Steven Spielberg’s Birthday: How He Designed a Formidable Predator in ‘Jaws’

Steven Spielberg used a wooden mechanical shark, named 'Bruce' in 'Jaws', to induce terror in several generations.

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Steven Spielberg’s Birthday: How He Designed a Formidable Predator in ‘Jaws’
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Sharks can be terrifying. But, the Florida Museum of Natural History estimates the probability of being killed by a shark attack to be 1 in 3,748,067. To put that further into perspective, the probability of a deadly lightning strike is 1 in 161,856, which itself is an extremely rare occurrence.

Yet, with Jaws which hit theatres in 1975, filmmaker Steven Spielberg instilled a sense of dread at not just a mention of a Great White (or all sharks) but also from just two notes- the famous 'du-dum du-dum' theme.


Steven Spielberg is so skilled at his craft that he created one of the highest-grossing films in history and also created a vengeful predator that arguably shaped how humans viewed sharks for decades to come.

Not to say that sharks aren’t dangerous. In fact, the shark that Jaws features- the Great White- is an apex predator (it has no natural predators) but even author Peter Benchley expressed regret at writing the novel ‘Jaws’.

How Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ Created a Predator

Steven Spielberg knows how to capture an audience and it is evident in his 1975 release. What solidifies fear in an audience is a victim they can sympathise or empathise with; granted, it could also result in a degree of anger.

The shark attacks in themselves last for a mere minute on screen but it’s what happens outside the attack that leaves a lasting impact- grieving mothers, a crying child, and a righteous police officer face the brunt of the attack and the characters’ helplessness is subconsciously transferred to the audience.

The second, and arguably pertinent, aspect of the film is its music, courtesy of John Williams, and its ingenious use. One comparison would be that they used identical somber tones in the scenes where Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) finds Ben Gardner’s boat and when a person is frantically swimming away from the approaching shark.

The scene with Hooper has a more familiar jump scare an audience would identify with horror. When the same mood is created in the scene with the shark, the end result is clear- fear.

In contrast, the music for those on board the Orca [shark hunter Quint’s (Robert Shaw) boat] is similar to a sea shanty and creates the perfect contrast to the music that welcomes the Great White.

The hunting boat 'Orca' in the movie Jaws.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Roy Scheider in his final face-off with the shark in Jaws.

(Photo Courtesy: IMDb)


Did ‘Jaws’ Have Real-Life Consequences?

Many believe so, while it is difficult to prove it beyond reason. The Great White was already a formidable creature, especially for those frequenting open seas, but many argue that films like Jaws made sharks an easy target painting the animals as vengeful manhunters. Arguably, Jaws couldn’t and didn’t create a fear of sharks all by itself- people didn’t view sharks as safe before the film was released.

In the first Jaws film, the shark has 5 confirmed kills. The International Shark Attack File found that an average of 4.3 people died because of a shark from 2001 to 2010, nine years. While on average, four people are killed by sharks annually, humans kill 100 million sharks in that time.

Steven Spielberg with Jaws actors Roy Scheider and Robert Shaw.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

The director of the Florida Program for Shark Research in Gainesville, George Burgess, had told BBC, "Thousands of fishers set out to catch trophy sharks after seeing Jaws…. You didn't have to have a fancy boat or gear - an average Joe could catch big fish, and there was no remorse since there was this mindset that they were man-killers."

Interestingly, many believe that sharks are likely to attack (rarely kill) humans because they mistake them for seals, especially if the human is thrashing around. This is a detail that even Jaws mentions multiple times. There are also those that believe that a shark is smart enough to separate seals from humans and instead attack to protect their territory.

On the plus side, Jaws created a morbid fascination with sharks. As multiple chatrooms and countless conspiracy theories would reveal, humans have a tendency to develop a fascination towards the macabre, especially in villains and monsters.

But this interest in sharks also perhaps translated to people being able to advocate for sharks better- for their safety and conservation.

With the rising trend of shark killings, Peter Benchley had said, “Knowing what I know now, I could never write that book today. Sharks don't target human beings, and they certainly don't hold grudges."

He also worked as an advocate for marine conservation but didn’t believe he was solely responsible for painting the shark as a dangerous animal.

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Topics:  Steven Spielberg   Jaws 

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