. The incredible heat of the huge explosions seems to burn us – and if that wasn't enough a fuel line bursts as well and the ignited gas forms an enormous fire wall on the water directly in front of us. Trapped by fire with an aggressive shark somewhere in the water below us all we can do is to take the path directly through hell – we are steering straight to the fire wall with full speed! But lady luck is on our side as the fire goes out by itself just in front of us and we are heading directly towards an old fishing dock – did we make it?
But as quick as luck came to us it left us again. We didn't even came close to the safe shore while in the distance the shark's fin appears above the water surface – again. Our skipper stops the boat right besides a high voltage cable. The shark is coming closer and closer – do we still have a chance? Are these the last seconds before a painful death? Suddenly the shark menacingly jumps out of the water directly towards us – and bites into the high voltage cable in front of our boat. Now our skipper fires several grenades right on the mighty great white. Hot steam emerges, water shoots up in the sky and directly into our boat and after some seconds that feel like eternity the shark falls back into the ocean. Moments of uncertainty pass. Then the charred and burned remains of the predator fish surface again. Suddenly, one last movement – but the skipper counters quickly with another shot from his grenade launcher. Jaws is defeated! Our panic and desperation slowly turn into pure happiness: We really did it, we return alive and unharmed! Our skipper is relieved and takes us back to the dock while we clap and cheer as load as we can. Still he cannot refrain from telling us one last thing: It would be best to keep this little 'fish episode' to ourselves – for the sake of Captain Jake's Amity Boat Tours and all the other businesses around on Amity Island. With a thundering applause we leave our boat and skipper and return to Amity where it is as peaceful and cheerful as it has always been...
|Duration:||approx. 5 minutes|
|Special:||The shark animatronics move|
through the water with up to 6 m/s
|Investment:||45 million USD|
Jaws has been a very special attraction of Universal Studios Florida. The mixture of a technically advanced ride, spectacular effects and an acting skipper on each boat created a very intense and unique experience. Thereby every ride was different thanks to the skippers who each had their very own way of doing the show. Anyone who didn't have the chance of experiencing Amity Island with Jaws or wants to experience it again still has a chance though: A nearly identical version of the attraction is located at Universal Studios Japan in Osaka – of course the skippers act in Japanese there. The one thing that remains for Orlando is to keep looking forward with one nostalgic and one joyful eye for all of those truly magical things that will await us there instead of the maritime getaway with its menacing sea inhabitant.
"Jaws": 1990 - 2012