Analyse the ways that the director builds suspense and scares the audience in the film Jaws

Jaws the 1975 blockbuster film directed by Steven Spielberg. The screenplay, written by Spielberg and Carl Gottlieb based on a book by Peter Benchley of the same name. The film portrays a rogue killer great white shark, which stalks the waters around the town of Amity on Long Island – a busy holiday resort. The three major characters that eventually track the shark are: – Chief Brody played by Roy Scheider – the towns’ principle police chief, who is an outsider to the town as he originally lived in New York. He doesn’t like water as he has a childhood fear of drowning.

Hooper played by Richard Dreyfuss – a marine biologist. Quint played by Robert Shaw – a grizzly fisherman and WWII veteran who is obsessed to hunt and kill the great white shark, he owns a boat named ‘Orca ‘ the only natural predator of sharks. The story is set around the 4th July, an American holiday to commemorate independence day, therefore the beaches will be full of people and there will be lots of activity in the water. Spielberg uses different camera techniques and shots as well as music to build up the tension.

Music plays a big part, the ‘shark theme’ a two note ‘da-dum’ musical score is used right from the opening credits and is linked to the underwater view of the shark, and the subsequent attack and murder of the teenage girl. Spielberg uses this tense music and periods of silence to build up the tension, preceding each shark attack. For the first attack Spielberg uses music playing from the radio on the beach to lull the audience into a sense of normal, safe, everyday activity, then he uses the ‘shark theme’ music when the film is shot from the shark’s point of view, this is followed by the audience hearing screams, then silence.

Throughout the film the ‘shark theme’ is used whenever the shark is active or present even if the spectators don’t actually see the shark. The camera playing ‘hide and seek’ with chief Brody, who tries to maintain a clear view of the ocean, builds the sense of tension preceding the second attack, this use of the camera highlights Brody’s struggle to maintain a clear view of the ocean, but passers- by often block Brody’s line of sight.

The apprehension is then heightened by a false alarm; an elderly swimmer wearing a grey swim cap, swims up behind a woman floating in the water and is mistaken for a sharks fin. Brody starts to relax, but is soon brought back to a state of alertness when he hears a scream, it is just two people playing in the water. The dialogue between Brody and the elderly swimmer reminds us of Brody’s anxiety around water adding to the building suspense. Again Brody tries to relax, his wife massages his neck and shoulders to help him relax.

The change in emotions from tense to relax takes the viewer on a roller coaster ride along with Brody. This sense of nervous strain is sharpened by quick snippets from various locations within the setting. A dog owner calls for his dog, but only the stick that the dog swam out to fetch returns to the beach, the ‘shark theme’ music starts slowly in the background, the camera shows shots of wriggling legs shot from underwater, then there is a momentary view of the sharks fin.

The music quickens as the shark sees his victim and a dark shape surfaces beneath Alex’s raft. The viewer then hears a scream and sees blood gushing from Alex’s body, and then there is silence, as the water around Alex’s raft turns red. Spielberg then directs the camera back to Brody on the beach, who by now has realised his worst fears have come true, the camera zeroes in on Brody’s horrified face whilst his surroundings moves backwards.

As we have seen Spielberg builds up the viewers and characters fear of the shark, by using the sinister sounding ‘shark theme’ music that itself causes the heart to beat faster and adrenaline to flow, as well as the use of camera angles and tricks, in fact the viewer doesn’t get a full view of the shark until over an hour into the film, thus building the viewers fear of the unknown. In the opening scene there is a shot of the sharks head, with its jaw gaping and mouth filled with rows of serrated teeth.

Spielberg also shows the wreckage that the shark leaves in his wake, both actual and emotional, e. . : after the first attack when Brody sees the girl’s body and hand washed up on the beach he is nearly sick. Then after the second attack the boy’s raft filled with bloodied water and a gapping hole from the sharks bite is washed up at the boys’ mothers’ feet. On a more subconscious level Spielberg uses the towns’ folks inability to face up to the reality of the shark attacks to heighten the audiences’ anxiety, the viewer knows the shark could attack any time and fear for the people in the water as they know that there is danger.

When Brody studies up on the behaviour of sharks, Spielberg uses this to reinforce the dangerous nature of sharks, as Brody is reading his wife comes up behind him causing Brody to jump, he is in a state of sharpened fear. As we watch these scenes Spielberg cuts to the two fishermen on a mission to catch the shark, as we see pages of gapping sharks mouths and human victims the fishermen at sea are being pulled out to sea by the shark, taking half the pier with them. Both men barely escape with their lives.

Brody and Hooper go in search of the shark they find Ben Gardener’s damaged fishing boat, Brody wants to take the boat back to port, but Hooper wants to dive down to check out his suspicions, in doing so Hooper finds a large sharks tooth implanted in the hull of the boat, as he goes in for a closer look, the severed head of Ben Gardener appears in the hole, causing Hooper to drop the tooth (the proof they needed to convince the towns’ people) in his haste to reach the safety of his boat.

All of this adds to the audiences’ fear of the shark and in fact after the release of the film the shark’s reputation as a dangerous man-eater was greatly amplified. Spielberg kept the audience on tender hooks by showing the first two attacks close together and the sickening underwater scene when Hooper finds Ben’s head (the viewer knew something might happen, but was still shocked by what actually happened). By introducing the Brody family to the viewers, it gave us the implicit knowledge that something would happen to a member of the family, it is always worse when something happens to someone you have come to know.

As it did during the third attack (that we see), Brody had insisted that his son could only play in the pond, a supposedly safe area of the sea, when the shark attacks a man in a row boat who is also using the pond and in doing so the dingy that Michael is in capsizes. As the shark swims back out to sea, we are lead to believe that the shark has brushed past Michael in the process. Michael escapes unharmed but in shock. It is this incident that leads to Quint being authorised to hunt the shark.

Brody and Hooper insist on accompanying Quint on his mission, Quint reluctantly agrees, but the strain between the three men adds to tenseness of the task ahead. Quint is derogatory about Hooper’s shark cage and other oceanographic equipment, – he doesn’t know what the shark is going to do with the cage and the oxygen tanks and says ‘maybe the shark will eat it,’ – as well as being disparaging about Brody’s wish to go with them. When they are out sea, Quint gives Brody the task of chumming – throwing shark bait over the side. Brody finds this distasteful and it adds to his uneasiness of the situation.

Quint is strapped into his fishing chair when the shark takes the bait, the shark swims under the boat and Quint has a fight on his hands. The shark escapes having first shown his intelligence by swimming under the boat. Later as Brody throws more chum out, the shark surfaces and comes out the water, nearly taking Brody’s hand – this is the first full view of the shark and see just how big and menacing he is. Brody says ‘your gonna need a bigger boat. ‘ The drama is intensified as Hooper struggles to tie a line to the first of the heavy yellow barrels; he succeeds but only just in time, as Quint fires the line from the harpoon.

The shark swims off pulling the barrel through the water, the idea is to tire the shark out. That night the three men are huddled in the gloom, Hooper and Quint start comparing scars, then Quint tells of his traumatic experience during WWII, he was a member of the crew on the Indianapolis, that was sunk by a torpedo whilst returning from a secret mission. 1100 men find themselves in shark-infested water, the sharks attack and 800 men perished.

Quint goes into graphic detail, building up the viewer’s horror of the shark and the tension on the boat. The shark comes the nearest man who starts poundin’ and hollerin’ and screamin’. Sometime the shark go away, sometime he wouldn’t. …. Then you hear a terrible high-pitch scream and the ocean turns red. They averaged six an hour. ‘ Shortly after Quint finishes his grizzly tail, the camera pans out to the ocean to show the yellow barrel approaching the boat. The shark rams the boat causing flooding in the cabin and engine and a minor fire and extinguishing the lights. Hooper and Brody now realise just how dangerous this mission is. Quint starts shooting at the shark.

Everything goes quiet and stays that way till morning. In the morning the barrel appears of the stern of the boat, Hooper and Quint start to haul the line in, suddenly the shark surfaces right in front of them. Brody tries to radio for help, but Quint smashes the radio, leaving Brody to wonder where the biggest danger lies, in the sea or the mad man on board. The shark is harpooned with a second barrel and takes the boat for another run, another barrel is harpooned to the shark and Brody tries shooting it. The shark fights back biting through the wire, having pulled the boat backwards and flooding the engine room.

Hooper attempts to dive using the shark cage aiming to spear the shark in the mouth with a poisonous syringe. As Hooper is being lowered the shark comes up behind him and starts attacking the cage, Hooper drops the spear, and the shark breaks through the bars. Hooper manages to get out of the cage and hides behind an underwater rock. Quint and Brody try to retrieve the cage, they see that the cage is empty and fear the worse. The shark then smashes the side of the boat causing it to capsize; Quint slides down the deck towards the shark and is swallowed whole.

Brody pushes one of the oxygen cylinders into the sharks’ mouth and then shoots the cylinder. Part of the sharks’ body disintegrates over the surface of the water the rest sinks into the sea. The film concludes with a shot of Hooper and Brody swimming back to shore using a makeshift raft. For me the scariest part of the film was when Hooper dives down to examine Ben Hooper’s shark damaged boat and Ben’s head unexpectedly appears in the hole. Not only does it make me jump, but the face looks pretty horrific too.