How does the director, Steven Spielberg build suspense and tension for the audience in the opening of the film Jaws? Essay

The film Jaws was the first ever block-buster and was released in 1975, which was based on a widely spread and admired novel; well written by Peter Benchley, who also wrote the screenplay for the film. The director, Steven Spielberg, is exceedingly famous and is well known for his high budget action/adventure films such as Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park & Star Wars 3. Spielberg has written, directed, produced and starred in many top films. The film is based around an abnormal sized brute lurking in the calm open seas. The inspiration came from a fisherman who caught a beast of a great white shark weighing in at 4550 pound.

His tagline was very appealing and memorable and meant something to people as when people went to see Jaws, to then go on holiday, they did exactly was it said “Don’t go into the water”. At the very foundations of the film you only see a black screen but in the background you hear the diegetic sounds of the sea. This immediately links to what the film could be about, but then as soon as you observe the actual sea, you go straight underwater as something is swimming through the seaweed which makes the audience prying and anxious to see what’s lurking in the water, this is done using a point of view (POV) shot.

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The shots are accompanied by penetrating non-diegetic music in the background, working its way up to a crescendo; this is a great trick Spielberg used to create heavy tension and suspense. It then cuts to a completely different scene with adolescents having a superior time on the beach, showing simultaneous mid-shots and panning along the beach; this is great because the audience suspect an early attack, making them feel uneasy. The audience know there is something still out there and anyone who goes into the water will fall victim for the anonymous beach.

When the camera pulls back to show a wide shot of the sea, it reminds you of the hazard that is out there but the teenagers don’t know or suspect anything. Also there is a titled frame with a high angle shot, this shows the teenagers are vulnerable and defenceless if they go into the water for too long. The camera tracks a girl called Chrissie running towards the beach, so people connect to her & will feel for her when she darts towards the water, with the boy pursuing her; the audience already suspect danger, anxious to see which of them the is first victim.

As she plummets into the sea the diegetic sound of a bell tolling can be heard which symbolizes death and funerals, so the audience know that something unpleasant is about to happen. Steven Spielberg is very good at creating suspense so when it happens the audience is shocked and surprised which makes an already film an even greater one. The camera then swoops underneath the water and the non-diegetic ‘do dum’ leitmotif begins, signalling the beginning of a horrendous attack.

There is a point of view (POV) shot of the shark watching Chrissies’ legs kicking in the water; that’s when the audience feel for her and just want to bellow the words “get out of the water! ” to her, where-as she is shouting “come on IN the water! ” to the boy. This is a point of high tension. The non-diegetic music is low thumping strings and as the shark draws in and gets closer to Chrissies’ legs the music begins to get louder, starts to quicken the pace and gets higher pitched, the tension builds up but there is no crescendo as the music ends.

Suddenly, the camera appears to be on top of the water and Chrissie gets dragged underwater. Above the water there is just silence as she comes back up as she is screaming getting dragged and shaken all over. The leitmotif begins again. The creature releases its firm grip on Chrissie momentarily, giving her time to rapidly clench onto the buoy. The audience wish that her pain is all over but she is isolated; there’s nowhere for her to go. Suddenly, she is then dragged under yet again. This is the point when the audience ask the question: is it all over or will she come back up again?

There are a lot of pauses in the attack where you see the boy on land; safe, this shot is shown with a long shot (LS) which is really effective because it still shows the sea which is an excellent comparison with the land being out of harm’s way and sea the is a treacherous place until this beast is executed. It cuts to the scene of a secure boy to the scene of Chrissie, while she shouts “it hurts! ” as she is pulled underwater once again. She reappears and the audience hope that it is all nearly over for one last sudden outburst of “God help me! ” before she disappears under the water.

The audience feel relieved that the pain is all over for her. After all the pain and trepidation witnessed by the viewers, the buoy is in the background again with a long shot (LS) to show the extent of the sea and the unbelievable creature that is living out there at the present time. The eerie silence creates even more tension and suspense because you know what this thing is capable of, yet no-one has witnessed the attack. It remains a grave danger for the public. Steven Spielberg is very good at making the audience relate to the characters and feeling for them.

In a dissolve, you leave the night to a bright sunny day at Amity which is a nig tourist town and lives for the money of tourists and the attraction it has and is also the new home to the sheriff Brody. The audience do not have to wait for too long for the second attack. In the Alex attack, you observe Alex walking towards his mother and straight away, it’s a tracking shot and you relate to him again like you did with Chrissie. Also, in this scene there are a number of false alerts where Brody is inspecting the water.

When a girl screams, Brody shows his emotion on his face for the reason that he knows there is something out there, but has been persuaded to keep the beach open. There is a close up (CU) on Brody and where ever he looks it is out to sea and if anyone got in his way, he tried to evade them. This shows how paranoid he is about a shark attack and this creates tension. A dog then runs across the screen with his owner; the camera then tracks the dog and you then connect to the dog but not the owner because you learn her name, Pippin.

As she is going into the water, it makes the audience query who is the next victim, Pippin or Alex, or is it neither? Or is it both? Spielberg really hurls you because both the dog and Alex run into the water at the same time. Brody’s sons want to go into the water agrees to let them go in but he is an-aware that the owner has lost his dog Pippin and is shouting for him frantically. As you hear him shouting, the camera goes to a medium shot (MS) of a buoyant stick on top of the water.

You now know that the shark has had its appetizer but you wish the shark has finished because then a group of young boys go speeding into the sea, splashing and screaming; one being Brody’s son. In the next shot which is a point of view (POV) of the shark underwater you see all the young boy’s legs kicking below the surface. It’s now a waiting game for the audience which is such a good way to get the audience on the edge of their seats thinking “who is the chosen victim? “. As the shark is seen swimming, the non-diegetic leitmotif begins to hasten.

The low penetrating strings begin to get quicker as the camera pulls back and tracks Alex’s lilo and you know that Alex is now the ill-fated victim. If it was someone else you wouldn’t be so upset because you have been watching Alex for while and will know how upset Alex’s mother will be as the audience have connected with him. As the shark grasps hold of Alex you hear him scream “it hurts! ” which mirrors back to Chrissie’s attack. Brody realises what is happening and is the only one that does so. There’s a simultaneous track-zoom where the trepidation on his face and himself gets dragged into the drama and the background gets left behind.

The impact that shot has on you and the movie, makes the scene gets forever etched in your memory. The attack is very swift but the most memorable because Alex has been on camera for the longest amount of time. The whole scene is full of jump cuts which show the pain and fear within them as it cuts from the attack to shots of everyone on the beach, running into the water to rescue their children. The camera then cuts again to Alex’s mother calling for him, as at the moment only the audience that Alex was killed so you feel for her that she has to find out the toughest way possible.

At the end of the trauma, you see Alex’s shredded lilo washed up on the shore amidst the blood-stained water. This scene is shown with a close up and in detail; the beast’s attack which then shows the people at Amity that there is something out there. Steven Spielberg did so well in the film creating the shark and the fear it gave the spectators because you didn’t see it until three quarters of the way through, but that is what I believe built up the tension and the suspense of the film because when you see the shark you are shocked at the size and is more horrific than if you saw it at the beginning of the film.

You saw the real extent of it properly when Hooper, the oceanographer, had to go into the water in the cage. I thought it was a first-class effort because Spielberg used a real shark but he shrunk down the cage so the shark would look bigger than it was made out to be. It is frightening at one point because as the shark is swimming towards Hooper with speed, there is no music so you don’t suspect anything, then the brute charges into the cage; destroying anything in it’s course.

The camera swooped into an extreme close-up (ECU) on Hooper’s face to show the fear and emotion in his eyes. There was a contrapuntal sound in the film where the sound goes against your expectations, which gives the film a higher reputation. In Jaws there is also a lot of parallel sound where the music compliments what we see on the screen, this is used a lot in the film where the low thumping leitmotif represent the shark and an attack or when the shark is approaching.

The way it was directed got the most attraction and fear that it possibly could and Spielberg knew how to make the audience tense and on the edges of their seats as it still scares people thirty years on from when it was created. Overall it was an outstanding film. The way the camera and the music were used had a big impact on its success. Personally I thought it was a brilliant film and has really got the best impact it could have and this would attract incredible fame to Spielberg’s name.


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