Jaws In Detail Essay, Research Paper
JAWS was the box-office sensation of 1975 and the number-one hit movie of the decade until 1977’s STAR WARS, at a time when
the success or failure of a few blockbusters began to determine the course of the entire motion picture industry. Similar to several of
the other huge hit movies of the 1970’s, JAWS began as a novel, which was then sold to a film company prior to its publication. Yet
JAWS remains solidly a director’s film from the first ominous chords of John Williams’ moody score. In this, his second directed film,
Steven Spielberg demonstrates remarkable ability to develop a standard scary story into a sweeping adventure with the power to
capture audiences and hold them in breathless suspense.
The plot of JAWS is deceptively simple. A marauding Great White Shark of tremendous size begins attacking bathers in the waters off
Amity Township, a New England seaside resort. Local Sheriff Brody (Roy Scheider) believes the warning of young icthyologist Hooper
(Richard Dreyfuss) that the killings will continue, but yields to the pressure of Amity mayor Vaughan (Murray Hamilton) not to close the
beaches. As the Fourth of July weekend approaches, the mayor fears the loss of Amity’s tourist revenue more than the possibility of
When the monster shark strikes again, the beaches are finally closed. Crusty shark hunter Quint (Robert Shaw) is retained by the
Township to pursue and destroy the menace and sets out in his boat Orca, accompanied by Hooper and Brody. Guilt-ridden over his
earlier decision to allow the beaches to remain open, Brody goes to sea in an effort to regain his self-esteem.
The initial confidence of the hunt is clouded by the uncanny intelligence of the monster shark, which seems to be endowed with
supernormal, perhaps diabolical powers. Compounding the peril, Quint turns the hunt into a personal vendetta, restraining Hooper from
using “scientific” means to kill the creature and finally wrecking the boat’s radio when Brody tries to summon aid. The shark cripples
the Orca — Hooper diappears, apparently gobbled up like bait in a shark cage, and Quint is eaten alive as the terrified Brody looks on.
Just when his prospects for survival seem nil, however, Brody summons his courage in a last-gasp offensive and defeats the seemingly
unkillable monster with ingenuity, luck, and force of will. With the Orca sunk, Brody is joined by a miraculously unharmed Hooper, and
together they paddle to dry land.
As a fright film JAWS is without peer. The bulk of the carnage occurs largely offscreen; the touches of gore that are seen are used
effectively to increase one’s dread of the next shark attack. JAWS achieves its thrills by appealing to the viewer’s imaginary senses of
adventure and danger, unlike, for example, THE EXORCIST (1973), whose offensive images and sound track bludgeon the audience
into submission. JAWS is humane in that the audience is encouraged to care for every victim, and Spielberg’s sympathetic direction
ensures the viewer’s direct involvement in each attack.
This first portion of the film delineates the simple yet powerful story and moves the action to a more intimate arena: three men in a
boat against the unknown. In terms of pacing, logic, and pure suspenseful storytelling skill, this part of JAWS is impeccable. Spielberg’s
ability to manipulate his audience is evident in the ease with which he continually works against viewer expectations. No matter when
or where one anticipates the shark’s next appearance, it always bursts at the actors from an unexpected direction and at an
unexpected moment; yet Spielberg and Academy Award-winning film editor Verna Fields avoid lame devices such as shock cuts or
sound track stingers. Humor is used to good advantage as well. The most chilling episode in the film happens while Brody is ladling bait
off the Orca’s stern. It is a scene in which it seems appropriate for the shark to appear, but Spielberg outlasts the audience’s
expectations by suspending the action through several lines of dialoque. Just when the punch line of Brody’s humor disarms the
audience, the shark attacks, and the jolt is twice as strong.
The film’s few technical and dramatic rough edges are nullified by the strength of its editing. Even when revealed as an obvious
mechanical prop, the monster shark remains terrifying. By the time it is fully viewed, the audience is so rattled that a cardboard fish
would probably suffice to frighten. The high state of tension created throughout the film overrides a breach or two of logic (such as the
fact that Hooper’s shark-killer kit contains sure-fire devices whose uses are never considered). Also audience-accepted are extremes of
character actions (for example, only after the fact does Quint’s radio-smashing episode seem the result of plot necessity rather than
genuine character motivation).
Spielberg draws precise and economic performances from his actors. Roy Scheider is a particularly apt choice for the part of the
sea-hating Ne York cop whose flight from the urban jungle lands him, ironically, in a more basic struggle for survival. When Scheider,
who was already familiar as a detective hero of both THE FRENCH CONNECTION (1971), and THE SEVEN-UPS (1973), empties his
service magnum into the whale, Spielberg seems to dispose of the monster while at the same time ending the cycle of the early
1970’s “cop” films whose heroes used the handgun as a viable defense.
Richard Dreyfuss carries most of the comedy yet portrays a character whose professional knowledge as an ichthyologist helps the
viewer to participate better in the strategies between man and beast being battled out on the high seas. Lorraine Gary’s role is also
mostly support, but it is also to the author’s credit that the novel’s Hooper-Mrs. Brody love affair was dropped for the film version.
Robert Shaw’s mannered performance as the eccentric Quint spikes the tension of the man- against-shark conflict, as in the scene
when he retells the grisly fate of the crew of the ship INDIANAPOLIS, but this obsession sometimes makes him too closely resemble an
inferior Ahab on his own quest.
Although its plot borrows heavily from MOBY DICK, JAWS is not exploitive. It attempts to be no more than a good product of the
monster-genre films its director clearly admires. Examples from them abound: the underwater stalking of victims is reminiscent of
scenes in THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (1954); the shot in which Brody sets up his defense communications on the
holiday beach is a direct copy of a scene in FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956); and the subjective smash-zoom shot of Brody’s shocked face
as he witnesses a shark attack comes from Hitchcock’s VERTIGO(1958). These adaptations of past scenes and devices become
creatively new under the direction of Steven Spielberg, and JAWS stands independently as a superior adventure-thriller.