Before the month of June comes to an end, I'd like to share some of my college homework with you guys, in honor of the 40th anniversary for Steven Spielberg's: Jaws. Enjoy!
As the film responsible for changing how Hollywood releases its summer movies, Jaws made the career of Steven Spielberg as a film director and became one of biggest blockbusters of its time. We look at scrip and how it is executed on screen. We analyze the structure, the character development; plot points, dialog and various themes.
Chief Martin Brody, on Amity Island is described as an ordinary man with ordinary problems. As the main protagonist, he is not strictly speaking an ideal hero on paper. Like a child he is fragile and lacks security for his well-being. As a former cop from New York, he is like a tourist in Amity Island, where even as the authority, the politics of the community always overrules him than actually acting upon his instincts. For a man stationed in an island surrounded by water, we learn about his Aquaphobia. In general of Martin Brody’s flaws, we can to a certain degree identify with him. His problems and the situations he finds himself in can be relatable. As police chief of Amity, he is tasked with trying to maintain the town's safety, while not infringing upon its biggest source of revenue, its annual 4th of July celebration.
The opposing conflictions are a character dynamic everyone can identify with. In life, we often find ourselves in similar situations, in which pleasing all parties concerned is an unattainable reality. Nothing is more indicative of this than when one of the victim's mothers slaps Roy Scheider’s character in the face for not closing the beach. However, Martin Brody undergoes a change once the last victim is taken at the Pond and his older son’s life is put in danger. He takes charge and hires Quint to help him hunt down and kill the shark. It is a big leap for the character as he joins the crew at sea, battling his worst fears. From that point until the film's conclusion, he stops worrying about what is best for everyone else, and takes it upon himself to do what he feels is the right thing to do.
While a movie has its characters with their own conflicts, the production as a whole is driven by an overarching conflict. In Jaws, the overarching conflict is Man VS. Nature. Here we have what is described as a perfect killing machine, and the difficulties man has in dealing with it. When you look at the movie and venture the parts of the script where the shark becomes the issue, it causes mass panic on the island, filled with an overwhelming amount of people that have a difficulty shaking off the fear that a single animal empowers. It’s a theme that has been explored countless times where civilization finds itself battling nature. Martin Brody has to leave the comfort of his society governed by rules and enters the sea, a world with no rules that also brings up Darwin’s survival of the fittest.
What sparks the plot for the movie is the death of Chrissie Watkins. Once her remains are discovered it forces the protagonist to act upon the discovery. The first act of the movie begins with the titles, continues after the death of the girl, her body parts discovered and Martin Brody convincing the mayor to close the beaches. Leading to the second act, where the tourists are engaging in the water thinking its safe, another death occurs. The turning point at this stage between the first act and the second act in the script is when the main character’s son, Mickey ends up in the hospital, which forces him to go after the shark with Quint and Hooper. Now that we’re in the second act, the trio are at sea chasing the great white and harpooning it with yellow barrels to track it. Between the chase and entering the third act, the turning point here would be Quint caving into Hooper’s plan to get inside the shark cage and tame the beast.
As the theme of Man vs. Nature, the main of this movie, would have to be fear. We learn around the first half of the movie that Martin Brody is afraid of the water; drowning. This is the subplot. For his character, it is all about finally standing up to face his fears, while battling against a monster at sea. It's a classic tale of one ordinary man, driven by extraordinary circumstance, taking the collective burden on his shoulders in order to do what he thinks is right when no one else would, despite facing harsh criticism on both sides, and yet never straying from his chosen path. Fear is an offshoot of this conflict, as it demonstrates humanities short comings in both the interactions of the humans with each other, and the pride displayed by Quint and the Mayor, which costs lives, especially Quint, who’s pride at sea causes his own death.
We also come across the inner emotions of two other characters. Quint confronts his past, a recurring theme a lot of protagonists struggle with internally. His reflections are terrifying to listen to, and it seems as though the only way he can forget about it is by confronting it head-on. In the script, we read of the ship incident in 1945 as it is fleshed out even further in the movie, that the reason why Quint is hooked on killing the shark, reflects a vengeful nature for his fallen comrades.
In the case of Hooper and Brody, both men aren’t really depicted as macho. Brody, like I said earlier is a normal average guy who is forced to act against his fears. Hooper is more of a school boy; a bookworm. Once on the Orca with Quint, it feels like he has to prove himself to Quint, while at the same time believing he's the shark expert and not the other way around. The way I see it, the shark and the sea especially with the subplot, are testing these characters. It brings out their true selves. Their fears are personified as the shark and the depths of the mass ocean, where being away from the shore, its man against nature.
The dialogue, especially that of Richard Dreyfus and Robert Shaw in particular, created a heightened sense of tension for the viewer. For an antagonist that was primarily unseen for the majority of the film, the way both characters spoke about the shark, with a level of fear and respect unlike any other character in the film, created an air of the impending danger our protagonists were up against for the viewer to latch onto. In the script, the character Hooper mentions his recording of all the attacks the sharks has made and it gives off this tone of respect for the fish, as he doesn’t take it lightly. Shaw’s character Quint, is always roaring about the shark and how it keeps fleeing them but also how the shark matches Quint’s style of the hunt an defies all his expectations, nearly praising the monster.
What gives tension or suspense is how we almost never see the shark, except for the final sequences of the movie. The viewers mind creates the tension, as opposed to laying everything out on a plate. We only ever see a fin, the tale or part of the jaws, but never the shark as a whole in every kill. Steven Spielberg shows us just enough of the shark to give us an idea of the danger, and then allows us to take it from there. By not knowing where the shark is going to strike, it keeps the audience on its heels the entire film.
The main climax for me would have to be in the second to third act when the shark carries the three barrels, attacks the cage, destroys the boat, kills Quint (or causes his death) right up to it getting blown up by the oxygen tank. Not only is the threat resolved but also the protagonist resolves his fear of drowning. He believes that by overcoming his fears, he can return to the island and behave differently.
Reading the script and watching the movie was quite an experience. Obviously, some re-writes were done during the film’s production, but it kept the essences of the initial draft. I managed to get the same feel from the movie while reading the screenplay. Jaws, is more than just fright and special effects. Its depth far exceeds that, and deals with character development, masterful dialogue and enjoyable protagonists that one can identify with.