As summer rapidly approaches, so begins the onslaught of trailers and advertisements for this year’s Blockbuster films. These are the big budget, big action, and big on everything movies, which domestic ticket sales rival the gross national products of some developing countries.
It wasn’t until 1975 that the genre of the Blockbuster began, with an adaptation of Peter Benchley’s novel, “Jaws,” by a then little-known director of a few films, a couple television shows, and future billionaire.
I’m sure you’re all aware who I’m speaking of, the great Steven Spielberg.
I could run down the list of the great films he has made, but it would be like writing for the Department of Redundancy Department.
The early 1970s were a revolutionary time for film. Gone were the days of the studio system, in which the major motion picture studios owned everything from the sets, to the stars, to the movie screens. An anti-trust case in 1948 dismantled the method of production due to monopoly concerns. Back then, the producers reigned supreme.
The demise of the studio coupled with the rise of the study of film, going on at colleges like University of Southern California and Columbia University in New York, ushered in the era of the director. Spielberg, along with fellow colleagues Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas, were allowed to control much more of their creative processes than their predecessors.
So, after being over budget, fraught with production problems, and a studio threatening to shut him down, Spielberg released “Jaws” after an initial shooting schedule of 55 planned days that developed into 159 nightmares in a row.
Movies would never be the same, and to anyone who has seen “Jaws,” neither would be swimming in the ocean. The horrifying story of a shark that terrorized a small beach community captivated the nation. The $8 million production grossed $70 million upon initial release. Adjusted for inflation, the movie made a 1,300 percent profit.
The scariest part of the film is not just the giant great white shark but also the lack of physically seeing it until it was too late. Had the mechanical shark, nicknamed “Bruce” after Spielberg’s lawyer, actually worked, I wouldn’t be writing about it.
The mechanized Bruce rarely functioned, so Spielberg had no choice but to largely leave it out of the camera’s gaze. The problem developed into a cinematic effect that is unsettling to say the least. The victim never sees the shark until it’s too late.
Now, I will show how we can analyze films with the help of Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis.
Freud’s concept was that inside all of us, we have three mental states. The Id, the Ego, and the Super Ego. The Id represents our direct instinct. The Ego serves as a balanced, realistic mind. The Super Ego plays the part of our mind that is more thoughtful and cautionary. These three states are always in a struggle with each other.
So let’s take Brody (Roy Schneider), the reasonable police chief and main character. He’s the Ego, out to find the shark and get rid of it just to keep his town safe from danger. Then you’ve got Quint (Robert Shaw), the Id, and true instinctual hunter.
Having been to the edge of death before among great whites, he only wants to kill the shark to fulfill his primordial nature. Lastly, the Super Ego is represented by Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), a marine biologist who follows his logic to catch the shark, interested only because of scientific study.
The entire time the three men are chasing the shark they argue about the best way to catch it, therefore they are constantly in struggle. The only one who is actually killed during the hunt is Quint, because he let his instinct get in the way of rational thought. Brody and Hooper live to tell the tale because they don’t let their instinct take control until the last possible moment when they actually kill the shark.
Unfortunately for Freud, the past 50 years of psychoanalytic theory have all but disproved his theories, but it is still useful to help us to think about films in a new yet historic way.
Take any movie with three main characters and apply what I just described, and you’ve got yourself some new cocktail party knowledge.
Tune in next week to learn about the greatest movie ever made. I’ll make you wait until then to find out what it is.