Sunday, June 8, 2008

Ode to an Ad: "JAWS" Poster


If you were to look at this poster for too long, you might chuckle to yourself. It is slightly comical, in a way. Luckily, you won't have time to stare at it for very long because you'll be too busy changing your pants as a result of the sheer terror it evoked upon first glancing at it.

It's practically impossible to not think "DEAR GOD!!! LOOK OUT!!!" You know that woman is a goner, and there's nothing you can do about it.

What makes it so bad, worse than most images of a woman in peril, is that she has NO IDEA that she is about to be eaten alive. And that, essentially, is why JAWS is such a terrifying film: The unseen is exponentially more frightening than anything you can put on the screen.

This is why any good horror film (be it slasher, creature, or other) that involves someone/something killing people off knows that the most frightening moments in the movie are when the killer is NOT on-screen. When he/she/it appears, there might be some action in a chase scene or some gore that can disturb us, but it's nothing compared to the suspense of wondering when and, more importantly, WHERE, the killer will spring from.

JAWS has two advantages over most horror films, and both of these are incorporated into the poster. The first is that THIS COULD ACTUALLY HAPPEN. We all know there are sharks, and if one wanted to start attacking people, it easily could.

Were it some fictional creature on the poster, it would be pretty easy to not take it seriously. But seeing that shark makes you feel for that woman and wonder what you would do if you were in her place.

Which leads to the second, and more important, advantage. Location, location, location.

Lots of people watch a horror film and criticize the character's actions. It's just human nature. A lot of the time, it's done to alleviate fear. If you can find some lack of logic on the part of the characters, you can disassociate it from real life.

So when characters go into places they shouldn't or run down hallways instead of outside and away, their deaths are almost deserved (in a film sense, that is).

Not so with JAWS. All these people are doing is going swimming in the ocean. Literally millions of people do this year round.

And when they realize they are in danger...there's nowhere to go. You can only swim so fast.

I think this poster encapsulates all of that. The imminent victim is a woman minding her own business, just going for a swim. The attack is coming out of nowhere, so there's no way to prevent it. And even when she realizes something is wrong, there's no escape.

The poster promises that there will be moments in the movie where this happens, making us feel for the characters on screen. What it doesn't necessarily hint at, and what makes JAWS such a great film, is that it ultimately puts us in the place of these people, so that we live and die right along with them.


The style of the artwork and the leisurely feel of the poster (other than the giant shark, that is) is reminiscent of the types of advertisements used to attract people to beach communities in the 70's, such as the billboard for Amity Island featured in the film that is later defaced after the shark attacks.

Although your eye is immediately drawn to the giant shark, which forms an arrow pointing up to its victim, if you were able to address it from top to bottom, it has a calming feeling that is interrupted by the presence of the shark. That's what the film does. It takes a regular summer activity and ruins it with the appearance of a vicious beast.

Also, the people behind the movie and the poster obviously did their research on how great white sharks charge straight up to attack creatures on the surface:


There's a soft spot in my heart for Tremors. As far as ridiculous horror-comedies go, it might be my favorite. A lot of that has to do with Kevin Bacon's performance. I think the other part might be that it absolutely TERRIFIED me as a kid, and only when I checked it out during college did I realize how hilarious it is.

The films have the common theme of a creature attacking from below where you can't see it, so it was a great choice to recreate the JAWS poster out in the desert with the creature rushing up through the dirt.

But I think this poster more than proves my earlier point about how a non-existent creature would be hard to take seriously. Thankfully, Tremors only asks you to take it seriously to a very small extent.

It might be unfair to accuse a poster for a film's sequel of knocking off the original. After all, this could very well be done by the same artist.

While it's a great tag-line, this poster takes everything that was intensely unnerving about the original poster and makes it comical. Water skiing? Her being oblivious to the fact that an enormous shark has just surfaced behind her, likely creating a huge splash?

And think about this: The shark just MISSED her. He came up BEHIND HER her. It's not a dolphin. It can't scoot forward on its tail with its mouth gaping open in order to eat her. It has to land back in the water and then chase her.


If you're making a movie about sharks, it's a given that you're going to be compared to JAWS. So it's probably not a good idea to invite more comparisons by copying the poster.

But if you ARE going to knock-off the poster, AT LEAST knock off the far superior original and not the one for the sequel.

Also, there is NO FEASIBLE WAY that woman could get out of the depicted scenario alive. In the JAWS posters it doesn't matter because the women shown aren't even real characters. But this is the main character in Deep Blue Sea, and they just killed her in the poster.

Finally, take a look at that tag-line. "Bigger. Smarter. Faster. Meaner." As if I needed convincing that sharks were scary or something.

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