Though most recognize Jaws as a terrifying film made by the exceptional Steven Spielberg in 1975, it was first a novel written by Peter Benchley. This man could write! He pinpointed a story that hadn’t been utilized by anyone else at the time, recognized the terror imminent in it, and wrote it wonderfully. The premise: what happens when a shark comes to the town/city you call home and doesn’t go away?
When the book was turned into a motion picture, one of the greatest successes was John Williams score for the film. Out of it, he created one of the most signature pieces of horror music ever using just two notes. The theme from this movie is something that still induces heart-pounding fear, even to those who haven’t seen the film! Along with the shark’s theme, there are several other haunting tracks and adventurous themes reminiscent of old pirate movies (which is where Williams drew his inspiration from.)
I have a strange fascination with sharks. I’ve always been interested in them ever since I was introduced to the world of Jaws. While the movie scared me (and always does every time I watch it), I was enraptured by the idea that these beasts of the sea roam the ocean by the tens of thousands. I was that strange kid in my class in 3rd grade who read the books about sharks and crocodiles and their behavior as natural predators. It all interests me! Today, I’d like to share 9 tracks from the Anniversary Collectors Edition Soundtrack released in 2000.
Main Title and First Victim: This is truly one of the most terrifying tracks on the album. We are introduced to the killer instinct of the shark, a creature which has survived thousands of years cruising the ocean. The tension and danger builds as the theme picks up speed during the first 30 seconds of the song. The shark closes in on its first victim. Then the music becomes frenzied. Imagine yourself being pulled through the water by something below you that you can’t see. The bits of xylophone that pop up add to the initial panic and confusion.
The Indianapolis Story: Every time I’ve watched the movie, I’ve been so enthralled with Quint’s tale about the Indianapolis, that I didn’t notice the music in the background. This piece is a perfect compliment to the gruesome story of the ship sinking and the survivors slowly being picked off by sharks. You are immediately captured inside of it and fearing for the poor men’s survival, you hang on every word, wondering how many will survive. This is a chilling piece of music that works well if you are writing a scene where the character is alone and frightened. If you want to get a chill while writing, give this track a listen.
Ben Gardner’s Boat: This is my favorite track from the film. There is beauty and mystery in this music that compels a characters curiosity. It makes you wonder, makes you want to investigate. In spite of the level of danger inherent, the character plunges into the darkness and searches, trying to find some sort of clue that can lead them to proof of what they need. They find this proof… and they find more than what they’ve bargained for.
Montage: Let’s take the scary music from Jaws and totally turn it on its head! The ‘montage’ scene in the movie is compiled with scenes of tourists coming to the island for the 4th of July and Sheriff Brody and Matt Hooper making frantic phone calls trying to get extra help in securing the beaches for the event. The music is very upper class sounding and immediately invokes images of large estates, lush gardens, and antique cars. I can see this being the theme of a very wealthy character just being introduced to the audience. It’s a short piece from the film but I enjoy it none the less.
Father and Son: Another often ignored piece from the soundtrack. This scene is one of the only heart-warming ones in the film where Chief Brody and his son, Sean, bond while sitting at their kitchen table. It’s a song that acts as a reminder that in spite of all of the craziness happening and the ignorance from others, there is still a child who appreciates all that you do for him and loves you unconditionally. The innocence in this theme is perfect for the love between a parent and child.
Man Against Beast: The first scene in the film where we, as the audience, see the shark. This track acts as a revelation to the main characters that they are going up against something that they didn’t expect. It’s something that’s more powerful than they’d imagined and it unnerves them. However, they are resolved to set things right and willingly engage in a fight against it. There’s a heroism and adventurousness in this track that makes it unique from the others. It’s one of my go-to pieces when I’ve set my characters out to embark on their journey.
The Great Shark Chase: I see this song as being a continuance from “Man Against Beast”. It’s the moment where the characters make their first move against the foe and feel triumphant in doing so. This is a much upper beat track than the previous but that low cello in the background hints at the possibility that they are only sinking themselves further into trouble by doing what they’re doing. And when the track fades out, the fate of the beast is unknown which fills the heroes with dread.
The Shark Approaches: Another terrifying track from the movie. This is the scene where Hooper is in the shark cage underwater and about to encounter the shark on a new and horrifying level. Again there is a discordant panic in this track and a helplessness as well. This is more psychologically frightening than the first track and comes to a climax at the strumming of a harp which does a better job of illustrating this ocean scene than the xylophone did in “Main Title/First Victim.”
End Titles: John Williams proved that at the end of a good horror story, people like to be reassured by peaceful music that signals that the danger is over. He used the same method in Jurassic Park’s score after the characters have boarded the helicopter for safety. If you’re creating a stand alone horror novel, keep this tip in mind. You want to give your readers a good ride and then reassure them in the end that everything is alright. This piece included a part of the Jaws theme in it, though definitely not as menacing as was earlier implied in the film.
Next week on Inspiration Through Music, I’ll be choosing some songs from one of my favorite musicians, Nina Simone. I was introduced to her by the 1999 adaption of The Thomas Crown Affair with her song “Sinnerman” and have become a devoted fan in the time since!
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