Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Spielberg: 30 Years of Blockbusters part IV

Special effects play a large role in both War of the Worlds and Jaws. They reinforce the fear of the ‘other’ by revealing its physical characteristics in a spectacular fashion. In the case of War of the Worlds, these effects dominate the screen right from the beginning. From earth-shattering explosions to enormous alien ‘tripods’ to the Martians themselves, Worlds is an onslaught of big budget, state of the art wizardry. In fact, most of the excitement and thrills in War of the Worlds rely on the fantastic visuals. On the other hand, the special effects in Jaws appear sparingly, substituting shark POV shots for the actual beast. Part of this is due to budget restrictions (Jaws cost $10 mil., which even by today’s dollar would be significantly less than Worlds $132 mil.) and part to technical complications; according to Peter Biskind’s book Easy Riders, Raging Bulls mechanical malfunctions forced Spielberg to scale down some of the intense shark scenes he had originally planned (Biskind 265). Regardless, the use special effects mark a severe difference in rhythm between the two films. War of the Worlds moves at breakneck speed, hardly stopping the effects extravaganza, while Jaws is punctuated, building the image of the shark piece by piece until the beast is revealed in the climactic final act.

Ultimately, these posts might come off as a bit biased. They talk a lot about the ways in which Jaws succeeds as a film and War of the Worlds fails. It’s crucial to keep in mind that, in terms of Spielberg’s career, Jaws remains the template for many of his subsequent films. The structural similarities between Jaws and his other movies are certainly present and, after all, Jaws was a tremendous hit, so it would only make sense for Spielberg to retain its mold. Clearly, differences influenced by budget cost, social issues, source text, and technology have effected the ways in which Spielberg makes movies. His increased use of special effects also reflects the current movie market, in which audiences look for new thrills in the form of new technology. However, one element strings all of Spielberg’s works together: excitement.

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