Updated: Nov 12, 2019
Nominee #4 - Jaws (1975)
The best way to understand the impact of this movie is that after people watched Jaws, the beaches emptied out! Now that is the power of great cinema!
Peter Benchley (screenplay), Carl Gottlieb (screenplay)
Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss
Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975) created the template for many cinematic techniques used since in thrillers. But most unforgettable amongst those was the riveting opening scene.
A young woman (Chrissie played by stuntwoman Susan Blacklinie) leaves a beachside party and her almost-drunk companion to take a dip in the sea.
He’s running behind her for a bit, toward the water, almost into the water. But for some reason changes his mind. She plunges headlong. She clearly loves the water and even does a rhythmic swimming manoeuvre with one leg sticking right out of the water ramrod straight ankle splayed out toes to the sky. There’s nothing and no one else there, except an anchored float meant to warn swimmers of an incoming tide or particularly rough water. But it’s bell sounds feebly because the waters are so, so calm, so inviting. She disappears far away from the camera then shoots up in front screaming to him ‘Come on in the water’. He’s still struggling on shore. Then the camera underwater shows her swimming at surface level.
That’s when the music starts – pointing to danger but not quite sure what that danger is. The camera moves up toward her. Then we see her from above the water. She’s plucked once then twice. But violently enough to startle her, her eyes like saucers from the fear of an unknown underwater force. She goes under, pops up and then is screaming her lungs out as she’s dragged this way and that as if by a giant underwater plier. He’s asleep now on the beach and he can’t hear her screams. She has a brief respite as she’s hurled onto the float – she clings fiercely on, catching her breath, spitting out water she’s swallowed. Then she’s dragged again, this time unhurriedly before being gently taken down. The water as calm as before, still inviting and the float bell feebler than before.
With new-age special effects still in infancy in the 1970s, Jaws relied more on how the images on screen made you feel – through editing, through the score and through sound. Small wonder that Jaws won Academy Awards for precisely those three – Best Film Editing, Best Original Score and Best Sound. You hardly see the shark until much later in the film. It didn’t matter.
And if you drowned out the noise from the waves splashing and the anchor bell, you’d realise it wasn’t a warm ‘Come on in, the water’s fine’, but a more ominous ‘Come on in....................but the water’s mine!’
Chrissie’s horrifying death made you recoil from the water through just that powerful opening scene. That unseen, invisible shark was saying something. And if you drowned out the noise from the waves splashing and the anchor bell, you’d realise it wasn’t a warm ‘Come on in, the water’s fine’, but a more ominous ‘Come on in....................but the water’s mine!’