3 March 2017

Jaws, 1975

Fig. 1 Poster
Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ (1975) is one of the most commercially successful films of all time. It is described by Mark Dinning, writing for Empire Online, as ‘a film of immense, visceral and psychological power’ (Dinning, 2000). As a cultural phenomenon, ‘Jaws’ changed the trajectory of film and was the beginning of the summer blockbuster. Mark Kermode of The Guardian writes that the film was ‘a genre-defining blockbuster that changed the face of modern cinema.’ (Kermode, 2015).

Fig. 2 Contra zoom
Spielberg makes use of a technique called contra zoom, originally used in Hitchcock's ‘Vertigo’ (1958), for a scene (shown in Fig. 2) in which he wishes to convey the horror and shock his character is feeling. There is a pivotal moment and the contra zoom changes the amount of the background that is seen, showing the character’s world warping around him as he comes to a realisation. Due to the massive success of the film, this type of shot became very popular and many people attempted to imitate its effectiveness in Spielberg’s film. Another shot that Spielberg makes considerable use of is the long shot, as shown in Fig. 3, Almar Haflidason comments on his ‘fearless’ (Haflidason, 2001) use of this shot and the way ithelps convey both isolation for the victims and endows the shark with seemingly god-like hunting powers.’ (Haflidason, 2001). 

Fig. 3 Long shot
A huge element of the success of these shots is down to the editing by Verna Fields, described by A.D. Murphy, writing for Variety, as ‘topnotch’ (Murphy, 1975). This editing is one of ways the shark is established in the mind of the viewer long before it is shown on screen. Shots from the shark’s point of view, as shown in Fig. 4, are used throughout the film to give the audience a sense of its presence without actually showing it to them. The shark is established as a ruthless killer through ‘factual’ discussion with an oceanographer and frightful images from pages of a book.

Fig. 4 POV
 As Dinning comments the unseen element, is crucial.’ (Dinning, 2000). The viewer’s imagination is a powerful tool and Spielberg is clever to make use of it here. The massive build up to the first appearance of the shark is important, Roger Ebert comments that The shark has been so thoroughly established, through dialogue and quasi-documentary material, that its actual presence is enhanced in our imaginations by all we've seen and heard. (Ebert, 2000). Spielberg makes use of floating objects attached to the shark, such as the keg shown in Fig. 3, to give it presence and character. Ebert also comments that the audience don't see the shark but the results of his actions. The payoff is one of the most effective thrillers ever made.’ (Ebert, 2000).

These techniques alone would have a formidable effect, but it is the score that gives the invisible film its full cinematic power. Alexandre Tylski, writing for Film Score Monthly, describes the way John William’s score mimics the shark, with sounds that suddenly disappear, exactly like a shark slowly circling its prey, vanishing without warning, then attacking abruptly from an unknown quarter’ (Tylski, 1999). This has an impressive effect and Tylski goes on to note that the audience ‘feel that something threatening is coming closer and closer but we can see nothing. Williams, by using the crescendo, creates an idea of distance and movement, transforming rhythm into a highly visual element’ (Tylski, 1999). The score complements Spielberg’s techniques beautifully and it is little wonder that it is so memorable.

Fig. 5 Pier
There is a particular scene involving a torn away bit of pier (shown in Fig. 5) that is particularly effective at building a frightening atmosphere. As the shark hasn’t been seen yet, it exists here as how the viewer’s imagination has combined their pre-existing idea of sharks with the viciously frightening image conjured up by the narrative, visual and musical choices made by the filmmakers. At the time of release, the audience’s understanding of sharks would be less than that of a modern audience and so there is more room for Spielberg to work his magic. As Murphy comments, implicit dramaturgy is often more effective than explicit carnage’ (Murphy, 1975).


Dinning, M (2000). Empire Essay: Jaws review. At: http://www.empireonline.com/movies/empire-essay-jaws/review/ (Accessed on 03.03.17)

Ebert, R (2000). Great Movie Jaws. At: http://www.rogerebert.com/reviews/great-movie-jaws-1975 (Accessed on 03.03.17)

Haflidason, A (2001). Jaws. At: http://www.bbc.co.uk/films/2000/07/14/jaws_review.shtml (Accessed on 03.03.17)

Kermode, M (2015). Jaws: 40 years on: 'One of the truly great and lasting classics of American cinema'. At: https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/may/31/jaws-40-years-on-truly-great-lasting-classics-of-america-cinema (Accessed on 03.03.17)

Murphy, A (1975). Review: ''Jaws': 1975 Movie Review'. At: http://variety.com/1975/film/reviews/jaws-1200423515/ (Accessed on 03.03.17)

Tylski, A (1999). A Study of Jaws' Incisive Overture. At: http://www.filmscoremonthly.com/articles/1999/14_Sep---A_Study_of_Jaws_Incisive_Overture.asp (Accessed on 03.03.17)

Illustration List

Fig. 1 Poster
Spielberg, S (1975). Jaws [Poster] At: http://www.oscars.org/sites/oscars/files/01_jaws_main_0.jpg (Accessed on 03.03.17)

Fig. 2 Contra zoom
Spielberg, S (1975). Jaws [Poster] At: http://www.dioramamagazine.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/Jaws-7.jpg (Accessed on 03.03.17)

Fig. 3 Long shot
Spielberg, S (1975). Jaws [Poster] At: http://viewandreview.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/08/JAWS-62-1.26.02-1024x429.png (Accessed on 03.03.17)

Fig. 4 POV

Fig. 5 Pier
Spielberg, S (1975). Jaws [Poster] At: http://www.top10films.co.uk/img/Jaws_The-Unseen-Monster_pier.jpg (Accessed on 03.03.17)


  1. This has been a great batch of reviews Ellie - keep them coming! :)