The film Jaws is based on the best-selling novel by Peter Benchley, and is directed by Steven Spielberg.
It was released in the summer of ’76, and it instantly became recognised as a must see film. The chart-topper was noted by many for its staggering SFX and the lasting effects on the audience. The film was so disturbing that sea-phobias became wide-spread, and beach tourism suffered for years after. It is also widely known to being responsible for the incorrect stereotypes about the vicious nature of sharks.
Jaws is regarded as the start of the summer blockbuster movies, and one of the first ‘high concept’ films. The motion picture won numerous awards, including 3 Oscars, the people’s choice Favourite Film and Outstanding Film of 1975. It was created on a relatively large $7 million, and managed to rake in a stunning $470. 7 million gross profit.
The film was so successful, 3 attempts at sequels were made. None involved Spielberg or Benchley, nor were they as successful.
In this essay, I will be thoroughly analysing the first two attack scenes of the film.I will look at many aspects of the film, to discover how tension was created using various directing techniques.
Many features will take some effect, including camera angles, non-diegetic sound and camera cuts. Scene 1 opens after a cut from the title credits, which takes the Point Of View of something in the water. The camera then takes a panning shot of a group of young adults, who are drinking and smoking around a fire. There is an instrument playing a cheerful tune in the background, and many people are laughing.
It is a light, playful atmosphere.The camera stops on a boy, who looks a bit ‘out of it’. He is watching a girl who is sitting apart from the group. He goes over to her and the girl bounds up, pronouncing she is going swimming, in a high, jovial voice.
She runs up the nearby mound, with the boy following, forcing the camera to take a tracking shot as they run along, with the dark sea in the background. As they move away from the fire, the cheerful music dies away, and the warmth of the fire visibly is lost. The sound of the waves calmly washing up the beach takes over, and the pair becomes detached from the group.Gone with the group, was the feeling of safety in numbers, light and warmth, as the darkness falls in on them.
The girl begins stripping, and at this point the male is clearly drunk, as he falls down the slope. The girl begins wading into the ocean, as the boy complains about not being drunk, just unable to undress. The camera takes a low, wide shot, showing off the incredible vastness of the sea, this is a contrast to the comparably small female moving into it, defenceless. The girl begins to swim into the distance, as the young man collapses on the sand, obviously incapable of such an activity.
The camera continues on the wide shots, as the girl gleefully engages in a little aqua aerobics practice. The camera briefly takes the P. O. V.
of something under the water, looking up at body silhouetted against the moon light. A sinister piece of music is started, which first indicates the possibility of something untoward happening. The camera shows another wide shot, and then closes in for a close up of the girl’s elated face. It then cuts back to the P.
O. V. of the unknown creature, and the music enters a new phase, featuring the now well known pre-attack melody.The P.
O. V. closes right up underneath the girl, before finally switching back to the surface view. There is a short delay before a flash of panic crosses the unfortunate victims face, as she is tugged slightly under the water.
The delay creates a last, intense moment of tension, before jumping into the attack scene. She is dragged about screaming in pain and shock, before grabbing onto a nearby buoy, setting it ringing, like sounding a death knell. She is grabbed again and cries out one last plea for help before she is dragged under, gurgling.The scene instantly becomes quiet, only the sound of the waves, and the deathly rings of the buoy piercing the quiet night.
There is one last wide shot of the ocean, showing the hopelessness of any sort of rescue. There is quite a gap between the end of the first scene, and the second attack. Here is a short summary of the events. Chief Brody is led to the body of the girl in the first scene, which is found washed up on the beach.
The body is handed over to a coroner, who tells the chief that it looks like a shark attack.Brody then requests that the mayor shut the beach until the threat is removed. The mayor refuses, claiming it is too close to the summer tourist rush to inspire the panic of a shark in the water, which would ruin the town’s holiday income. The doctor then changes his mind and says it’s a boating accident, though whether he was paid to do so can only be discussed.
And so, the beach remained open, with Chief Brody convinced of a shark in the water. The second attack scene opens with the camera tracking a large lady as she heads down to the water.In the background, it is clear that it is a busy summer’s day, with the beach packed full of sun-seeking holiday makers. When the lady enters the water, the camera picks up the trail of a small boy, who strolls up the beach to his mum.
He asks to go into the water, she is hesitant, but lets him go in on his lilo. He walks off and the camera picks up a boy throwing a stick for his dog into the sea. We see the boy jump into the sea on his lilo, and then the camera closes in on Chief Brody. He looks very worried, and his face is looking worn from anxiety.
We sympathise with Chief Brody because only us and him know there is something out there, and he couldn’t get a message through to the major. Although the scene looks normal to start with, it has a very sinister feel, due to the audience’s knowledge of what may be to come. The camera then continues to flash between the three people it picked out earlier, creating tension, because the audience doesn’t know when an attack could happen. The camera also repeatedly goes back to Chief Brody, and makes it clear he is watching out for any sign of a shark.
However, his view is continuously being blocked by passersby. There are two false alarms, the first of which is a swimming man’s hat, which is black, looking like a shark’s fin. The second false alarm happens when a man heads over to the chief and starts talking about some small problem in the town, which he isn’t really listening too, when a girl starts screaming. Brody jolts up, and realises it’s a boy lifting her up from underneath.
These false alarms create momentary panic in the audience, but some tension is relieved just after them.Overall they add to the uptight atmosphere because they hint that something will happen eventually. Lots of small children soon enter the sea, adding a multitude of possible targets for an attack. The view hones back in to the man on the beach who had the dog, he is calling for it to come back, and is obviously distressed that it has suddenly disappeared.
To seal out any doubt of the dog’s fate, there is a shot of the dog’s stick bobbling in the sea, with no dog splashing after it. The camera then begins flashing between the children in the sea, with lots of splashing and noise.This would put the audience on red alert, because we know that sharks will be attracted to disruption in the water. The audience begins to realise the attack will occur soon.
Sure enough, the camera changes to the underwater P. O. V, and the well known tune starts up. The P.
O. V. has a look around all of the possible targets, before settling on the boy on the lilo. It closes right in, before the camera switches to a view from the beach.
The massive shark shoots up from the water; the boy obviously between its huge jaws, and crashes down again.There is an odd zoom shot of Chief Brody, which displays effectively a feeling of panic and disbelief from Brody. A murmur rises in the beach-goers, which then forms into dismay as everyone rushes to get their kids out of the water. The mother of the boy (who we saw earlier) steps forward and hopelessly begins calling the boy’s name; Alex.
The scene finishes on a shot of a torn, bloodied lilo, washing up against the beach. Jaws is certainly a film that is filled with tension, and when analysing it carefully it is easy to see how much of an impact Spielberg’s directing had on it.The repetition between the two scenes is one major contribution to the edgy atmosphere. The point of view, paired with the attack tune let the audience know (in the second scene), that the shark was back.
Even watching Jaws in our modern times, with advanced animation and special effects used in many current films, this classic is still a tense, nerve-racking thriller, which never fails to provide a fright or two. The skill with which it was directed was such that it has stood the test of time, and still is counted as one of the great masterpieces of cinema.
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