Analyse the ways in which the director builds up suspense and scares the audience in the film 'Jaws'.

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Alex Dayantis 10L

Analyse the ways in which the director builds up suspense and scares the audience in the film ‘Jaws’

        ‘Jaws’ is a film, directed by Stephen Spielberg. The basic plot is that a shark has attacked swimmers who have come to Amity Island for the summer. The Mayor does not want to close the beaches, as he relies on them for the income, as Amity Island is a tourist attraction. The main character, Officer Brody, wants the beaches closed but he has to bend to the Mayor’s will. There are more attacks and the beaches have to be closed. A bounty is offered for the capture and kill of the shark that is terrorising the locals and tourists. A marine specialist is called in to help. Bounty hunters catch a shark, but when the marine specialist cuts it open to determine if it is the right shark, it turns out not to be. The shark is still in the water. At the end of the film the shark is killed. The film is set on the fourth of July as it the American day of independence. This contrasts with the events on the day, as the fourth of July is meant to be celebratory but there is much grief and suffering instead of merriment. Another reason is that the fourth of July is a major event on the American calendar, this means more tourism within the country and more potential prey for the shark.

        The music in ‘Jaws’ helps build tension, as the audience learns to associate the theme with the shark attacking his prey. The music is effective as it is relatively basic, yet it captures the shark’s primal ‘personality’. As the attack is reaching a climax, the music speeds up and gets louder. Finally, when the attack ends, the music stops and there is an uneasy calm. From the very beginning of the film, the music is connected with the shark; if the audience hears the music they immediately anticipate an attack. Other types of music, or sometimes silence, are used to build tension. When the title music has reached its climax, the title music stops and the scene is a beach with mellow music playing. This catches the audience off guard as they were anticipating action. This music is setting the audience up for an attack; instead of being relaxed the audience is tensed up, priming themselves to be scared. After the first attack is silence, the audience now know the girl is dead, and nothing can be done about it. This builds tension as the shark is still in the water but remains ‘silent’ and undetected until it chooses to strike again. This builds up tension, as the audience is aware of the shark, but as of yet, the other characters are not and it could strike at any time.

        The second attack uses camera techniques mainly to build the tension. All through the film, the audience is expecting attacks, and they want to know who the target will be. The opening of the second attack sees a camera tracking a small boy. Next, there is a close up and the boy asks his mother if he can spend more time in the water. She allows him ten minutes more. This builds tension as the audience has now designated the boy as the target. Following this, the camera does a close up on Brody. This builds tension as you can see his worried face; the audience then know that he also anticipates an attack. Now the camera cuts to show a man throwing a stick to his dog, Spielberg is creating tension here by offering the audience multiple targets for the shark to attack The camera then tracks the dog swimming with a stick in its mouth. This makes the audience believe the dog to be the next target, the man swims up to his dog, and there is suddenly a disturbance in the water. This makes the audience jump, as they are tense and expecting an attack. Next the camera tracks the boy on the lilo and this builds tension, as the audience is certain that the boy will be the target. This feeling is heightened by the boy’s isolation and vulnerability out on a lilo by himself. The camera cuts to Brody, who is watching the water. A sunburnt man blocks his view and is talking but all the audience hears is mumbles as the speech is unimportant. The tension is heightened, as Brody looks increasingly worried. There is another moment of high tension when a man with a black swimming hat swims to shore. The effect is of a shark and Brody gets up. This makes the audience tense, as they are relating to Brody and share his anxiety. Spielberg offers plenty of potential targets for the audience, so they are constantly kept guessing. A woman is swimming and suddenly she screams and is lifted into the air. Brody thinks that this is an attack and so does the audience, as they relate it to the first attack where similar events happen. It turns out to be another false alarm and Brody sits down again. Next, a lot of small boys run into the water in front of the child on the lilo. These children are splashing wildly. This creates tension, as splashing attracts sharks and also, if a shark were to attack nobody would notice as the children were already splashing and screaming. The camera cuts to a scene on the beach where the man is calling for his dog and a small girl is building a sand castle while singing. This singing is used to represent how innocent the children are, and if a child is attacked, the audience will be slightly more horrified. Also, there is a stick floating on the sea as the man calls for his dog, and the camera cuts to an extreme close up of this stick. This makes the audience believes that the shark is about and it has claimed another victim. They believe this through experience of other films, where if someone drowns, the camera shows one of their personal belongings that has survived and is floating on the top to confirm death. This is the effect the stick has as it belongs to the dog. The camera then cuts to the shark’s point of view and the music starts. This, to the audience, signals an imminent attack, they know this as it has all of the hallmarks as the first attack The camera zooms in on the boy giving the impression of movement towards the child. The camera moves right up to the child’s legs and then the camera cuts to a long shot. The attack is seen in the distance and there is a substantial amount of blood. This gives the attack more impact on the audience and on the people on the beach. There is general panic and children are running and screaming out of the water, with terrified parents rushing to collect them. To finish, there is a calm and the torn lilo washes up on the beach. This is again reminiscent of the calm after the first attack, and the outcome is the same. The shark is still out in the water and waiting for its next opportunity.

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        Spielberg builds up a fear of the shark in the audience by allowing them to use their imagination for most of the film. The audience’s imagination is much more effective as they imagine the worst. The director also uses music to build fear, as the music is associated with the shark from the very beginning and also associated with death and destruction since the first attack. This fear is built on by showing the damage the shark can do. This damage is shown during the post-mortem of the first victim. This victim has been left to the imagination, with only ...

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