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‘Jaws,’ the ultimate summer movie, meets the age of coronavirus

1975: The thriller "Jaws," starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw, and directed by Steven Spielberg, premieres in theaters. The movie was an instant box office success, becoming the highest-grossing film in history at
1975: The thriller "Jaws," starring Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw, and directed by Steven Spielberg, premieres in theaters. The movie was an instant box office success, becoming the highest-grossing film in history at (Universal Pictures)

CNN – Remember the mayor in "Jaws," coaxing that family to go in the water, before they grab their raft and tentatively wade into the ocean? That image -- introduced 45 years ago this month -- keeps coming to mind as entertainment options, including movie theaters, gradually reopen in the age of coronavirus.

Covid-19, of course, is a different kind of unseen threat, triggering a shutdown of most public venues. Many of those businesses are returning, despite the fact that an understanding of the virus and its transmission continues to develop and evolve.

Perhaps that's why, for many, the water doesn't look especially inviting yet. You can enjoy casino gambling, cruise ships, football stadiums, movie theaters and theme parks -- without necessarily wanting to heed the call of the business-minded mayor in "Jaws," Amity's Larry Vaughn, and be the first dive in.

“Jaws” provides an appropriate metaphor in more ways than one, to the extent that empty theaters are a potent symbol of coronavirus’ effects.

The Steven Spielberg movie’s success in 1975 is largely seen as the beginning of the summer blockbuster, followed two years later by “Star Wars.” That changed the way movies were distributed and marketed, with big, sweeping rollouts supported by lavish TV ad campaigns. (A Frontline documentary about “Jaws” and its impact on movie-going was titled “The Monster That Ate Hollywood.”)

Even with theaters scheduled to reopen in July, this will surely be the quietest summer became synonymously with movie-going.