Saturday, May 22, 2010

Jaws East Coast Tour '88: Experience the Toothy Magic (Updated)



Way back in August of 1988, my folks were kind enough to take us to the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA for an exhibit about movie special effects. This was the first time I had ever seen a museum of any sort devote space to the art of creating illusions in cinema, so that in itself impressed me to no end. However, what really knocked this exhibit out of the park is that it included a working mechanical shark from the Jaws movies. Click below to see the pictures I took of the mighty animatronic beast.




Even though the full-body shark on display was the one used for Jaws: The Revenge, some modifications were made to the shark for the exhibit. Every few minutes, the shark would roll its eyes back (a feature I didn't see in any of the four Jaws movies) and its head would move back and forth while snapping its jaws. The rest of the shark's body--namely, the torso and the tail--didn't move at all. I tried to get pictures of the shark doing its jaw-snapping routine, with my only regret being that I couldn't get it recorded on video tape.

It should be noted that the exhibit only featured a full-body mechanical shark, not any of the other partial sharks that were used in the Jaws movies. Also, the full-body shark did not include the larger mechanical apparatus that was used to move the shark around in the water, so I guess you could say that the exhibit only had a partial full-body mechanical shark.

The exhibit did include special effects props from other movies, such as matte paintings and demon dog stop-motion puppets from Ghostbusters. Yet the other big attraction at the exhibit was a full-sized Alien Queen and Power Loader from Aliens, which you can see in the pictures below. Unlike the Jaws shark, neither the Alien Queen nor the Power Loader moved--no Alien Queen vs. Jaws action at this exhibit, unfortunately. (I think the emergency lights on the Power Loader and the display background flashed every few moments, but that was it.)





What I didn't know at the time was that after the Franklin Institute, the exhibit was moved northward to the Boston Museum of Science, where it stayed until January 1989. Below are some pictures of the shark in transit to Boston and a copy of an exhibit flier from the museum, courtesy of the Jaws Collector site.





More exhibit pictures can be found at Jaws Collector, which features a searchable inventory that is filled with pictures of Jaws merchandise from all four movies and beyond (t-shirts, toys, posters, video games, etc.) and readable scans of Jaws articles from magazines and newspapers. If you're either a die-hard Jaws fan or just someone who is really into movie collectibles, Jaws Collector is the perfect reference site for you.

Alas, this traveling exhibit was a swan song of sorts for the Jaws franchise. As far as I can tell, the exhibit was the last time the public could see a working mechanical shark that was used in a Jaws movie; none of the mechanical sharks from the four films were preserved and all of them were junked at various locations. The only places where you can see an official Jaws-licensed mechanical shark these days would be at one of the Universal Studio theme parks in California, Florida or Japan, each of which feature a Jaws boat ride. However, each of these other sharks were built exclusively for the theme park rides, so it's just not the same.

Yet all is not lost, Jaws fans. A group called Shark City Ozark is determined to write a different ending to this fish tale. Their sculptor Mike V. Schultz built a 37" long "Bruce Nose-to-Tail (NTT)" maquette, a scale-accurate replica of the full-body shark used in the first Jaws movie. So even though all of the original mechanical sharks are gone, they live on through groups like Shark City Ozark. Their Bruce NTT maquette is a dead ringer for the original mechanical shark used in Jaws, unlike the Jaws maquette which was released by Sideshow Collectibles back in 2006.

Update, 06/07/10: A few days ago, NPR ran a story called "Hunting Bruce" about reporter Cory Turner's search for one of the surviving shark models from the original Jaws movie. He eventually found a shark cast from the original Bruce mold, which was made for use at the Universal Studios Theme Park in Hollywood between 1975 to 1990. It now is mounted on two poles at Adlen's U Pick Parts auto yard in Sun Valley, CA. However, while I was looking around the Internet for this article, I found a photo of another shark instead:


I can't find the details behind this picture (such as location and date), but between the shape of the snout, the empty eye sockets and the width of the mouth, I think that this is the same shark that I saw on display many years ago. For shame Universal Studios, for shame.

22 comments:

  1. This was an awesome idea for a blog. I did not know that museums had exhibits representing movie special effects. Those are nice pictures you took of the prop of Jaws used in the Jaws movies. Maybe I should visit this place someday. By the way, I like the website you created.

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  2. Hey Alex! Thanks for the feedback on my blog, and I'm glad you liked the mechanical shark pics. Special effect exhibits have become more common since what I saw at the Franklin Institute, so there's probably one coming your way eventually.

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  3. the picture of the unknown shark is the one shown in the first part of the article (just look at the base on the truck pictures). it is/was on one of the universal back-lot tours and appeared in jaws 4. it has only one tooth since tourists would sneak over the fence and snap off a tooth as a souvenir

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  4. Thanks for the Florida tidbit. Actually, I have heard that there was a Bruce shark rotting somewhere in Florida, but I wasn't sure if it was the same shark in the picture above or not. Still, why Universal didn't keep this thing in better shape is beyond me.

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  5. Cool article, thanks.
    The shark in your picture, when i saw it, way back in 2000 i think, was in the movie backlot at Universal in Florida, i almost wet myself with excitement when i saw it.
    Sad about the state it has been left in.
    In 4 visits to Universal since 2000 i have never seen the shark :( so no idea where it went :(
    What's also sad is the state they let the Orca get in, eventually breaking into pieces through rot and being scrapped :( very sad times.
    I've seen, visited and have a piece of the Orca which is left on Martha's Vineyard :) now thats awesome

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  6. Thanks for commenting on my post, Anonymous. It's a shame that Universal left the last Bruce shark--a piece of cinema history--got to waste. Why they didn't hand it over to the Smithsonian or some other musuem to be part of their permanent collection is beyond me.
    As for the remains of the Orca in Martha's Vineyard go, have you seen the JawsFest DVDs yet? They have some archival footage of the Orca remains in the first DVD, and you can check out my review of both DVDs by selecting the Jaws label on the left side of my blog page. Enjoy!

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  7. Hi Tim,

    Absolutely love your page on the movie props, particularly Jaws. Have you had any further news on the supposed mechanical Jaws seen in the last photo above?

    Cheers.

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    1. Sadly, no. Since I've posted this article about the Jaws museum exhibit, I've gone to various other Jaws fan groups (mostly on Facebook) to see if they had any news about the last mechanical shark. All anyone has been able to tell me is that it was sent to the Universal lot Florida to simply fall apart. I suspect that the same thing will happen to the sharks that were used in the recently closed Jaws theme park ride as well.

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  8. Thanks for this post! I remember seeing this exhibit when I was a kid… the Alien exhibit scared the life out of me :P Thanks again!

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    1. You're welcome! I just regret that I couldn't get any video footage of this exhibit .... :-/

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  9. Pics and video of the shark at Universal Studios, Florida: http://youtu.be/SX2ep4QxzAM

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    1. Thanks for sharing the link. Boy, is it depressing ....

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  10. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_zoRSf6ZjUc&feature=youtube_gdata_player This is a vid of the animatronic or one similar that you saw in that tour

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  11. And the Universal Jaws is still there but not on display. Check Vanessa Hudgens Instagram page! http://instagram.com/p/d5KypXTCgc/

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    1. (It has a pic of her with it)

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    2. Whoa ... it's STILL there? I had no idea!

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    3. WOW!!! Someone finally had the common sense to keep one of the sharks!!! Even though it's all stripped down, that's so cool!!!! Where at Universal can this be seen?

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    4. Actually, I've heard from a few sources that the J4 shark has been taken away from Universal. The only fake shark that's left that has any direct connection to the Jaws movies is "Junkyard Bruce": http://the-jaws-blog.blogspot.com/p/aadlen-brothers-u-pick-parts.html

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  12. I saw the Philly exhibit as well when I was 8 and was enthralled with Bruce. I couldn't wait to see Jaws but alas I was too young. Then Bruce was just a memory when I was in my late teens and finally saw the masterpiece that was the first Jaws. This movie is still in my top 10 movies.

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  13. The pic with Vanessa looks like a shark from the ride as for the JAWS 4 shark it was sent to the dump in 2004 what a damn shame

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