How Does Steven Spielberg Create Tension in the Film “Jaws”?
How does Steven Spielberg create tension in the film “JAWS”? ‘JAWS’ is a horror/thriller film directed by Steven Spielberg in 1975; it is based on the novel by Peter Benchley. Steven Spielberg is a master of suspense and has created tension all the way through the film ‘JAWS’. A great white shark attacks the summer resort Town of Amity Island; on the 4th July, Independence Day, a declaration of independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain.
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The police chief tries to close the beach but the town council overrule him and keep the beaches open; who want to keep them open to make money for the town. After several attacks, the police chief enlists the help of shark hunter Robert Schneider and marine biologist Richard Dreyfuss. First of all, Spielberg creates suspense in many ways. The atmosphere at the start is peaceful with the sound of dolphins and whales, calm and peaceful animals.
Then the atmosphere changes and you get two deep, striking notes. The notes are menacing and are played on a string instrument possibly a cello. Then the tempo of the music increases and makes a mysterious yet suspenseful piece of music, which increases still until it hits a crescendo, while the music is playing the camera shows a point of view shot, where the first two notes are played.
The point of view shot gives you the impression that the viewer is the shark, and is moving forwards, as the fish scatter and you see the bleak cold water, as the climax of the music is played the scene cuts to a group of teenagers sitting around a fire laughing and happy, it’s a big change of atmosphere; the shot they use is a panning shot, and this shows that the teenagers are all together safely in a group and when two people leave the group they become endangered. Another shot he uses is an establishing shot showing what’s happening.
The bonfire gives off the impression that they are calm and relaxed; also it gives you a false sense of security. Secondly, Spielberg creates suspense using camera techniques for example, the scene in which the boy gets attacked by the shark gives off a lot of suspense using camera effects; you see chief Brody watching the sea intently to see if he can spot the shark, and he spots a women screaming in the water; this is shown as a long shot, and builds up tension as it is only a false alarm.
Then Spielberg uses a medium shot to show the young boys rushing into the water and this gets Brody even more agitated as there are more potential victims. Then you see a boy calling for his dog and this is shot in a two/medium shot, and then all you see is a stick floating in the water but no dog so this gives of a sense that something is going on. Then you see the boy on the lilo in a low angle shot and a point of view shot of the shark makes the victim look helpless.
The next camera shot is a long shot from the beach of the boy on the lilo getting attacked by the shark and this shows the scale of the predator. Chief body realises what is happening and this is expressed in a “dolly zoom” as it zooms in on Brodys face but the cameras on a track and the camera moves backwards while it’s zooming on his face. Then the general panic of what’s going on is put into a long shot and you just see crowded panic and screaming.
And then all of a sudden it goes quiet and all you can hear is the calming noise of water lapping against the sand and then shows a close up of the yellow lilo which confirms that the boy has been killed the shark. Thirdly, the shark is portrayed as a figure of fear, as every time you start to hear the music you get a sense that something bad is going to happen; as it builds up into a crescendo, then hits the climax, and something bad happens.
Another way Spielberg’s built up this figure of fear is by showing the damage it can do like at the end when Quints boat got sunk by the shark. And another thing is that Spielberg uses camera techniques to show the fear of the shark for example when Quints boat (Orca) goes out to sea it starts off as a big boat, but through the film it gets smaller and smaller and the way Spielberg does this is by using high angle shots.
Another point is how big the shark is and the enormous power it has, like at the beginning the girl gets pulled around the water and makes it look effortless as the girl has no power over her own movements; another part of the film where this is show is when chief Brody is throwing fish in the water and he sees the shark when it comes up to feed; Brody turns speechless and backs away into the cabin where Quint is and says “we’re gonna’ need a bigger boat”. Finally, the tension is built up as a waiting fear because you know it’s out there but you just can’t see it. Jaws is portrayed as an invisible killer.
The first two attacks are relatively close together, but they are unsure about the first one until the cause of death is found, the second attack is the day after the first one and has a few false alarms before the attack comes and these build up tension for the second attack. The third attack is on 4th July Independence Day, this attack involves chief Brodys son and there is a big false alarm in this one when two boys pretend to be a shark and scare everyone out of the sea. But while this is happening the real shark goes round the commotion and into another part of the water where Brodys son is.
You see a woman shouting at the crowd of people that there is a “shark”. Brody fears for his son who is in the water and the shark is heading straight for him. The tension builds up more in the end of the film as its three men against one giant great white shark. Parts of the ending plot build up for example when Richard Dreyfuss (Matt Hooper) goes in the shark cage and sees this huge shark swim past and the camera shows it to scale against a man but as Matt Hooper tries to keep his eye on the shark, it sneaks up behind him and hits the cage continuously until Matt Hooper escapes from the cage and swims to a nearby coral reef to hide.
Lastly, I think the scariest moment in the film is where Matt Hooper and Chief Brody go looking for the shark in the dead of night; and they find a boat floating in the water which had been wrecked, and Matt Hooper wants to take a look at the hull (bottom) of the boat, and when he goes down to take a look at it, he finds a hole in the boat and that’s when the ‘Jaws’ music starts and you expect to see the shark come along and attack Matt Hooper; but just before it hits the crescendo a dead face appears in the hole and this shocks the viewers and scares them, because it’s something they just don’t expect.
And in my opinion this is the scariest moment in the film.