How Are Tension. Suspense and Atmosphere Created in the Film Extracts from ‘Jaws’ and ‘Alien’
The first extract is ‘Jaws’. It was adapted from a novel by Peter Benchley; it was directed by Steven Spielberg and scored by John Williams. It was released in 1975. The second extract is ‘Alien’. The screen play for ‘Alien’ was written by Don O’Bannon; it was directed by Ridley Scott and scored by Jerry Goldsmith. It was released in 1979.
The genre of ‘Jaws’ is a thriller/horror movie where as ‘Alien’ is a sci-fi thriller/horror.
Both films have achieved classic status and have each given birth to sequels and imitations.
Film viewers are influenced by what they see on screen and how the information is presented to them. For example: the lighting in the shot, where the camera is positioned and how it is angled. Sound can either be diagetic or non-diagetic. Lighting is measured in a key from low-key lighting to high-key lighting.
The ‘Jaws’ extract is set in low key lighting as it is set in dusk, this causes tension because the viewer does not know what could be lurking in the dark. The ‘Alien’ extract is set in low-key lighting and sometimes very low-key lighting, because as Captain Dallas is moving through the air ducts there is often little light or no light at all apart from his flame, again this causes tension for the viewer and the protagonist because we do not know what is in the dark.
The ‘Jaws’ extract starts by two men rowing into scene and the camera is positioned behind a net giving the impression they are moving into a trap, therefore becoming the prey instead of the hunters, because they are trying to capture the shark to gain the reward. It then changes scene to Officer Brady flicking through a book about shark attack victims, showing some graphic images so the viewer will get an understanding of the injuries a shark can cause. It then cuts back to the two men, the shark takes there bait and pulls the jetty away because it is so strong and the two men fall into the water. One of the men manages to clamber back up, but the other is pulled out to sea and the shark then turns around to face the man. The man then starts swimming for his life back to shore, when he eventually gets back to the shore the jetty which was attached to the shark just floated past him on to the shore.
The ‘Alien’ extract starts with an orange flashing light and a klaxon sounding, immediately plunging into suspense because these things are normally associated with danger or warning so the viewer wonders what is happening. It then cuts to Ripley talking to Dallas who is in the air ducts trying to locate and kill the alien. Then it cuts back to Ripley and the rest of the crew and a voice is heard in the background getting scared and agitated when the alien is approaching, then the Alien attacks Dallas.
Camera angle and type of shot can influence people because different types can cause different feelings. Such as when a close up (CU) shows a scared face it can cause tension and suspense, because we can see they are scared but we cannot see why they are scared.
In the ‘Jaws’ extract we see close ups of the hook, and because it’s big we can imagine the size of the shark, and also the large joint of meat to try and catch it with.
In the ‘Alien’ extract there is a close-up on the tracking device causing tension, because as the alien approaches it bleeps faster signifying heartbeat of Dallas. There is also a shot when Dallas approaches the camera and eventually moving past it, maybe signifying that he is going too far. Also sound is important to create atmosphere. There is diagetic and non-diagetic. Diagetic sound from ‘Jaws’ is the sound of waves breaking, oars rowing in the water and the talking of the two men. The first to examples are calming so the viewer may relax there selves not expecting anything scary to happen. Non-diagetic sound is the music that is played when the shark appears to be swimming towards the man in the water. The diagetic sound in ‘Alien’ is the klaxon sounding and the tracking device. The non-diagetic sound is the music in the background that gets more dramatic as the alien approaches; it keeps getting more dramatic leading up to a climax, a climax where Dallas gets attacked.
Similarities between the two extracts are that the protagonists are both attempting to capture or kill a hostile creature; in ‘Jaws’ they are trying to kill the shark and in ‘Alien’ they are trying to kill the alien. They both use low-key lighting to create dramatic effects, in ‘Jaws’ it is set at dusk so it is dark and in ‘Alien’ Captain Dallas is in the air ducts which are very dark. They both use atmospheric music (non-diagetic) which enhances the tension, in ‘Jaws’ the music being played when the shark is approaching, and in ‘Alien’ the music that is in the background that gets increasingly dramatic as the alien approaches. There is frequent use of close-ups to intensify the drama and excitement.
The creatures are represented by symbolic devices to signal their presence without showing them, thus creating a tenser atmosphere because we do not know where the creatures are. In ‘Jaws’ the shark is represented by the tyre, the jetty that it rips apart, ripples in the water and the non-diagetic music. In ‘Alien’ the sticky green substance on the floor, the bleeping on the tracking device and the music are all devices used in the film extracts, and the use of anxious character dialogue to transmit fear and tension into the extract.
Differences in the extracts are that only one of the extracts allows the protagonist to survive, in ‘Jaws’ both protagonists get back to the shore and in ‘Alien’ we are left to presume Dallas has been killed. They are set in completely different settings with ‘Jaws’ being set in a modern context on the coastline and ‘Alien’ is set in the future inside a spaceship. The sharks superior strength is made explicit in ‘Jaws’; the alien remains a more enigmatic creature in ‘Alien’. Sharks exist so the viewer has a familiar frame of reference, where as aliens don’t exist in out ‘real’ world.
In my opinion I believe ‘Alien’ used the devices and techniques better because it caused more tension with a lot of the extract set in very low-key lighting and this lasts throughout the extract, whilst in ‘Jaws’ the only suspense is when the man is swimming for his life back to shore. Overall I preferred the ‘Alien’ extract.
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