Grant Mitchell

Much like Quint’s stubborn vessel, the Orca, the characters of 1975’s classic film “Jaws” press on in their hunt for a man-eating great white shark that has terrorized their beach town of Amity.

“Jaws” did not have a limitless supply of money to work with. It had a modest budget of nine million dollars, a brand-new director and technology that was less than consistently functional. Fortunately, the actors in the film were seasoned veterans that delivered fantastic performances from a screenplay based on very strong source material — and that rookie director just happened to be Steven Spielberg.

From the earliest points of the 70s blockbuster, Spielberg firmly cements himself as the captain and first mate of this film. Knowing he didn’t have all the money in the world when making this movie, Spielberg utilized a formula seen in many Alfred Hitchcock films. That being, force the audience to use their own imagination when visualizing the antagonist of the film, creating a uniquely real feeling for each member of the audience.

When the shark attacked, all but two of the occasions in the film showed no more than the creature’s dorsal fin. The effect of forcing the audience to build up hype for the shark on their own is in essence creating a monster of their own making.

The audience fears the idea of the shark. They don’t know when they will see it, or what it will be doing. All the audience knows is that it lurks in the shadows and strikes whenever it wants, thereby making the audience in part feel like a swimmer in the Amity waters. They don’t know if it is their last time in the water, or just another swim.

Throughout the movie, Spielberg utilizes his minimalist physical portrayal of the shark, and instead focuses on the psychological effects of the hunt for the shark on the men conducting this mission.

Quint, played by Robert Shaw, is a maverick shark fisherman who believes he is superior to the shark and will outsmart and kill it when the opportunity presents itself to him. In Quint’s eyes, the other two men are merely along for the ride. Sheriff Brody, played by Roy Scheider, isn’t quite as sure as Quint. He has never faced a situation like this before in his career as an officer, where he could combat his foe head on. Here, Brody is instead forced to trust a somewhat crazed sea captain and a wise cracking scientist in Richard Dreyfuss’s Hooper.

Given this less than optimal pairing of men, it doesn’t take long for the shark’s prowling of the waters to get to them. Eventually, the shark embraces that it is being chased. Seeming to lust at the opportunity to hunt in the waters surround the boat of men hunting it, turning the tables and making the hunters into the hunted. This is an apex predator at work.

This is a movie where the conditions change from modern city scape to the rough outskirts of the ocean and the kill or be killed mentality of animals in the wild. The three men on the Orca are reduced to a baser level as they see their vessel broken down by the shark’s otherworldly strength and cunning. There is no certain winning formula for stopping this shark; only time will tell who lives and who dies.

This is where it all started for Steven Spielberg, big budget movie franchises inspired by superior first installments and a revisiting of Hitchcockian style in film. This is “Jaws.”

Grant Mitchell is a junior majoring in public relations. He can be reached at gmitch16@vols.utk.edu.

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