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JAWS – John Williams


Original Review by Craig Lysy

As we today look back to 1975, we recognize that Jaws was a transformative film, which forever altered how the film industry would operate. Jaws inaugurated what has become known in the modern lexicon as, the Summer Blockbuster. After 1975 studio executives would thereafter conceive and fund big summer action and adventure films, which would take the public by storm, and fill studio coffers. The film was adapted from a Peter Benchley novel, which was originally conceived with the title “Leviathan Rising”, but later discarded for Jaws. It is as simple a tale as they come, man against the beast. We find the summer vacation community Amity Island plagued by a series of shark attacks, which threaten the island’s livelihood. Rogue seafarer Quint (Robert Shaw) is hired to hunt down and kill the beast with all dispatch. Accompanying him would be landlubber Police Captain Brody (Roy Scheider) and, oceanographer Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss). They wage war against this massive leviathan, which leads to Quint’s death, the loss of his boat, the Orca, and Hooper and Brody barely surviving. Well, the film was a massive commercial success, which spawned a franchise of sequels. It was also a critical success, earning four Academy Award nominations for Best Picture, Best Film Editing, Best Sound and Best Film Score, winning three; best Film Editing, Best Sound and Best Film Score.

Director Steven Spielberg had bonded with John Williams on their prior film, Sugarland Express, and so he was brought in for their second collaboration. Williams watched the final cut alone in the screening room and related that he was excited by the quality of the story. He resolved early to not focus on the horror, but rather the core story – a sea chase, which pits man against the beast. He also saw opportunity for humor and even swashbuckling moments. When he had his first meeting with Spielberg he played the two-note shark theme on piano (E-F, E-F). Spielberg laughed and said, “That’s funny John, really; but what did you really have in mind for the theme of Jaws?” It was only later when Williams played the theme with full strings that the genius of his conception was realized. The two notes embody in their simplicity the primal instinctual nature of the shark, its menace, lethality, and mystery. By altering its tempo Williams realized you could sow danger, but also ferocity and terror. Indeed the recurrent accelerando of the theme into a horrific string ostinato transformed its lurking menace into lethal kinetic ferocity. That something so simple in construct could offer a multiplicity of expressions is testimony to Williams’ genius. Williams also created a Horn Motif, which is used to support the sea chase; as such it often plays atop the raging shark ostinato, with whom it is intrinsically linked. There is the spritely Nautical Theme, a hornpipe (traditional sailor’s dance), which supports scenes of the Orca at sea. Quint is supported by the traditional British naval song, “Spanish Ladies”, whose lyrics he has adapted to Boston sensibilities. They are informative and, portentous;

“Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies, Farewell and adieu to you, ladies of Spain; For we have received orders for to sail to back to Boston, and soon never more shall we see you again.”

The Amity Theme is a bright, jubilant piece of Americana, which speaks of the Amity island life. Lastly we have the Orca Theme, a bold, bright major modal nautical sounding identity, which imparts a wonderful uplifting sense of adventure. Worth noting is that John Williams conducted the orchestra during the 1976 Academy Awards, so when he was announced as the winner for Best Score, he had to run up to the podium, accept his Oscar, and then run back to continue conducting the orchestra!.

“Jaws – Main Title” supports the roll of the opening credits and the transition to a verdant underwater seascape. Williams sows menace as he slowly introduces his Shark Theme, which builds from its core two-notes into a ferocious string ostinato. The Horn Motif joins in unholy communion, which serves to heighten our discomfort. What a perfect opening! “The First Victim” reveals two drunken teens flirting on the beach. The girl teases the guy away from the group for a nighttime swim, but he passes out on the sands, unable to join her. The moonlit waters sparkle, offering us an idyllic serenity. An ethereal harp is soon joined by the Shark Theme, which rises up from the darkened depths beneath her. As it grabs her Williams whips his orchestra into a swirling vortex of horror. The terror is palpable and we are shattered as she is pulled down, never to be seen again. In “Remains on the Beach”, Brody and his assistant discovered the girl’s mutilated corpse on the beach and are repulsed and horrified. Williams supports the scene non-thematically with dark and foreboding orchestral textures, which fill us with dread.

“The Empty Raft” reveal people at the beach with many in the water enjoying a swim. The camera focuses on a young boy atop a yellow raft. Slowly, from out of the depths the Shark Theme sounds and commences a horrific accelerando, which culminates with the boy crushed in its jaws. The people panic and a race to the shore as Williams supports with strident urgency. The scene ends eerily in a mysterioso diminuendo. “The Pier Incident” is a score highlight where Spielberg and Williams achieve a confluence of terror that is astounding! Two misguided men hook a roast, and chain it to a wooden pier. The Shark Theme sounds and we see the floating tire holding the bait moving outwards into the bay, rapidly unraveling the chain. We bear witness to the power of the shark as it rips the pier from its mooring, dragging one of the men out into the bay. As he swims back to shore we see the floating pier deck turn, and being pulled to shore in hot pursuit. Williams offers a deafening Shark Theme ostinato sowing blind terror. The man barely manages to climb ashore as the deck crashed into the shore. The scene ends with a slowing Shark Theme, which dissipates into nothingness.

“Father and Son” reveals Brody having dinner with his son. It is a tender moment and Williams supports the intimacy with an ambient milieu of soft horns and woodwinds. In “The Alimentary Canal” Brody and Hooper, who are drunk go to the warehouse to cut open the captured shark carcass so as to determine if it was indeed the one, which killed the Kitchener boy. A dark formless piano line adorned with eerie strings and discordant woodwinds supports the gruesome autopsy, which reveals that this is indeed the wrong shark. As Hooper relates that they still have a shark problem, the Shark Theme sounds darkly. “Ben Gardner’s Boat” is a classic tension cue. Hooper and Brody out that night on the Hooper’s boat and they come upon Ben Gardner’s half sunken boat. Williams sows unease with a dark mysterioso of as Hooper scuba dives to inspect the wreck. The Shark Theme sounds slowly with menace in the distance as a stinger shatters us with the discovery of Ben’s corpse. Cacophony supports Hooper’s panic and flight to the surface

“Montage” is a delightful piece where Williams once again employs classic musical forms, in this case a delightful promenade, a playful melodic line alight with happiness and trumpeting joy, reflecting people here for holiday fun. The music supports the Fourth of July crowds at the Amity beach, and plays as we see the multiple scenes filled with tourists who are arriving on the island in droves. The Mayor refuses to closes the beaches and Brody struggles to organize resources to protect swimmers. In “Into the Estuary” Brody and his wife discover to their horror that the shark has entered the estuary where their son and friends were boating. Williams sows fear, which escalates into terror atop the Shark Theme. It sounds darkly, ominously in the distance and slowly builds in strength, swelling into the driving ostinato with the Horn Motif adding to its menace. A man in a boat is capsized and devoured, while Brody and his friends are thrown into the water, but escape unharmed. We conclude on a camera pan out to sea and a beckoning mysterioso.

“Out to Sea” reveals Quinn, Hooper and Brody sailing out of the harbor to hunt the great white shark. Williams carries their progress with the hornpipe Nautical Theme. In “Tug On the Line” Quint notices a few tugs on the line and straps himself in to his seat. Williams builds tension with slow repeating dark phrasing. At 1:02 the Orca and Shark Theme join in a tête-à-tête, which ends in a diminuendo without resolution as the lines snaps. “Man Against Beast” is a dramatic s core highlight and tour de force, which features the first battle with the shark. The Shark Theme ostinato propels its menace and is buttressed with the Horn Motif and countered by the Orca Theme. A counter ostinato builds tension as Quint prepares to harpoon the shark. When he does the full energy of the Orca Theme sounds in all its nautical glory. Williams is clearly channeling the swashbuckling Korngold spirit of old as our heroes pursue the hunt. The music is exhilarating and we have a perfect marriage of film and music! “Quint’s Tale” reveals Quint sharing the story of the Indianapolis, which sank after being torpedoed by a Japanese sub. He relates the horror of the surviving men being devoured slowly, one by one by circling sharks. Williams captures the horror of his memories with a dark, eerie and formless dissonance.

In “Brody Panics” a barrel surfaces and the crew seeks to hook the line and pull it in. Yet it is for naught as the shark launches to the surface in defiance. Brody panics and tries to radio for help, only to be stopped as Quint destroys the radio with a baseball bat. Williams supports his terror with the primal power of the Shark Ostinato. “Barrel Off Starboard” reveals the shark returning upon his theme. We sense defiance as he passes starboard. As he passes and disappears Williams again sows disquiet with formless high strings, harp and dark bass. In “Great Chase” we initiate the second battle where Quint harpoons the beast with a second barrel. We bear witness to fine interplay of the Orca Theme now offered in al its resplendent glory. We feel that we are part of an exhilarating adventure as the Orca pursues its advantage by harpooning the shark with a third barrel. We dissipate into an eerie dissonance as the shark accepts yet another mortal blow and disappears into the watery depths.

In “Three Barrels Under” the Shark Ostinato alight with harp glissandi propels the shark, which seems unstoppable as it disappears once more into the depths. Yet it soon resurfaces defiant. Quint propels the Orca full throttle to lure the shark into the shallows. “From Bad To Worse” reveals Quint over stressing and blowing the Orca’s engines so that they lay helpless in the water. A dire Horn Motif sounds as fleeting quotes of the Orca Theme struggles to assert themselves. In “Quint Thinks It Over” we see he is reconciled to his fate as he offers Brody and Hooper life preservers. His theme, the mariner song Farewell and Adieu portends his doom. The cue ends upon a dark diminuendo. In “The Shark Cage Fugue” we have another magnificent score highlight! The Orca’s engine is blown and she is listing. Hooper proposes to go down in the shark cage and spear the shark with poison. Williams supports the cages assembly and their preparations with a delightful fugue. This is a master stroke as the fugue lends itself well to supporting the complexity of the job and the urgency of the moment.

“The Shark Approaches” is propelled by the Shark Ostinato, which swells with dark purpose and primal power. As the beast passes by Hooper and disappears into darkness, so too does its theme dissipate into nothingness. In “The Shark Hits The Cage”, the shark strikes the cage suddenly and knocks the spear from Hooper’s hand. He is now at the shark’s mercy. The shark pummels the cage, rips it open but becomes entangled allowing Hooper to flee to the sea bot tom. Williams supports the predatory violence and terror with a modernist onslaught of rumbling bass, fierce shrieking dissonance and furious harp glissandi. Wow. In “Quint Meets His End” the shark launches itself upwards and crashes down upon the transom, shattering it. Quint desperately struggles to stay away but slides into the beast’s mouth. His machete is no match for the sharks crushing bite. Dark bassoons portend the strike and the Shark Ostinato pounds us with primal fury, opposed by a counter ostinato as Quint slides to his doom. This cue is outstanding, and it is Williams’ music, which brings out the terror of this scene.

“Blown To Bits” reveals Brody trapped in the cabin as the shark burst through the windows. He fights it off with an air cylinder, which he jams in it mouth. The ship is sinking and Brody is desperate. The shark turns in the distance and moves in to attack. It’s theme and the Horn Motif sow terror. As he climbs the mast the Nautical Theme sounds supporting his efforts. The shark erupts from the water and harsh dissonance and sharp orchestral strikes support Brody’s defense as fights off the beast with a spear, which he ends up losing. The shark circles, and begins a final attack run at Brody who is now vulnerable just above the water. The Shark and Orca Themes wage war, escalating the drama. With his rifle he repeatedly shoots, and after several misses manages to strike the air cylinder whose explosion kills the beast. Williams provides a twinkling ethereal soundscape to support the carcass’s descent to the sea depths. What an amazing cue with just perfect film and music synergy! In “Jaws – End Title” a relieved Brody is thankful when Hooper rejoins him on the surface. A gentle line of swaying strings and woodwinds support their paddling to shore. A view of the beach initiates the End Credits roll, which is supported by a solo piccolo emoting a reserved and extended rendering of the Nautical Theme, a heartfelt way to end our adventure.

Please allow me the pleasure of thanking Douglass Fake, Roger Feigelson and Intrada for this magnificent album, which includes the complete score, original soundtrack release and extras, all offered with pristine sound quality. This was a transformative score and the first Oscar win for the Maestro. His conception of the two-note Shark Theme, which evolved into a horrific string ostinato was a master stroke, which perfectly captured its primal nature, its menace and lethality. But he also realized that great scores require juxtaposition – there must be light to counter the darkness, courage to counter terror, and hope to counter fear. He succeeds on all counts, embellishing his score with fine themes and classical forms such as the Fugue and Promenade. Spielberg’s film was excellent, but it was Williams’ score, which elevated it to a masterpiece. The confluence and synergy of film narrative and imagery with music was perfect, testimony to Williams’s genius. I believe this score to be essential to collectors, and highly recommend this Intrada version.

I have embedded a YouTube link for those of you unfamiliar of Williams conducting his “Main Theme” with all its primal terror: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-sX2Y0W8l0

Buy the Jaws soundtrack from the Movie Music UK Store

Track Listing:

  • Jaws – Main Title (0:59)
  • The First Victim (1:45)
  • Remains on the Beach (0:59)
  • The Empty Raft (1:45)
  • The Pier Incident (2:30)
  • Father and Son (1:59)
  • The Alimentary Canal (1:58)
  • Ben Gardner’s Boat (3:33)
  • Montage (1:35)
  • Into the Estuary (2:53)
  • Out to Sea (1:01)
  • Tug on the Line (2:39)
  • Man Against Beast (5:34)
  • Quint’s Tale (2:48)
  • Brody Panics (1:16)
  • Barrel Off Starboard (1:41)
  • Great Chase (3:02)
  • Shark Tows Orca (0:41)
  • Three Barrels Under (2:17)
  • From Bad To Worse (1:07)
  • Quint Thinks It Over (1:14)
  • The Shark Cage Fugue (2:02)
  • The Shark Approaches (0:53)
  • The Shark Hits The Cage (2:03)
  • Quint Meets His End (1:27)
  • Blown To Bits (3:17)
  • Jaws – End Title (1:57)
  • Jaws – Main Title (Alternate) (1:12) – BONUS
  • The Typewriter (0:21) – BONUS
  • Man Against Beast (Alternate) (5:38) – BONUS
  • Barrel Off Starboard (Alternate Segment) (0:54) – BONUS
  • Great Chase (Alternate) (3:03) – BONUS
  • Shark Tows Orca (Alternate) (0:42) – BONUS
  • The Shark Approaches (Alternate) (0:55) – BONUS
  • Quint Meets His End (Alternate) (1:32) – BONUS
  • Wild Shark Theme (1:10) – BONUS
  • Main Title – Theme from Jaws (2:24) – Original 1975 MCA Soundtrack Album
  • Chrissie’s Death (1:42) – Original 1975 MCA Soundtrack Album
  • Promenade (Tourists on the Menu) (2:48) – Original 1975 MCA Soundtrack Album
  • Out to Sea (2:30) – Original 1975 MCA Soundtrack Album
  • The Indianapolis Story (2:27) – Original 1975 MCA Soundtrack Album
  • Sea Attack Number One (5:25) – Original 1975 MCA Soundtrack Album
  • One Barrel Chase (3:10) – Original 1975 MCA Soundtrack Album
  • Preparing the Cage (3:26) – Original 1975 MCA Soundtrack Album
  • Night Search (3:34) – Original 1975 MCA Soundtrack Album
  • The Underwater Siege (2:34) – Original 1975 MCA Soundtrack Album
  • Hand to Hand Combat (2:34) – Original 1975 MCA Soundtrack Album
  • End Title – Theme from Jaws (2:21) – Original 1975 MCA Soundtrack Album
  • Joplin Rag (written by Scott Joplin) (2:07) – Amity Town Beach Source Music
  • Winter Stories Waltz (written by Alphons Czibulka) (1:46) – Amity Town Beach Source Music
  • In The Good Old Summertime (written by George Evans and Ren Shields) (1:29) – Amity Town Beach Source Music
  • Thousand and One Nights Waltz (written by Johann Strauss Jr.) (1:49) – Amity Town Beach Source Music
  • Marching Band No. 1 (1:09) – Amity Town Beach Source Music
  • Marching Band No. 2 (2:05) – Amity Town Beach Source Music

Running Time: 115 minutes 49 seconds

Intrada Records 7145 (1975/2015)

Music composed and conducted by John Williams. Orchestrations by Alexander Courage. Recorded and mixed by Eric Tomlinson. Edited by Joseph Glassman. Score produced by John Williams. Album produced by Douglass Fake and Roger Feigelson

  1. May 11, 2016 at 4:17 am

    Great soundtrack, John Williams’s 2nd academy award out of 5 he has received.
    Highly recommended.

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