Jaws is a suspense based action and horror movie from the 1970’s directed by Steven Spielberg. Set in a small coastal town called Amity which is under attack by a massive great white shark which wreaks havoc and death upon the local residents and holiday makers. The film follows the path of destruction left by the great white shark and the path of the hero as he tries to either kill or chase the threat away, in the end climaxing in a fisherman vs shark battle in the ocean which ends with the shark being destroyed by an improvised explosive device.
Figure 1. Shark (1975)
Almar Haflidason states “If ever there was an important example for how music can enhance a film it is "Jaws". John Williams' memorable score is used sparingly but its tone of impending terror is more responsible for the power of the film than the sightings of the beast itself.” (Haflidason, 2001:2) Perhaps one of the most iconic parts of the film is the use of the suspense building soundtrack. A soundtrack that is commonly used in today’s media to indicate pending and imminent danger. A low noted slowly building theme which gets faster and faster towards the climactic moment of the sharks attack. This affect almost seems to drag audiences along, hinting to them not only what will happen but when it will occur, having a deep impact on the audience as most find themselves almost jumping out their chairs to yell warnings at the movies characters. As Haflidason states the score almost adds more terror to the movie than the beast itself.
Jaws story perhaps is set to play on man’s primal instinct to fear his predators, especially in their natural environment. Vincent Canby states “"Jaws" is, at heart, the old standby, a science-fiction film. It opens according to time-honored tradition with a happy-go-lucky innocent suddenly ravaged by the mad monster, which, in "Jaws," comes from the depths of inner space – the sea as well as man's nightmares. Thereafter "Jaws" follows the formula with fidelity.” (Canby, 1975:2) Canby is perhaps referring to the innocent and weak nature of Jaws victims. As most of the victims are at an incredible disadvantage, after all man is not best adapted to life in the ocean whilst jaws is not only a perfectly evolved and ancient creature – a shark but also an example of this great predator in extraordinary aggressiveness and size.
Figure 2. Martin (1975)
The entire movies danger scenes of course most happen in the ocean. An environment that is both barren and far away from help, having the effect of isolating the characters and giving an increased feeling of danger to the audience as not only is the predator at an advantage but also help is very far away.
The camera work on Jaws is also masterfully used to deliver increased confusion and suspense. Empire online states “But one shouldn't discount the influence of Spielberg as director. Instantly dubbed a technobrat, he laces the narrative with tricksy delights - reverse zooms, fast edits, woozy oceanbound camerawork.” (N.A., N.A.:2) Referencing the use of many types of camera shots and Spielberg’s masterful use of the shark itself. Spielberg almost seems to hide the shark, offering very little full real shots of Jaws itself. Instead using quick snapshots, blurry and panicked views of the shark attacks. This almost seems to add extra torturous confusion to the audience desperately seeking a glimpse or to lock a view on the shark which may offer a sense a relief at actually seeing the threat but these prolonged shots the viewer longs for is something Spielberg never gives.
Overall Jaws was and is a masterful film with an iconic soundtrack which is still instantly recognizable today. The film utilizes sound and camera work to compliment the base film of the film – Man’s primeval fear of his predators.
Figure 1. Spielberg, S. (1975) Shark [Still of Jaws] available from: http://static.rogerebert.com/uploads/review/primary_image/reviews/great-movie-jaws-1975/hero_EB20000820REVIEWS088200301AR.jpg (accessed: 18/02/2015)
Figure 1. Spielberg, S. (1975) Martin [Still of Jaws] available from: https://thebestpictureproject.files.wordpress.com/2012/08/jaws2.jpg (accessed: 18/02/2015)
Canby, Vincent. (1975) available from: http://www.nytimes.com/1975/06/21/movies/moviesspecial/21JAWS.html?_r=0 (accessed: 18/02/2015)
Haflidason, Almar. (2001) available from: http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2000/07/14/jaws_review.shtml (accessed: 18/02/2015)
N.A. (N.A.) available from: http://www.empireonline.com/reviews/reviewcomplete.asp?DVDID=6087(accessed: 18/02/2015)