The Sensationalism Surrounding JAWS’ Most Infamous Deleted Scene
I’m willing to bet you’ve seen this image before.
This admittedly chilling photo — captured on the last day of filming at Martha’s Vineyard and depicting the “shocking alternate death scene” of young Alex Kintner from Steven Spielberg’s career-defining thriller, JAWS — has been making the rounds for years. And I mean, years.
I myself first came across it over 15 years ago on the message boards of SpielbergFilms, a now-defunct fansite dedicated to the acclaimed filmmaker. Like many, I was at first captivated by its haunting allure— a mystique that peaked in 2012 when Carol Fligor’s 8mm behind the scenes footage from the scene first appeared on the Jaws “finatic” documentary, The Shark is Still Working.
Since then, that allure has mostly faded.
In recent years, the rate at which the photo is shared has accelerated exponentially. So much so that in some corners of the web, you can’t dip your toes in for a second without seeing some “You (Probably) Didn’t Know This” post with that “terrifying” image of Bruce the shark seconds away from devouring that poor little child on his yellow inflatable raft.
Like the shark in the movie, it seems like it will never go away. The photo keeps lurking in the deepest, darkest depths of the almighty interwebs. Hiding. Prowling. Waiting for some new blood to discover it for the first time and immediately share it on Facebook, Reddit, numerous articles and blog posts — as if it were some new discovery that hadn’t been swimming in these oceans for decades.
So you may be asking yourself, why another article on this? Hasn’t this been done to death?
Sadly, even with its ocean-wide coverage, something about the way the cut footage has been over-sensationalized throughout the years keeps nibbling at my brain.
Do a quick Google search for “Alex Kintner Deleted Scene,” and you’ll find several headlines with the following adjectives: “shocking,” “terrifying,” “nightmarish,” and “censored.” That last one is arguably the most sensational of them all and plays a big role in selling the mythos surrounding the scene’s removal.
The legend goes two ways: the footage of the shark biting down on the kid was deleted simply because it would garner the film an R rating, and that Spielberg himself feared he had gone too far with the scene and immediately had the shot removed from the film. Both scenarios share a key attribute: the implication that the scene was so frightening, so gruesome that there was no choice but to expel it from the film. And as far back as I can remember, that lore has always been accepted as a cold hard fact, and is almost always presented as such. No questions asked.
And for a time, I subscribed to that Spielberg rumor myself. But then I noticed something was missing. Something vital.
So, what do we know about this scene? Well, as is often cited, it was a pick-up shot directed by the film’s production designer, Joe Alves.
Alves has recounted the story in Matt Taylor & Jim Beller’s definitive JAWS tome,“Memories From Martha’s Vineyard,” as well as his own coffee table book, “Designing JAWS.”
Fearing the crew would toss him in the water on the final days of production, Spielberg fled Martha’s Vineyard and left a few minor setups in Alves’ capable hands. These shots included the film’s final climactic explosion and a wide shot from the beach of the mechanical shark rising up to chomp down on lil’ Alex Kintner, doubled by a female mannequin.
Alves filmed the moment in a number of different ways, but only a few seconds of it made it into the final film: the distant shot of the shark splashing and rolling over with the deflated raft.
However, the actual meat and bones of the scene — the shark’s big inescapable bite — was left on the cutting room floor, making it the subject of urban legends and sensational headlines. But once again, no sources.
So where does this legend come from?
Digging for an answer, I’ve checked numerous books, documentaries, and interviews and have yet to find a definitive answer from a concrete source — from Spielberg, Alves, or anyone else involved in the production — as to why this particular moment was trimmed. Certainly nothing concrete enough to claim that the shot was, without a doubt, “too frightening for the film.”
But it had to come from somewhere, right? The myth may originate from a story Spielberg once told about a test audience’s startled reaction to watching the brutal Kintner attack unfold
In the Bio Channel documentary, JAWS: The Inside Story, Spielberg tells the riveting tale of standing in the back of theater and witnessing a man get up from his seat, sprint towards the lobby, and puke all over the theater’s floor.
“I should’ve edited this picture more,” Speilberg admits feeling in the moment. It’s unclear whether he was referring to the legendary bite shot, but it’s possible the moment was already cut out by this time.
Peter Biskind’s book, “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls,” adds an important detail: “The man reached the lobby, and threw up all over the carpet, went to the bathroom, and returned to his seat!” Said the director, “That’s when I knew we had a hit.”
Sounds like by the end of it, Spielberg was pretty satisfied with the reaction. So he may not have touched that Kintner scene after that rollercoaster ride of an experience. However, Spielberg did make at least one adjustment to the film after that test screening. As you may recall, he famously reshot Ben Gardner’s floating head to give the film an additional jump scare. So it is not entirely outside the realm of possibility that further tinkering was done to the Kintner scene. But it’s also worth noting that Spielberg never specifically mentions the bite shot in his story, so it’s just as likely the shot had already been removed prior to that screening. We’ll come back to that in a second.
Another behind the scenes story that may contribute to the legend can be found in The Making of JAWS documentary, included with nearly every Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-Ray release and at least one VHS edition. In the documentary, Spielberg and stuntman Ted Grossman share their reaction to a violent moment cut from the scene where Bruce attacks Grossman’s character in the estuary.
In the film, you see the shark dragging Grossman into the water, followed by a shot of his ghastly, severed leg sinking to the ocean floor.
However, the scene was meant to play out longer, with the shark carrying Grossman in his mouth with a bystander — Chief Brody’s son, Mike — in toe. Spewing out blood from his mouth, the man’s final act as a human being was to push Mike out of the way, ultimately saving his life.
Spielberg and Grossman’s commentary on the scene may ring a bell.
“Well, what happened in that scene was it was so violent, so grimaced they couldn’t use it,” Grossman says. “That’s much more horrible than what I had done in the first third of JAWS. I just didn’t like it. It was too bloody, and I thought it was in bad taste. So I cut it out,” Spielberg adds.
Could this be it? The “source” for the “Kintner attack was too frightening for the film” legend? It certainly has all the ingredients:
- a shark attack scene with footage removed from the film
- a child physically in the shark’s path
- a crew member specifically saying it was too “violent”
- Spielberg himself saying he had to remove the scene because he thought it was “too bloody” and “in bad taste”
The Making of JAWS was — and arguably still is — the definitive word on the film. Because it offers an extensive behind the scenes look at the film and has been included with nearly every home video release since JAWS’ 20th anniversary, it quickly became an invaluable resource for JAWS “finatics,”horror fiends, aspiring filmmakers and critics alike — basically anyone who wanted a deep-dive into the film’s rich production history.
In other words, anyone who cares enough to write an article about the Alex Kintner scene has probably, at one time or another, watched this documentary, heard Spielberg’s final word on the deleted estuary footage. Therefore, by way of time and foggy memories, some could have inadvertently attributed the story to the Kintner footage.
But if that’s case, then why was the footage removed?
A clue may be found in yet another passage from “Easy Riders, Raging Bulls”: “The decision was made to downplay the shark, in effect, to edit around it, to postpone the first revealing of the shark until the third act.”
Now we all know — from nearly every documentary and book made on the film — that Spielberg made this decision much earlier than post-production. Hence the numerous POV shots throughout the film and the yellow barrels subbing for the shark in the third act. (And Biskind’s book does address this.)
But it’s possible both can be true. After all, just because a shot was intended to be used, doesn’t mean every single frame of it was worth using.
Some weight to this sentiment is given by producer Richard D. Zanuck in The Shark is Still Working: “What you see in the finished picture is practically every frame of usable footage of the shark.”
A closer examination of that infamous photo may indicate how that could apply to this scene. Sure, the shark looks fierce. Its towering stature sends shivers down my spine, I’ll admit that. But the mannequin, well, looks like a mannequin. Stiff and phony. A floating corpse that isn’t supposed to be dead yet.
Viewing the 8mm footage adds additional context. While it’s beautiful seeing extra b-roll of Bruce in action, that fierceness just doesn’t translate in motion. It’s clunky, slow, and not at all intense.
Granted, all that’s been released of the scene are the 8mm footage and the few seconds that made it into the film. We’ve never seen the full shot in action. But given the sluggishness of Bruce’s performance in the 8mm footage, it’s feasible that the only part of the shot that worked well enough to use was the shark’s rollover.
Either way, considering the rapid fire energy Spielberg and editor Verna Fields were clearly going for in the final scene, it’s likely the shot needed to be short and kinetic to match that rhythmic flow. In which case, the more exaggerated motion of the rollover may have serviced the scene better.
Whether the shot was trimmed because it was too terrifying or too phony, at the end of the day, it just wasn’t needed.
All things considered, Kintner’s death in the finished film is scary as hell. It’s quick, ruthless, and unforgiving. The squinty shot of the shark rolling over and the horrific image of the boy splashing around in a fountain of his own blood are insanely brutal.
But the fact that these shots are staged from the eyewitnesses’ point of view — as if we ourselves were on that beach watching this tragedy unfold — makes them all the more effective. But perhaps the most horrifying part of it all is not the violence itself, but the shots of the worried mother calling for her son, and his deflated raft washing up on shore.
The scene is terrifying enough as is.