Steven Spielberg's "Jaws," a film made in 1975, proved to be the first modern blockbuster. The movie carried suspense to a new level through sophisticated editing, musical scoring and camera technique. In collaboration with the director, cinematographer Bill Butler employed established cinematic techniques in fresh ways to provoke new levels of terror in moviegoers.
To film the lead-up to the shark attacks, the director of photography built a box that kept the camera at precisely the same level as the water. The technique allowed the viewer to see what was happening above the water as well as the approaching danger beneath.
Just one year before "Jaws" was made, "The Texas Chain Saw Massacre" used fast cutting to convey the horror of a murder in this film. By contrast, Steven Spielberg shot the opening attack sequence of "Jaws" using a static camera setup. Instead of camera movement or cutting between shots, the action moves in and out of the still frame with a disquieting effect.
Dolly In, Zoom Out
A dolly is a platform on which the camera is affixed during film production. When Police Chief Martin Brody (played by Roy Scheider) sees swimmers panicking in the water and fears a shark attack, the camera produces a disorienting effect using the rapid "dolly in, zoom out" technique. The operator moves the camera along a track towards the character while simultaneously zooming the camera lens backwards, creating a feeling of dizziness. This technique was first used by director Alfred Hitchcock to suggest the sensation of vertigo in the 1958 film of the same name.
Point of View
Some of the shark attack scenes employ point-of-view photography, where the audience effectively sees through the eyes of the shark. The forward movement of the camera suggests the movement of the shark through the ocean.
- "Horror Film Aesthetics: The Visual Language of Fear"; Thomas M. Sipos; 2010
- "Empire of Dreams: The Science Fiction and Fantasy Films of Steven Spielberg"; Andrew Gordon; 2008
- "Blockbuster: How Hollywood Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Summer"; Tom Shone; 2004
- "The Cinema of Steven Spielberg: Empire of Light"; Nigel Morris; 2007
- "Horror"; Brigid Cherry; 2009
Dave Koenig has written professionally since 2005. His writing interests include the arts, film, religion and language. Koenig holds a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical-theological studies from Manchester University and a Postgraduate Certificate of Education in religious studies from Lancaster University.