How does Spielberg use a variety of cinematic techniques in Jaws to engage the audience?

Authors Avatar

How does Spielberg use a variety of cinematic techniques in “Jaws” to engage the audience?

Released in 1975 and directed by Steven Spielberg, “Jaws” became the highest grossing film of all time, taking the legendary Star Wars to surpass it. The film was based on the Peter Benchley novel inspired by the Jersey Shore shark attacks, and is set on the small Amity Island, whose residents are terrorised by a Great White Shark. Throughout the movie, Spielberg uses an array of cinematic techniques, such as an effective soundtrack and different camera shots, to create a nerve racking atmosphere which engages the audience from the very beginning. It is the intention of this essay to explore some of the technical variations used in “Jaws” within three set scenes and analyse their effect on the viewers.

Firstly, in the first set scene, Spielberg introduces the audience to the “Jaws” theme tune and preconditions us to associate that with danger. The film starts with the title screen, where the non-diegetic soundtrack is first heard. This is then accompanied by an underwater camera, moving through weeds and reeds, which create a sense of uncertainty and fear, as we don’t know what is on the other side. Also, the staccato nature of the soundtrack implies danger straight away, thus preconditioning the audience to feel scared when they next hear the music. This powerful theme tune immediately engages the viewers and sets the mood for the rest of the film.

As the music reaches its crescendo, the title sequence finishes, and the camera cuts to the campfire scene, bring an abrupt end to the unnerving music and lifting the mood. The audience begin to relax, after hearing the harmonious diegetic sound of a guitar and harmonica, and also by seeing the light, which humans naturally associate with safety. However, a long shot then shows the campfire next to the dark deep ocean, which cannot be penetrated by the light. This scene emphasises the vulnerability of the people sitting around the fire, and shows how small and insignificant they are, in comparison to the mysterious ocean. This notion unsettles the audience, and creates a sense of imminent danger, which we anticipate fearfully.

Thirdly, Spielberg’s use of different camera shots subtly forces the audience to build up a relationship with the two main characters in the first scene. A mid-shot of the boy’s face holds for several seconds, allowing us to memorise his features, then cuts to Chrissie Watkins (the would-be victim), for the same effect. The two are then shown running towards the beach, and because of the handheld camera following them along, the viewers feel as if they are there with the characters, and become personally attached to them. As the drunken boy flops onto the sand, the girl swims merrily towards the water, ignorant of the dangers that lay within. The fact that she has been singled out by Spielberg amongst all the other possible targets, creates a feeling of anxiety within the audience, a feeing which is heightened as we realise that she is helpless and is swimming towards her probable death.

Join now!

Next, just before Chrissie’s attack, Spielberg builds up the tension effectively, using certain audio techniques. As the girl swims out, the scene becomes completely devoid of non-diegetic sounds, creating a threatening atmosphere. The only thing that can be heard is the gentle lapping of the waves, and the soft ringing of a bell, like a death knell, signifying impending doom. Also, the lack of familiar sound from the campfire emphasises how alone and vulnerable Chrissie is, surrounded by the dark, mysterious ocean. While an underwater shot shows the girl silhouetted against the moonlight, the Jaws theme starts playing, sounding like ...

This is a preview of the whole essay

Here's what a teacher thought of this essay


This is an excellently executed analysis that is well structured and effectively communicated. The scenes are analysed in depth and all of the director's important decisions are considered and explained. 5 Stars