Sunday, August 6, 2017

Jaws: How big was that shark? (Part 2) (woo!)

This is what happens when you're me: you're going about your business (as one does), and you get notified of a new comment on your first "How big was that shark?" post (in which you geeked out, tracking down shark sizes in all the Jaws movies and novels). So you take a look, and the guy is wondering about the size of the shark on the paperback cover/movie poster. Then you look back at the other comment (two comments on a post is pretty hoppin' around here) and you realize that guy was curious about the poster shark's size, too.

And that gets you to thinking. 

So, you start poking around the internet, seeing what you can see on the subject. (Not much.) You try some image searches. (Nothing.) And then all of a sudden it's hours later and you're looking at a bunch of new graphics you cobbled together and those hours are gone forever.

But. You know how big the shark was.

And that makes it all worth it.

So here's what happened: the short(ish) version of the story.

Everybody knows Benchley's Book Shark was twenty feet long, and Spielberg's Movie Shark was twenty five (three tons of him). But the iconic painting used for both paperback and movie? Well, we only ever saw the head, but no chance that beast was only twenty feet long. Thing looks to be whale-sized! So, how big would it be if we could see "the head, the tail, the whole damn thing"? (See what I did there, sneaky Quint reference?)

Well. Nothing out there that I could find on how big this famous fish of Roger Kastel's would be if we were seeing more than just its head: No wonderings, no guess work, no sketches, no nothing. So, I took it upon myself.

First off, I ended up making use of a shark image I found through a Google image search, done by a digital artist who goes by the username of polterizer. I didn't exactly ask his permission first, 'cause I was on a roll, but I'm really hoping he thinks that what I did with his image is as cool as I think it is, and won't take issue with usage. But if he does (I'll try contacting him through the forum I found the image on), I'll take this post down and possibly-but-not-likely redo it later with another shark image, if I can find another one that works. (When you see his image, you'll know what I mean--it's perfect for what we're doin' here.)

Okay. So I started with the image below, adapted from the famous painting we all know and love. (Technically it's not the painting, as that was originally done in a portrait format. This landscape-formatted deal I'm assuming is something somebody's Photoshopped together for an admittedly nice panoramic effect. But you get the gist--same Chrissie and same shark here as the original.)

Now this tells us two things--how big Chrissie (the nude swimmer from the book/movie) is, and how big the shark's head is. Not terribly helpful, and something we've all been staring at for decades without the full shark's size magically becoming apparent to us. What we need is a shark body to go with that head. (Right?)

But first things first, let's get Chrissie turned around so she's pointed along the shark's length, and then position her so her toes are right at the tip of its nose. Chrissie will be our measuring stick.

Now the question becomes how long is Chrissie, in this painting, from toe to tip of outstretched hand? Glad you asked. Susan Backlinie is five foot eight, according to IMDB. (Now I know, Susan played Chrissie in the movie, and the painting was done well before the movie was out, so how can we assume Painting-Chrissie is the same size as Movie-Chrissie?) We can't, but I'm going to.

Here's what happened in my head for this part: Chrissie is five-eight standing flat-footed on the ground. But here, she's got her feet and arms outstretched, 'cause she's swimming, and that's gonna add to her overall height/length. So I checked my own feet: stretched out on the couch, one foot flat and the other pointy-toed. The pointy foot stretched out an inch more than my phone is long (phones make good rulers), making pointy-toed foot about 6 inches longer. But of course I have man feet and Chrissie doesn't, so I'm just giving her four inches for her pointy-toed swimming feet.

Then I measured my wife's and my forearms (she's always happy to help with experiments like this) from elbow to fingertips. Hers was 14 inches and mine was almost seventeen. Let's put Chrissie's between the two of ours, at 16 inches. But. In the painting her arm's not totally stretched out--her elbow's a little crooked and her fingers curl in a bit, so with that I'm giving her 12 inches for the arm.

Right. So that makes Chrissie 5 feet 8 inches, add four inches for her outstretched feet, and 12 inches for the outstretched arm. That makes her seven feet from toes to fingertips in this painting. (I just said it so it must be true.) Now we need a shark body to measure our yardstick against.

And that's right where polterizer's perfect shark image comes in. Take a look:

Look familiar at all?

Try turning it ninety degrees to your right....

Well, well! Suddenly quite reminiscent of a certain movie poster shark we're all familiar with!

Now, watch this....

Not a perfect match, I know, but pretty darn close. Kastel's shark has an exaggerated (per paperback cover/movie poster rules) jaw and outsized teeth, so it looks a tiny bit odd pasted over a much more realistically rendered shark, but the general torpedo shape of head and body come together quite nicely and I think what we have here is a reasonable depiction of what we might have seen if Kastel had kept on painting downward, back in the day.

So let's take our 7 foot Chrissie-Ruler and do us some measurin'.

Voila! Looks like seven Chrissies, toe to fingertip, with a bit of tail left over. Seven times seven is 49 feet, and let's give that bit of tail at the bottom... say, 3 feet... for a grand total of:


And that's my official take on how big the Jaws movie poster shark is.

You're welcome.

By the way, I still haven't heard back from the maker of that image I used here, but I did track down his actual name (Carlos Parmentier) and website. You can see more of his shark (and lots of other stuff) there. Pretty groovy.


  1. Brilliant work! I love it. Yes, the poster shark is scary and, for a white shark, improbably titanic. It's perfect for the poster.

    Perhaps you already know what follows. I've done some research about this poster and the shark depicted it in, not just because it was made before Kastel knew what Bruce would look like, but also because this does not look like the species in question. I think it's much more likely to be a mako shark—a model from the American Museum of Natural History, as Kastel tells us in "The Shark Is Still Working." Kastel has said it was a white shark, and while they were cleaning the exhibit, he was allowed to take photos. He reproduced the shark on the poster from one of the photos, and it's exactly what he photographed, with very few changes, even right down to the shading and shadow of the shark from the photo.

    Obviously I could be 100% wrong, but here's my conclusion: There are two things that tell us it's not a white shark—the first, (which may be sufficient) is the upper dentition. No white shark has upper teeth like that, long and narrow, with a mostly consistent width. The white shark's upper teeth are wide at the base, triangular and serrated. The shark Kastel used has the teeth of a mako. I found this photo of a mako that was caught and killed and at the perfect angle:

    This alone, I think, tells us all we need to know, but the slender head, coming to a pointed snout, look more mako than white. Then there are the bulging eyes which, again, I think look more like a mako. White shark eyes seem much flatter.

    I visited the website of that museum where Kastel found his shark model, and I found this photo of a mako diorama from the museum's Hall of Fishes. Granted, this was in 1948, true. But you can see in this model how some the long teeth are at different angles

    Notice some of the irregular angles of the teeth. I'm not saying this model was the one Kastel used, but it looks very similar to the shark he photographed in the early Seventies.

    Then I contacted someone at Kastel's official site ( and they did not deny that Kastel created the shark as a composite, to make it more dramatic and frightening. Though, when I look at the photos he took of it at the museum, they look identical to what ended up on the poster (apart from the color).

    This comment is too long as it is, but just one quick thing (which you also may already know and I apologize for time wasted reading this). An early Jaws 2 poster was made before the first director was replaced during production. I bring it up because it's the only poster in the Jaws saga that gives the shark a slightly more plausible size:

    Again, thank you for your time and effort here. Your blog is one of my favorites.

  2. PS: This not intended as a criticism of Kastel's art. I love it, and I can't imagine a world without it.

    And it has company, too. In your collection of Jaws book covers, one Spanish-speaking edition depicts what is probably a tiger shark. The elongated upper caudal fin, the wideness of the head and then there's the stripes.

    Still, I love that one, too.

  3. Hey Joseph, Now who's doing incredible work? (You are!) That's some fantastic detective work/trivia you've done there. And yeah, now that you mention it, Kastel's shark is pretty Mako-esque. I appreciate the added insight. Cheers!

  4. Love it! This goes a long way towards explaining why, even as a small child, I found the wee lil' 25ft shark a ddisappointment. Long before you're able to explain why, the book cover/poster gives you an impression that they're dealing with a colossus!

  5. Hey, Unknown Person. :-) Thanks for stopping by.

    I agree the cover/poster (more than) hints at a much bigger shark than the 20-25 footer we ultimately get, but then again I don't remember my eight year old self exactly being unimpressed with the beast that lunged out of the water onto Quint's boat in the film, either. 25 feet is six or seven feet longer than a 1970s Ford station wagon, and those cars seemed endless to me.

    Between book and movie, I'd say the book underplayed the shark's size more, maybe just due to it being a less visual medium. (Then again, I've read plenty of killer sea animal books that did a great job of accenting the animal's size, so....)

    Anyway, glad you enjoyed the article.


  6. I checked on Kindle, and an exact length of the shark is mentioned only once, by Hooper, when he called it a twenty-footer. They gave it another five feet for the movie.

  7. Hey Joseph. My own page-flippings had both Hooper and Quint giving the fish an estimated twenty feet (see Part 1 of this post for details), and the movie definitely upped the ante. Bigger is always better in Hollywood.

    Which makes me think: there really is a kind of perfect range for size with this kind of monster. No one's gonna scream at a four foot shark, but that Mega Shark we've been seeing in recent years is so big it takes you out of terror into just... I don't know, spectacle, maybe. At least for me it does. So there's a sweet spot for this kind of beast--not too small, not too big.

    Kong fits in that idea for me, too. I thought the newest film was a blast to watch, but for me Kong was a little too big to relate to the way his more classic incarnations had always done.

    But I digress.

  8. Thank you for all the effort you put in to inform us how big Jaws would actually be. Very impressive!

  9. I believe that the longest confirmed white shark is Deep Blue, and I think she is just shy of 21 or 22 feet (going from memory here and I'm too lazy to look it up at the moment). She is one of the world's most famous living white shark. I'm sure you've seen the videos of Deep Blue, undeniably a majestic, awe-inspiring fish. No doubt Benchley would have loved her, too. I'm not sure what the confirmed record of the total length (TL) of a white shark was when Benchley wrote Jaws, but I think a white shark over 20 feet would have been thought quite rare, but not implausible. When Hank Searls wrote Jaws 2, basing it on the movie, not Benchley's novel, his gravid, female shark was a whopping 35-footer.

    I agree, too, that there's a danger of making a fictional monster shark just too big. Bruce was powerful and frightening, but I think his design has as much to do with that as his mere length. Bruce is a grotesque specimen (and I mean that as a good thing). He doesn't look like a large white shark as much as a genetic anomaly, like gigantism. Natural giants don't always look like larger versions of their species, and some features are exaggerated or diminished. Bruce's unique appearance made him more monstrous, and in the footage they used of him late in the production, you can see all the scars and cuts and the inevitable bloating that occured from the skin absorbing more and more water.

    (Interesting trivia: They filmed the estuary attack very late in the schedule after they got the shots they needed for the second half of the movie, so the brief glimpse we get of Bruce in the estuary looks identical to the bloated, warped and scarred Bruce we see at the end. Notice how different Bruce looks when he appears behind the stern of the Orca for the first time. This was shot much earlier than the estuary attack, so the paint, the skin, the teeth, they all look quite new.)

  10. You're welcome, Unknown.

    Hi Charles, I have indeed seen footage of Deep Blue--stunning. And I agree with Bruce's design being part of the scare factor. He kind of inhabited that uncanny valley--not quite real but real enough to get you feeling uneasy at the very site of him, the ways he moved, etc. Nice observation....

  11. This is all fascinating!! Every time I see this movie (1 or 2), I have to watch .. as I am right now!!