The Jaws ride was spawned 22 years ago at Universal Studios in Orlando, Fla., sired by an upstart theme park and the original summer blockbuster. Based on the 1975 Steven Spielberg film and preceded by a popular attraction on the back lot tour of California’s Universal Studios, the ride’s hybrid genetics should have made it strong. But beached by technical ailments and rendered toothless by advancing technology, it was ultimately more guppy than great white.
While its lineage seemed terrifying, it belied a hereditary disease. The mechanical shark, nicknamed “Bruce,” caused Spielberg numerous production delays with its erratic performance. Glitches forced the director to minimize Bruce’s screen time. The pragmatic decision only heightened the movie’s suspense, and Jaws soon became the highest-grossing film ever released. So when Universal began construction in 1986 on a park to compete with Walt Disney World, Jaws was seen as a sure-fire marquee attraction. Plans called for pontoon boats to carry guests around a seven-acre, 19-million-litre lagoon where they would be attacked by seven-metre long mechanical sharks capable of moving six metres per second. The ride’s climax involved the boat’s captain shooting the shark with a grenade, causing blood and shark parts to explode into the air. But Bruce’s progeny proved just as ill-behaved as their forebear. When the park opened in June 1990, the $30-million ride wasn’t running. Even after a series of repairs, its monsters often failed to rouse themselves from the depths. At other times, the sharks’ teeth actually ripped into the boats.
Less than four months after the park’s opening, Jaws was placed on an indefinite hiatus.
Universal filed a lawsuit against the ride’s designer, alleging defects and shoddy workmanship. (The parties eventually reached a never-disclosed settlement.) Meanwhile, Universal began experiments to rebuild the mechanical man-eater. More than three years and $40 million after its closure, the ride reopened at an event attended by Spielberg himself.
For a dozen years, Jaws entertained roughly 2,500 riders each hour. But a 2005 hurricane proved stronger than the shark, and the ride was once again shuttered for more than a year. When it reopened, it ran only seasonally. The natural gas used to fuel climactic explosions alone initially cost $2 million. As commodity prices soared following the hurricane, the shark’s utility bills became untenable.
Shark activists eventually convinced Universal to unleash Jaws again full-time in 2006. But just five years later, the park announced plans to permanently slay the sea beast. Its ferocity had become antiquated in an era when movie monsters are created not in a mechanic’s shop, but in a computer lab. Indeed, rumours suggest Jaws will be replaced by a new Harry Potter attraction, marking a blockbuster generational shift. Having fallen victim to boy wizard’s computer-generated conjuring, Jaws menaced its final captain in January. It is now, sadly, safe to go back in the water.