How Does Spielberg create fear and humour within ‘Jaws’?
The film “Jaws” was made in 1975 and was the film that brought the director Steven Spielberg his first major success. The film, with Spielberg as director, won three academy awards for editing, sound and original source. Spielberg, as a result of the film, became one of America’s youngest multi millionaires. Spielberg was given $7,000,000 to spend as the films budget. This may not seem a large sum of money compared to the sort of money that is spent on films nowadays but, it was a very large sum of money to spend on a film in those days.
The film received mostly positive reviews, there was the odd bad review, which was critical of Jaws not being able to make the audience feel sorry for the victims.
The film is based on Peter Benchley’s best selling novel, in which Jaws centres around the fictional North Atlantic resort island of Amity. A gigantic great white shark terrorizes the island. There are two killings at the beginning of the film, which brings in Matt Hooper, played by Richard Dreyfuss, an ichthyologist and oceanographer that is taken to Amity to help, using his expertise.
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Later on in the film, Amity’s most respected and most feared shark hunter, the enigmatic, vaguely malicious Quint teams up with Matt Hooper and the chief of the Amity Police Department, Brody, to find and kill the enormous shark and save the town from financial disaster.
Jaws has one of the best anti-heroes movies have ever seen, Quint played by Robert Shaw is humorous and is frightening all at once. His soliloquy in which he tells the others about the tragic sinking of the USS Indianapolis is a most chilling and unforgettable performance.
As well as analysing the storyline and plot, many other aspects of the film should be analysed such as: digetic and non-digetic sound, camera angles and their effects and the use of props and setting. It would be impossible to analyse the entire film in such depth without producing an epic piece of writing, therefore for the purpose of this essay an indepth analysis of the second attack will be used to show how fear and humour are used.
John William’s had to make the music scary as the shark is not seen at the beginning therefore it needs the music to build suspense. It is instantly recognisable and almost as famous as the music from Physco. One of the reasons the music had to create the idea of the shark effectively was because, obviously Spielberg could not use a real shark. There was a mechanical model of a shark built (it was nicknamed “Bruce”). It created many problems. “Bruce” was made of polyurethane, was 24ft long and weighed 1½ tons. On “Bruce’s” first test, he sank, and on his second, he exploded. An inspection of the shark revealed that the shark was cross-eyed and its jaws would not shut. These problems compelled Spielberg to be more inventive and to hide the shark for as long as he could throughout the movie.
The Stravinskian rhythms of John Williams’s remarkable score created the idea of a menacing underwater killer. The fear that William’s created meant that the horror of the Shark is left to the audience’s imagination which is far scarier than anything the most creative special effects department could create.
In the second attack, the camera is placed in front of Brody and characters walk in front of the camera, we get an interrupted view of the sea, like Brody does and this creates tension. There is an over the shoulder shot of a girl screaming, this prepares the audience for the attack. There is also digetic sound, such as splashing and the sound of laughter helps to build atmosphere of calm and fun. The close up of the people in the sea and screams build up the tension. The dog owner shouting his dog lets the audience know the shark is around. When we see the stick floating in the sea, that the owner of the dog has thrown, it is confirmed that the dog has been attacked, this builds the fear and tension for the audience as we know the little boy on the lilo is still out at sea.
The non-digetic sound is the music and its effect is that we know the music represents the shark, we don’t have to see it. The underwater shot also represents the shark with the views of children’s legs which creates fear without seeing the shark itself. The climax of the music lets you know the attack will happen.
The zoom in on Brody further heightens the fear. The victims are coded, Dog owner wears yellow, boy goes out to sea on yellow lilo and his mother wears a yellow hat.
The police chief’s nervousness and refusal to go near the water is first seen in comic terms by the islanders, but is gradually vindicated by a slow slippage of menacing imagery- a disappearing dog, an anxious mother and a sudden, gushing fountain of red that signals a fatal attack. This contrast between tension and humour creates a wave-like rollercoaster of emotion for the audience which has the effect of increasing the tension.
Overall the film creates a rollercoaster effect, with the humour in the film given the audience a short respite in the tension. Which later further heightens the more tense movements and the attack.
This is all done very cleverly because the use of non-digetic sound and shark view camera angles create tension and fear without actually seeing the shark and without seeing the attacks.