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Yipee-Kayak, Rudderf@%!er

Published August 31, 2022

Film audiences now have been spoiled by big budget special effects and seamless CGI, but that obviously hasn’t been the case. In an ancient time that historians refer to as “The 1970s,” filmmakers had to rely on scale models, wood-and-fiberglass replicas, and art directors who doubled as carpenters in order to make audiences believe in whatever they were seeing onscreen. 

There may be no better example of that than Jaws, Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic about a shark who chomps his way around the Amity Island coast. According to The Atlantic, the film’s art director Joe Alves built three 25-foot long full-sized “pneumatically powered” Great White models. 

“One shark, known as a sea-sled, was a full bodied prop with its stomach carved out,” the outlet explained. “The other two, known as platform sharks, were each one-sided. One platform shark moved from camera-left to -right with the side facing away from the camera completely exposed, the other moved in the opposite direction. Once completed, the three sharks were trucked to Martha’s Vineyard.” 

The sharks — which were all named Bruce in, uh, honor of Spielberg’s attorney — were difficult to work with, had a tendency to sink, and were quickly corroded by the salt water. After filming, they were all scrapped. But the mold that Alves used wasn’t discarded, so after Jaws became a blockbuster, the studio made a fourth Bruce which was put on display at Universal Studios. 

According to NPR, that Bruce quietly hung from the ceiling until 1990, when he was cut down and sent to a California junkyard. That Bruce became something of a celebrity at the junkyard and, when it closed, the owner’s son donated it to the then-in-the-works Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. After several decades of being exposed to the elements, Bruce needed some serious cosmetic work, and he was painstakingly restored by special effects artist Greg Nicotero. 

The new-and-improved Bruce is currently on display in the now-open Academy Museum. “It’s been a long journey for Bruce since he was acquired in 2016, and we couldn’t be happier to welcome him to his new home,” the museum’s president Bill Kramer said in a statement

Long live Bruce. 

You can catch a small glimpse of one of the Bruces in this week’s Video Rewind:

Featured image courtesy of: KevinQuirk, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0