“Sublime terror rests in the unseen- the ultimate horror. Things seen, fully described, explained, and laid to rest in the last reel or paragraph are mere horrors, the weakest of which are the merest revulsions over bloodshed and dismemberment… “(Rockett, ‘Perspective’ in Journal of Popular Film and Television volume 10 no 3, Fall, 1982, p132 [cited in ‘The Cinema Book’ Ed. Pam Cook, BFI, 1985] p102) Consider how the audience is terrorised by the film ‘Jaws’ making detailed reference to mise-en-scene, editing and sound.
The film ‘Jaws’ exemplifies the statement ‘Sublime terror rests in the unseen- the ultimate horror’. Some people would say that dismemberment and gore is needed to terrorise an audience, but this only shocks and disgusts viewers. A horror film should therefore make the audience imagine the terror in order to maximise the fear factor. Many horror films nowadays use similar techniques to those used by Spielberg in the film ‘Jaws’. They use techniques such as framing and mise-en-scene in order to create something called safe space and unsafe space.
Safe space is the space that the camera is looking at. It is where there is no danger and nothing dreadful would be expected to take place, which is why it is called safe space. Safe space is invaded by unsafe space and makes the place threatening as something terrible is about to occur. It is by using these techniques and through creating this effect that Spielberg has succeeded in making ‘Jaws’ such a legendary film. Another example of this effect is the shower scene from ‘Psycho’ by Alfred Hitchcock.
Janet Leigh who plays the main character and who was quite a famous actress in the 60’s is taking a shower and as the audience, you wouldn’t anticipate that something terrible would happen this early to the ‘main character’. As she is taking a shower, a shadow produced by the low-key lighting enters the safe space and murders her. All that is seen is the knife and the murderer stabbing at her but not actually piercing through her skin. This meant that the audience had to rely on their imagination to see the murderer, which is what the technique of space and unsafe space is supposed to do.
The sound accompanying the murder is of violins shrieking, which is supposed to represent the knife piercing the skin. The shower scene only lasts about a minute, but is made of about eighty shots. This effect has made this scene a very famous one because of the way it creates tension and frightens the audience. In the film ‘Jaws’, the vast ocean is the unsafe space with the shark moving around it. The use of safe and unsafe space helps create and build up tension. At the beginning of the film ‘Jaws’, the shark’s attacks are close by to the shore, which shows us that the shallow water cannot stop it from attacking people.
But as the film persists, the shark attacks are out in the middle of the ocean and from the moment the characters leave the beach to go hunting, they are cut off from the rest of the characters. This is where the mise-en-scene technique is most used in the film. The shark cannot be seen as it is a vast ocean and it could jump out unexpectedly of at any time from any direction at the characters, which would destroy the safe space. The film was directed by Steven Spielberg, a well-known director in Hollywood and a splendid director throughout his filming career.
The film was produced by David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck in 1975. The film lasts 93 minutes and is rated as a 12. The idea of creating this film came from the book ‘Jaws’ written by Peter Benchley. Like many of Spielberg’s films, the film ‘Jaws’ can be classified as Action, Adventure, Horror, Thriller, Drama and even Science-Fiction. The cast deserves some credit for playing their part so well by making it more realistic and terrifying for the audience to watch, as they weren’t famous actors at that time.
The part of Police Chief Brody was played by Roy Schieder who was also in ‘The French Connection’, the part of Quint was played by Robert Shaw who was also in ‘The Sting’, the part of Ellen Brody was played by Lorraine Gary who was also in ‘Jaws 2’ and the part of Matt Hooper was played by Richard Dreyfuss who was also in ‘American Graffiti’. The writers were Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb, the makeup artist was Del Armstrong and the effect producers were Robert A. Mattey and Roy Arbogast. The music (ostinato) that announces that the shark is approaching is composed by John Williams.
Without all these people, the film wouldn’t have been as realistic and so effective. ‘Jaws’ is probably the most written about film directed by Spielberg. It has many magazines and articles dedicated to it and also has four books examining the making of the film such as ‘The Jaws Log’, ‘The Making of the Movie Jaws’, ‘Jaws’ by Bloomsbury’s Pocket Book and ‘Jaws’, by the British Film Institute. This shows how much impact it had on other film directors, who wanted to use the same kind of techniques that were used by Spielberg in his films to heighten the emotions of their audience.
The story is set on a small New England island called Amity. During the summer season, a great white shark starts attacking people who go for a swim in the sea. After the first incident, it is thought that it was a shark attack and Officer Brody tries to close the beach down, but the mayor insists on keeping it open as it is a few days to the 4th of July, which is Independence Day. This would bring many tourists which would be good for the island as it is entirely based on tourism. The celebration still goes on, but on the day itself, a man is attacked and killed by the shark.
As this is the fourth shark attack, a shark hunter (Quint) and a shark expert (Hooper) are brought in to kill the shark. During the opening scene, a group of young people are gathered around a fire drinking and smoking. The sound is hippy and party like with guitars, people talking and rhythmic waves splashing. The camera keeps on going from a boy to a girl, each shot lasting one second. A couple from the beach party leave the rest to go skinny-dipping; Spielberg only films about ten minutes before sunset.
This is remarkable because it is something that is very difficult to do as there would only be enough time to do one or two takes before the lighting is lost. During the first attack scene, the shark is never seen. The sound is ostinato, which announces that the shark is approaching. It is only two notes that are the same that are repeated over and over again and increases in pace as the shark approaches and it is the combination of the music and the point of view of the camera that scares the audience so much. The camera is from the shark’s point of view looking at the legs and it is a mid-shot.
As this shot is from the shark’s eye, it adds more horror to the film. As this is the opening scene, the audience does not know what is lying in the water and looking up at the feet, so they do not know what is about to happen. It also puts the audience in the place of the attacker, showing the beginning of the attack to the audience as if they were there and were experiencing it. The next shot is a long view shot and it contrasts the vast ocean to the little woman. In this shot the only object that is seen is the girl panicking, being carried in the sea very quickly, going under water and not surfacing again.
This represents the power of the shark and is an example of mise-en-scene. The shot is kept to a long shot of just the ocean by itself. By doing this, the ocean becomes personified, making it a threat. As the audience does not see the shark, it is terrorizing and suspenseful, as they do not know the menace. Understandably, ‘Jaws’ has influenced many films including ‘Alien’, ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’ and ‘Deep Blue Sea’, either in the storyline, using safe and unsafe space, on filming techniques and even the setting.
Sharks have always been known to be man-eaters. But ever since the film ‘Jaws’ has been released, sharks have been given a worse reputation of being dangerous and ruthless man-eaters than ever before. Following the release of the film, the dramatic effect created by the film influenced people who visited the beach to warily advance in the water as they were frightened that there might have been a shark in the water and that they would have to face the consequences.
It is because Spielberg has directed this film in such innovative way, that it has greatly terrorised the audience and effected their normal lives. Spielberg has done this by not showing the shark itself underwater at every attack but by the point of view being the shark’s, which puts us into the characters’ position. So as ‘Jaws’ progresses, we see more and more of the shark, and it never loses any potential to scare. Rather, it gives the film increasing tension. It is by using all these filming techniques that Spielberg has made ‘Jaws’ such a terrorising film to watch.
Using today’s rating system, ‘Jaws’ is rated a 12; when it was first released, it was rated R because of the use of drugs, the many bloody feedings with graphic shots of severed limbs, and one victim who is openly consumed by the shark. It is now rated as a 12 because as time has gone on the modern world, people think it is a less terrifying film than when it came out. Another method that Spielberg uses is that he brings the horrific happening from a castle to a public place. A public place is usually considered to be a safe place, but as a horrific event has taken place in a public place or a household the principle safety is destroyed.
This method builds up fear in the audience, as it is based on destroying the safe space that is needed and makes it more terrifying for the audience. Imagination has to be used to create the attacker with films that come out nowadays as the attacker is always unseen and therefore making the film more terrifying. ‘Jaws’ is very different from other films such as the Scream series and other such films that are called parodies. Scream, is a good example, it uses filming techniques such as safe and unsafe spacing but the characters that they are playing are in some kind of horror film themselves.
These days, people have got used to seeing gory, revolting, computerized monsters in films and have hence become desensitised. Nowadays, horror genre films tend to try to relate to wickedness, evil, immorality, strange happenings such as murder, which are set in a haunted houses or even a typical residence. In contrast, horror films in the olden days used to be about witchcraft, monsters, werewolves and vampires that were maybe set in an ancient castle on top of a cliff as people used to believe in all these fantasies.
A good horror film would have be like a roller coaster because it would need to keep building up the tension and releasing it every little while to make it interesting for an audience to watch. It is also thought to be like a roller coaster because you do not know what is coming next, which is similar to how some horror films are presented. This is a key factor which makes horror films like ‘Jaws’ successful. In addition, ‘Jaws’ exploits filming techniques and other methods and combines them well together to make the film realistic. These combined factors terrorize the audience as a whole, making ‘Jaws’ awe-inspiring.