Among the many takeaways from director Steven Spielberg 1975 feature film, Jaws, is that sometimes, and I’ve not ungroundedly been waiting to say this for so very long, sometimes the (arguably more deceptively) simpler films are among the best.
That and never underestimate the power or presence of foreshadowing and silhouette-heavy cinematography.
More on all of those (and more) very soon.
In keeping with the directorial trademark-orientated nature of our work on The Cinemorph, it is great to observe that Jaws is prime territory for finding director Spielberg’s trademarks; listed below are among those that we found and (largely) verified during our viewing of Jaws:
- The Spielberg Face: both the deputy’s (at the second beach scene on finding Chrissy’s hand) and Chief Brody’s upon both witnessing the second shark attack and upon seeing the shark for the first time (while out at sea).
- Silhouette-heavy cinematography: as attested to by LAVideoFilmmaker.com, this pops up over much of director Spielberg’s filmography; in Jaws especially it adds a veneer of uncertainty (and subjective fright) to a film that warrants it, set as it is in crucial points in the dawn, dusk and nighttime.
- Tracking shots that cover important conversations: the Captain Quint-hiring conversation between Chief Brody and Mayor Vaughn in the hospital being one example.
- The importance/presence of the family unit, not so much the strain therein: whilst this inverts that Spielbergian trademark somewhat, Chief Brody’s feelings for his family, despite the temporary strain in his relationship with his wife and son sort of echo our point.
- The, highly subjectively seen, optimistic undertones that cut through the film: coming from someone who’s greatest stereotypical Spielbergian experiences are the Indiana Jones (barring Temple of Doom) and Jurassic Park films, the ability of the film to channel optimism are very much present in Jaws, as seen in how Captain Quint’s USS Indianapolis tale bleeds into restrainedly-happy song.
Independent of that, director Spielberg also keeps the focus from start to finish on the resolution of the shark attack problem. Very little else. Speaking of which…
And in a similar vein to other film commentary on The Cinemorph, our love of straightforward plot, and harking back to our prior simplicity comment, co-screenwriters Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, keep the film straightforward and easy to follow with enough foreshadowing in the mix to suggest what will come next or soon. The titular ‘rogue(s)’ and ‘the last rational man‘ being such a case in point.
The curious, and I suspect unadvertised, thing about Jaws is that it’s more of a team-up film that takes its time coming into its own. When it does, as Chief Brody and Hooper join Captain Quint on his shark-hunting voyage, we see the natures – Brody’s conciliator, Hooper’s school-smart and Quint’s sea-smart – of our trio conflict with each other, especially Hooper and Quint’s socio-economic differences, albeit temporarily, resolved over a pre-shark attack evening of song, liquor and shark scars. There’s always some tension and the trio don’t let you forget it.
I shall incite controversy here: the, extremely subjectively standout track on the Jaws score album is Out to Sea, just a bit more than the iconic theme of the film. I say this as it carries our previous point of how Spielbergian films carry an undercurrent of optimism regardless of how grim they can be. That particular track carries a bit of Star Wars and Indiana Jones flavour in it too. That said, the film’s score is wonderful as a standalone listen but sometimes misleading as a cue for what may happen next. The floating corpse scene is a case in point.
The cinematography by director of photography Bill Butler is, echoing our review of The Jungle Book somewhat, heavy on foreground-background cinematography which strongly suggests a line of character motion from one to the other – à la ‘you walk straight ahead‘ or backwards. Moreover, it is also fairly heavy on silhouettes, even in outdoor daylight conditions (an effect of outdoor shooting?). On the metaphor front, camera angles from the mast-down (à la Captain Quint looking down on his crew) and pull-outs on the open sea (implying the enormity of their task) are abundant. There is usually a show-then-tell style at work here.
With the sort of simplification that neither Jaws nor any film really warrants, Jaws is a simply-told, memorably-scored, undeniably but restrainedly optimistic tale about a man who must protect his town’s beach from shark attacks. Skip the beach, go see Jaws instead.
(Whilst the opinions and observations cited above are those of the author, the following sources were used to acquire the facts cited above: BuzzFeed.com, CineLinx.com, IMDb.com, LAVideoFilmmaker.com, PlayBuzz.com, TIME.com)
Plot and Act-by-Act Breakdown:
Plot: a newly-shifted chief of police seeks to quell the shark attacks occurring at his town’s beach.
Act 1: Chrissy goes out in the water and is killed; Chief Brody is summoned to deal with the problem.
Act 2: Chief Brody attempts to close down the beach; he decides to hold off after the mayor speaks to him.
Act 3: Chief Brody decides to close the beach after another attack and ‘brings in experts‘.
Act 4: Chief Brody shows Hooper Chrissy’s body; he decides not to dissect the shark after the mayor speaks to him.
Act 5: Chief Brody agrees to covertly let Hooper dissect the shark; the two go hunting for the shark at nighttime.
Act 6: Chief Brody and Hooper tell the mayor about the still-alive shark; Chief Brody, at the advice of the mayor, brings in shark-watchers instead.
Act 7: Chief Brody tracks down his shock-ridden son at the pond; he convinces the mayor to quickly hire Captain Quint to kill the shark.
Act 8: Chief Brody convinces Quint to let him and Hooper along on the voyage; they succeed in barrel-spearing the shark.
Act 9: Chief Brody manages to extinguish the fire, post-shark attack; they manage to barrel-spear the shark again.
Act 10: Quint cuts away the lines which the shark chews closer to the boat; they lure the shark closer to shore and shallow water.
Act 11: Hooper chooses to go down in the cage as the boat is crippled; he is stranded near the coral and Quint is killed.
Act 12: Chief Brody tosses a compressed air canister into the shark’s mouth, he shoots it and kills the shark; Chief Brody and Hooper swim to shore.