We're Gonna Need A Wider Screen

Image for We're Gonna Need A Wider Screen

Spielberg shot his first five films in the 2:35: 1 anamorphic aspect ratio (he felt the smaller scale tale of E.T. deserved the more intimate 1:85:1. ratio). Revisiting Jaws confirms the director’s position as a master of the widescreen format, creating not only dynamic, artful compositions that exploit the ratio to the fullest but also using the full frame to convey key plot points and meanings. Keep 'em peeled for five of the best…

  1. While much of the terror about Chrissie’s attack comes from editing, Spielberg also uses composition to heighten the horror. Chrissie is violently tugged back and forth but because the camera stays static, making no attempt to pan with her, it is like she’s being battered against the edges of the frame. The stillness of the shot — the bouy is a constant non-moving landmark— compared to the tumult of the water and body movement compounds the ferocity no-end. Susan Backlinie’s Fay Wray-quality screaming also helps.

  1. Brody is nervous about the safety of the beach. As his attention is grabbed by a young girl who starts screaming as she is pulled under water, his view is blocked by an Amity town councilor who sits right in his line of vision and starts droning on about the transportation problems outside his house. Spielberg uses the whole width of the frame to dramatize the moment, He also employs a split diopter — a half convex piece of glass that is attached to the lens to change the focal length — to keep both the foreground (the dullard councillor) and the background (the swimming girl) in focus. Having the whole scene sharp really grounds the scene in Brody’s perspective, perfectly conveying his divided attentions.

  1. It’s a superb, quickly etched portrait of family life. Dad on the left of frame. Son on the right. Mum in the middle, quietly, proudly watching a private moment between the men of her house. It says tons about the relationships — Ellen watching Brody with his head in his hands but unable to do anything about it, Brody having a moment’s respite from thinking about the shark by toying with his son — without using a single line of dialogue. And when the scene does resort to words — “Give us a kiss?” “Why?” “Because I need it.” — it is magical.

  1. This is a throwaway cutaway that is given a little extra zing in 2:35: 1. If this were shot 1:85, we would see Brody’s and Hooper’s feet scurrying along the side of the Orca. But the widescreen framing clearly ramps up the excitement, clearly delineating the safety of the boat vs. the danger in the sea. And note that Brody slips (Hooper doesn’t), even in the tiniest moments Spielberg ramming home the fact that the chief of police is a landlubber.

  1. It’s a lovely shot this. The shark has just gone under with one barrel. Hooper is frustrated. Quint stands smugly on the pulpit of the Orca almost in silhouette at twilight, the railings spanning out to the edge of the frames. Critics have noted he looks like a Spider in a web. With Quint set back in the centre of frame, the railings almost feel like they are comin at ya. It’s 3D without the glasses or darkness.