Speaking from personal experience, I’ve noticed older trailers tend to be rubbish. I’m talking from two, three or even four decades ago. Obviously there are still some exceptions — Kubrick’s chillingly simplistic trailer for The Shining, for example, is brilliant.
Nowadays it seems trailers are edited into fast paced, enthralling snippets that try to entice and generate excitement based on tension, action and drama, and rightly so, because the film industry is a multi billion business as it grows each year. I’ve noticed that older trailers, like ones from the 70s, are constructed differently. Firstly, there’s the voiceover that doesn’t come across as thriftily as today; secondly, the contents and editing is a lot more generous, as you will see.
Very simply — and if you haven’t seen the film before — it centres around the unwelcome addition of a giant, killer Great White Shark in the popular waters of Amity. When local authorities refuse to accept they have a problem, police chief Brody (Roy Scheider) teams up with rogue fisherman (Robert Shaw) and a marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) to take the man-eater down.
*If you’ve not seen the film then the analysis that follows contains spoilers*
What the trailer reveals
Noticeably it’s quite lengthy at almost three and a half minutes. It starts off promisingly enough as a teaser even with the overly descriptive voiceover. However, after that it merely becomes two and a half minutes of generously cut film footage extinguishing a lot of the mystery the film intends to evoke.
The premise is set up, but goes on a little too far into the story, as we see local authorities try to cover up reported shark attacks and we subsequently see Brody recruiting his shark hunting gang of Dreyfuss and Shaw.
We’re then repeatedly shown some of the significant moments of the film such as the initial shark attack and the evacuation of the waters, which spoil the element of surprise because, after all, Jaws is a thriller that relies on tension and build up to its set pieces to gauge a specific reaction.
More disappointingly, it reveals the now iconic parts such as Scheider’s ‘bigger boat’ line that’s now a classic quote, but more significantly it spends a lot of time showing clips from the film’s finale. Just why it decides to go through so many of these shots during that tense climax is anyone’s guess, but it unfortunately ruins intrigue as it reveals the methods in how they eventually try to stop the shark. This is, of course, the momentum of how the three men eventually antagonise, succumb and blow up the beast, and you can’t help but feel that all of those precursory moments were unnecessary inclusions.
Spielberg was insistent on the secrecy of the shark prior to the film’s release; so much so, it would be hidden away and concealed when it wasn’t in use on the set. Much to his dismay, someone managed to snap a shot of the mechanical monster (from the ‘wrong side’ that showed the wires and mechanics no less) as the images appeared in Time Magazine. This probably also took some of the anticipation out of the film because — speaking from experience — there’s nothing worse than seeing the alien or nasty from a film prior to seeing it.
The trailer, to its credit, also reverts from exposing the shark too much, leaving at least some things to the imagination. The mystery of what lies beneath the waters turned out to be the film’s biggest pull, and in this respect the trailer managed to capture that ethos at least, even if it does go into too much detail in other areas.
Spoiler rating: 6/10