A History of Amity: Promoting JAWS:

How Excellent Show-Writing Can Support A Themed Environment

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When Universal Studios Florida opened in the June of 1990 it gave visitors a interesting and unique value proposition: “See the Stars, Ride the Movies.” The five themed areas: The Front Lot (entrance), Production Central, New York, San Francisco/Amity, Expo Center, and Hollywood, allowed guests to have a wide variety of entertainment experiences based off popular television properties as well as Universal’s impressive movie library. The San Fransisco and Amity sections were labeled “On Location” and one felt like he/she was walking through the sets of the film(s).

In my ongoing study of Themed Entertainment, I came across an interesting piece of ephemera from, what I assume to be, the early days of the JAWS attraction, entitled “A History of AMITY”

It is crucial to understand the premise that the JAWS attraction worked upon, before understanding the purpose of this document. Even though Universal Studios boasted an impressive range of movies, and many adapted well to themed attractions, the park’s designers knew that not every visitor would have seen every movie. This led to a generalized sensationalism of these attractions. One can picture what an encounter with King Kong could be like on Kongfrontation, or what an earthquake with an 8.3 magnitude would feel like from a subway train on Earthquake: The Big One. It was not necessary to have seen the films associated with the attraction.

However, with Universal Studios’ “Amity” area, there needed to be some explanation on the environment that the visitor is inhabiting, thus “A History of Amity”

Universal Studios’ Amity acts as if we are “On Location” at the real New England fishing village of Amity, post the enormous hype of a shark attack that never happened. JAWS – the book and the film – had dissuaded tourists from Amity’s beaches in fear of a shark attack. According to the material,

“In 1987, Jake Grundy, a short order cook, had an “island changing” experience. He ran into a family of rich Canadians who were big fans of the “JAWS” books and movies. They wanted to see where all of the shark attacks happened. For fifty dollars Jake borrowed a friend’s motorboat and took the gullible group around the bay, making up history as he went along. As an experienced spinner of tall tales, Jakes knew how to take his passengers on an emotional roller coaster ride. They laughed at his jokes, were properly shocked at some of the gory details and had tears in their eyes as he spun yarns of the victims and their families.”

Thus, Amity Boat Tours had its attraction backstory.

The document explains so much more, and reads like it was to be sold to guests. My favorite feature would probably be the highlighting of essential buildings in Amity and along the tour.

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I’ll allow you to read the document in full for yourselves, for now let’s explore it’s importance to Themed Entertainment.

This document, and pieces like it, make a themed environment feel like a real place. Amity is occupied by people like Martin Brody, Mayor Vaughn, and is accredited by real scientists such as Robert Ballard. The history of the town, is based on an interesting and familiar, historical event. The places seem real. Police Chief Brody’s front lawn, as outlined in the document, was filled with bicycles and wagons belonging to Brody’s grandchildren in the attraction.

The “Fourth of July” spirit is outlined in the document, and the furnishes throughout the land supported the “shark-crazy” culture. I liked Amity because it was a more clever and “tasteful” tourist trap than some similar themed environments.

Also interesting, is the feature on some of the props found around Amity (found on page 14).

Universal Studios Florida park model

All of this is essentially a primer for the attraction experience to come. The cheery optimism and “shark-crazy” culture served as a unique contrast to the inevitable encounter with the Great White. Yet, it is an important feature for the themed environment to feel more complete. The town of Amity, a familiar environment to those who have seen the film, or those who could identify with the plausibility of a shark attack occurring in a New England town, was a stand-alone entity, with an original backstory.

Amity is unique, because it is not a direct reflection of the town portrayed in the film. Rather, it is more of a location-based setting where the film was shot, and a town with its own culture: cultivated directly by the park’s designers.

As Amity’s focal point and only attraction, the JAWS Ride was directly supported by every facet of the themed environment: that’s why it is so refreshing to see it all laid out in this pamphlet, unbeknownst to the guest. I thought there were some great thematic decisions made in the town of Amity, and I’m quite satisfied to see them recognized in the promotional booklet.

If anyone reading this knows anything more about the document, please share! I’m quite interested in the development of the attraction and would love to speak with you!