Directed by Steven Spielberg, Jaws was first screened in 1975 and happened to be one of the most successful movies of all time, taking in almost $8,000,000 from the box office within a week. One of the reasons Jaws was so successful was Spielberg’s unique approach of capturing elements of fright and history. By effectively blurring the boundary between fact and fiction, the fictional story became all the more believable. Although the film is rated PG, the content in the film is extremely violent and today Jaws would probably be 12A if re-released. Despite Jaws not being one distinct genre, the movie is a combination of thriller, action, and adventure.
The film is set in Amity Island, a fictional location situated near the eastern coast of America. There are three main characters in the film – Police Chief Martin Brody, played by Roy Scheider, Quint the knowledgeable fisherman, played by Robert Shaw, and Matt Hooper the marine scientist, played by Richard Dreyfuss. As a gigantic great white shark takes refuge in Amity Beach’s waters, Police Chief Martin Brody and his two acquaintances must combine their expertise and set out to stop it, though all is not so simple; the mayor of Amity Island wants the beaches kept open for the surrounding businesses. Brody must win over the mayor in order to save innocent victims of shark attacks and keep Amity Island as a sought-after holiday destination.
As in any film, the usual roles of film editor, director, and producers were taken; however, one of the most significant roles in Jaws was the music, composed by John Williams. Today almost everyone knows the two noted theme tune of Jaws that goes ‘dun dun’. Simple though effective, people who haven’t even seen Jaws know of the theme tune. Undoubtedly, many would say the theme tune was one of the main reasons, if not the main reason for Jaws’ success.
Jaws is set in the 1970s, and the story time moves from the opening, chronologically through to the conclusion. There are no flashbacks or other special effects interfering with time, so the film holds a mise en scï¿½ne aspect throughout. The time of the plot is approximately a week, from the opening (late June) to the close of the film (early July). Despite this, the length of the film is 2 hours. The scenes are compressed and there are significant jumps forward in time. Only the main elements of the film are captured, and it is down to the audience to fill in the gaps where time has been moved forward.
From the outset, Spielberg creates a sense of unpredictability. The film opens with the shark roaming the sea, and the Jaws theme tune is played along with it, though an extra layer in the music has been added, giving the music an adventurous feeling. This is could be a foreshadowing device – that later on in the film there is going to be an adventure of some sort. As the music gets faster the camera instantly changes scene to a campfire on the beach, with a change of music. The diegetic sound of a teenager playing a guitar takes over the Jaws music theme, giving the scene a happy feeling. Spielberg has done this so when the first shark attack takes the place the audience have an immediate change of feeling from happiness to fear. The change in atmosphere changes yet again when a girl runs to the water and swims away from the beach. The camera remains at the beach looking over the sea to show how far out she has gone, that she’s alone. Due to the opening of the film, it’s easy to predict that the girl is going to be attacked by a shark. For this reason, the first shark attack is more of a horror scene than a thriller, because there is no anticipation.
Throughout the first attack the audience do not see the shark. Instead, Spielberg uses a point-of-view shot to show how the shark is moving. By not seeing the shark, it triggers our imaginations to think how the shark looks. Compared to the other shark attacks, the first attack lasts considerably longer. Several different camera angles are used to show there is no escape for the girl. The girl gets vigorously chucked from side to side over half a minute. Even when the girl is attacked, we still do not see the shark, we only see her above the water getting pulled underneath. During this time, the camera moves to a boy lying on the beach. The boy happens to be sleeping, which shows that Amity Island can be just as terrify as it can be relaxing.
The second shark attack is Brody’s first day on the beach as Police Chief. Once on the beach, the audience is introduced to a boy wearing red swimming trunks. All through the film Speilberg has associated the colour red with danger. The audience soon become accustomed to this after the second attack, and the boy wearing red swimming trunks happens to be the next victim. Building up to the second attack, Speilberg creates many distractions for Brody. For example, there’s an old man emerging from underneath the water wearing a swimming cap, which looked much like a shark, and there is a girl screaming who is actually only playing with a friend. When these small scenes take place many people walk past the camera, which shows how difficult it is for Brody to keep an eye on everyone on the beach. An over shoulder shot is used on Brody’s behalf so the audience get an identical view of the beach to Brody. This camera shot shows how many people there are on the beach, and that they are the people that Brody must protect from a dangerous shark.
The first real sign of there being any danger is when a dog runs into the water and doesn’t return to the beach. His owner, wondering where the dog has gone is wearing a yellow shirt. Speilberg uses the colour yellow to make links between different people who will be victims in some way.
Soon after the dog not returning, the boy wearing red swimming trunks runs into the water with a yellow lilo. The camera moves to the shark’s point of view, and we see the shark looking for its target. Once it sets its sights on the boy, the Jaws music begins to play again, and gets increasingly faster as the shark gets closer to its victim. A long shot from above the water is used to see the boy get attacked by the shark. For the first time the audience catch a glimpse of the shark as it dives out the water, though immediately going back underneath. As blood bursts out from the boy’s body and fills the sea, everyone begins to panic and rushes back to mainland. The audience become aware of Brody’s fear for water when everyone jumps onto the beach, as when water splashes near him he jumps away. This is the wake-up moment for Brody, that a boy has died and he now has to get rid of his fears in order to save other people. The Jaws music only stops when everyone is out the water. After everyone has got out the water, the only diegetic sound is the waves. Seeing Brody’s relieved facial expression suggests that the attack could have killed many more people. The waves bring back the yellow lilo ripped to shreds, and ironically it falls in front of a woman wearing a yellow hat – the boy’s mother.
The third shark attack takes place on the 4th July – Independence Day. The beaches are packed, and people are on high alert due to a possible shark attack. When someone sees a shark everyone runs on to the beach, however, we don’t see the shark from underwater as usual. We soon find out it was a false alarm – two boys snorkelling whilst wearing a cardboard fin.
Soon after the false alarm, another shark is reported in a different location. Initially, Brody seems to think it is another false alarm, however he is wrong. This time there is a shark heading for a man in a red boat, and beyond him, Brody’s son – Michael. As Brody runs to the scene the Jaws music theme begins to play. This tells the audience there is danger, and it concerns Brody. Neither of the man or Michael has noticed the shark coming, and the shark eats the man and takes him underwater. Passersby, as well as Brody, stand on the bridge looking down on the attack helplessly. Speilberg uses high camera angles to show that there is little help for Michael. As the shark circles around Michael, Speilberg uses a close up shot to show Michael’s shocked and panic-stricken face. The shark soon leaves Michael alone because he wasn’t moving, so must’ve assumed he wasn’t alive.
In this shark attack we see Brody run in the water for the first time to rescue Michael. This is because the attack incorporates personal feelings and emotions, which makes Brody’s actions more understandable for the audience. As Michael gets lifted out the water, a long shot shows his body, and we see he is unharmed, though he is in obvious shock.
Before Michael gets taken to hospital, we see the sea from Brody’s point of view. The camera zooms in still looking at the sea, giving the message that the shark is still out there, which suggests that Brody is determined to stop the shark from attacking again.
In the hospital, Brody asks his wife to take Sean home, their younger son. She asks if he meant New York (where they lived before Amity Island) or if he meant Amity Island. Brody says Amity, and his wife walks off with Sean. This scene contributes to Brody’s determination to rid Amity of the shark danger. No longer afraid of water, Brody’s thoughts are now getting rid of the shark for his family’s safety.
The high point of tension in the film for me was the third shark attack; managing to incorporate fear and character feelings gives the audience a deeper understanding of the situation in which Brody finds himself having to save his own son. Featuring many extreme long shots, the third shark attack completely divided Brody and his son, and for once, Brody could not protect him. Earlier in the film we saw how Brody did not like taking chances. When his two sons were in their boat, he was worried, as he knew there was a shark somewhere in the water. It is understandable for a father to be protective over his children, though this does show that Brody has strong feelings for his two sons.
The range of camera angles used throughout the film was not only diverse, but also contributed to the film’s success. The first person camera angles used for the shark gave the film its own individual brilliance. Never before did a film manage to capture the terror of a shark without showing it to the audience from the beginning. Seeing the shark’s victims getting attacked, but not seeing the shark, pierced the imagination of viewers, as the gruesome image of a shark, with deadly, sharp teeth overflowed their thoughts.
Unfortunately, the superb idea of not seeing the shark was ruined near the end of the film. I do not know what persuaded Spielberg to film the shark, for one, the shark was a fake, and obvious to see; and two, the scenes where the shark was not seen proved much more effective than the ones when it was. The ideas were set in place, though the special effects capable in 1975 did not make the shark seem realistic. Despite this, for 1975, the special effects are outstanding.
The unique camera angles, the simple and effective music, and the original storyline were what made the film such a success. When watching the film for the first time, I was impressed by Jaws; for it is a film I cannot compare to any other, creating an interesting genre of action and thriller, and managing to capture emotions of individual characters. Spielberg has a made an exceptional film, which cannot be faulted for its time.