• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Analyse the ways that Steven Spielberg builds suspense and scares the audience in the first 20 minutes of the film Jaws

Free essay example:


Analyse the ways that Steven Spielberg builds suspense and scares the audience in the first 20 minutes of the film ‘Jaws’

On 1st January 1975, director Steven Spielberg unleashed the blockbuster ‘Jaws’ into the world of film. When a gigantic Great White Shark attacks the small, summer town of Amity (New England), new chief of police Martin Brody (Roy Sheider) sets out to stop the killer with the help of marine scientist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and shark-stopper Quint (Robert Shaw). Brody wants to close the beach, but with 4th July (Independence Day) looming – and the busiest time of the year- Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) has other ideas, saying: “Amity is a summer town, it needs summer dollars”. The 124 minute film was based on the book by the Peter Benchley, who (along with Carl Gottlieb) wrote the screenplay.  image00.jpg

        In the opening sequence of the film, the audience are introduced to the presence of something in the waters of Amity. It starts off with the peaceful noises of dolphins and other sea creatures, as the camera flows slowly in the water, the fact that the camera is slow connotates peacefulness. Then, the “Jaws” Leitmotif (written by John Williams, who also wrote the Imperial March leitmotif for “Star Wars” as well as the music for “E.T.”, “Schindler’s List”, “Superman” and the “Indiana Jones" series) starts very quietly. Immediately all other noises cease. The camera shot starts to move faster and more sharply, it is from the point of view of the shark. As the music becomes faster and louder, the movement of the camera becomes faster and sharper. This shows that the Leitmotif and the camera correlate. As with all Leitmotifs, it recurs several times during the film, and connotates the shark’s presence. This is exactly the same as in Star Wars, as the Imperial March leitmotif (also written by John Williams) represents the presence of Darth Vader. As the music becomes louder and faster, the audience become more and more wary that something is going to happen, in short how tension is created.

        As soon as the music has stopped, the audience is introduced to a group of teenagers. It immediately focuses on a young girl and boy. image01.png

Spielberg makes the audience specifically focuses on the girl, who

 says her name is Chrissie. The pair has  had a few drinks. As they run

off to the beach (and the sea), the boy

collapses, as a result of too much alcohol,

this shows the audience that Chrissie is alone

 and unprotected. As she enters the sea, she swims

 further and further away from the shore: again this makes Chrissie even more isolated. Whilst she is swimming, there is no music; this makes the audience unaware of the sharks position and makes the audience feel calm with very little tension. The camera goes under water again, and the Leitmotif begins to play, and continually gets louder and faster- like a heartbeat. This immediately tells the audience that the shark has arrived and its target is Chrissie. The camera keeps alternating between the top and the bottom of the water, which builds up a lot of tension as the audience keep wondering when the shark is going to attack. There is a shot of the girl’s legs and the camera slowly zooms in making the viewers know the shark is really close to her. The camera moves to a medium close up of Chrissie’s face and the music stops.  As she is attacked by the Great White, all you can hear is her screams. The close up on her face is effective because the audience can see the expressions on her face in great detail. After the shark attack, the scene is silence and the camera goes to a long shot of the sea, all is normal at the beach.

        Within seconds of the scene, the shark’s two victims, the boy and the dog are identified. By using a medium shot, Spielberg just fits in the main characters and the beach.  The boy runs over to his mother, and he is introduced as Alex Kintner, just like Chrissie only the important characters are given names. Mrs Kintner wants Alex, to come out the water because he has been in there too long, but Alex argues and ask for more time. Brody is reintroduced with a close up to show how much he is worried about what is in the water. The dog is reintroduced, this time with its owner. The owner throws a stick in the water for it and the dog runs after. The stick becomes slightly significant later on in the scene. The dog and the boy are both shown going into water; this shows both victims and the place of their deaths. Then the camera shows a medium close up of the dog with a stick, and then the boy on the lilo; showing that the 2 victims are both becoming more and more isolated from the rest of the crowd, just like Chrissie.image02.jpg

Throughout the scene, Brody is watching the ocean, but is disturbed several times, for example, when a man talking to him is blocking his view. There are two false alarms. The first when a man is wearing a grey bathing cap, which, makes Brody think, is the shark. The other is when a girl screams and is lifted out of the water; the audience soon realises that it is her boyfriend playing with her. The false alarms make the audience tense and think that the shark is going to attack, after two false alarms; the audience is slightly in a false sense of security.

The camera goes back to a long shot of the sea, with Alex swimming further and further away from the crowd, making him isolated.  A medium close up of the dog’s owner, shouting for the dog, and a baby singing shows that something isn’t right. Then there is a close up shot of the dogs stick shows the “remains” of the dog.

 The camera goes back under water, and the Leitmotif starts to play. The shark moves up towards the air and the Silhouette of Alex and his lilo. A long shot of the sea focuses of the splashing of massive tail fins behind Alex. A medium shot of the people on the beach shows that they have realised what has happened.  

Here, Spielberg uses a smash-zoom on Brody. This is when the camera moves backwards, but zooms in; this gives the audience the idea of Brody realising it has finally happened. Another look at the sea (again from long-shot) shows the shark lifting the boy out of the water and an explosion of blood. The parents come running to the edge of the beach and retrieving their children. A medium close-up of Mrs Kintner shows that she hasn’t yet realised what is happening. By the time she has got to the beach, it’s far too late. A close up of shows the lilo floating to the shore. An extreme close-up on Mrs Kintner’s shocked face shows the emotion in her face, focusing on the fact that she has lost her son.

The lilo and the stick coming ashore symbolises that an attack has happened. This also happens in the attack of Chrissie Watkins, whose remains come ashore.

In Jaws, the colour yellow connotates the shark’s presence. In this scene alone, the dog’s owner’s T-shirt and the boy’s mother’s hat is yellow. Later on in the film, yellow really does mean the shark’s presence as Quint’s barrels (which he has shot onto the back of the shark) are yellow. We don’t see the shark properly until later in the film, because Brody and the audience believe the shark to be big, but nowhere near as big as it turns out to be. This way Spielberg makes the shark seem even bigger later on. The two attacks are so close together and right at the start of the film to really introduce the problem of the Great White.

I think that in the first twenty minutes of the film Jaws, Steven Spielberg builds suspense, using different camera angles and a great script to scare theaudience. Many times he can use different levels of suspense within a small space of time, which means that the audience is always on edge and never sure what is going to happen.

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our GCSE Audience and Production Analysis section.

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Related GCSE Media Studies Skills and Knowledge Essays

See our best essays

Related GCSE Audience and Production Analysis essays

  1. Marked by a teacher

    How does Steven Spielberg create tension to scare the audience in the film jaws? ...

    3 star(s)

    Two other examples of where music or silence is used to build up tension is when the radio is playing on the beach, then after the attack happens it turns silent and when all the party goers are sitting around the the fire before the first attack and the music

  2. Why in your opinion has Star Wars: A New Hope become such an iconic ...

    In 1972, only one year before Star Wars: A New Hope was written, the equal pay act aimed to remove the amount of pay that an employee got from work based on their gender. Star Wars: A New Hope sent out a message that women were equal to men and that they should not be discriminated.

  1. Creating a 10 Minute Film Script

    chips, everyone introduce themselves and the game then finally starts, a lot of close ups on the cards as well as people faces are shown, showing their emotions and tense atmosphere, suddenly one man starts cheating on the game that sooner become obvious to the other gangsters, till one of

  2. Jaws. Spielberg uses many devices to build fear of the shark; the most obvious ...

    This makes the viewer tense and wanting to tell the character in the story to get away from the shark but the viewer cannot. This supplies nervousness and anxiety. When the shark is attacking the viewer sees a sudden close-up of Brody so that the viewer can feel how he feels.

  1. How Steven Spielberg was able to convery the true horror of WWII in "Saving ...

    a light - as if his experience in the war is flashing through his memory. The last shot of this particular scene is of Ryan's eyes. By telling the story in this way, Spielberg keeps us guessing all the way through this scene.

  2. Analyse the ways that the director builds up suspense and scares the audience in ...

    This is played when the shark gets shot with the harpoon gun, it creates a false climax by making the audience think that they are successful in catching the shark. The music in the opening scene is very dark and mysterious. The low frequency sounds make you feel somewhat tense.

  1. How is the response of the audience manipulated in Peter Medak's film 'Let him ...

    I felt angry towards both boys and hoped they wouldn't get away with it. I think this was the intended response, which was to help make the article more gripping and interesting to read. The article has manipulated me and it has shown bias because it doesn't give the boys

  2. Analyse the ways that the director builds up suspense and scares the audience in ...

    The scene then ends with an open shot of the sea and no blood shown from the attack, the audience are impacted and left with a feeling of uncertainty and curiosity. Relatively close to this attack is the next one which is significantly different.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work