Films have formulas and rules, but how well do Disaster films follow those formulas?
Jaws (1975) is, as if I have to tell you, a film about a shark attacking people. I did it as a Slasher Film to see how well an animal attack film fit those rules. Now I'm doing it as a Disaster Film to see how well it fits these rules.
The following will include spoilers for
RULE #1 - Characters
"I can do anything, I'm the chief of police." ~ Brody.
- Male lead - Martin Brody, Chief of Police. His relationship is fine. He's a bit of a drinker, fears the water and is new to the island. He believes immediately that there's a shark attack.
- An important person - Larry Vaughn, Mayor. Refuses to let Brody close the beach 3 times to protect Amity Island's tourist industry.
- Female lead - Ellen Brody. A pretty minor character. Relationship with Martin is good.
- The usurped official - Chief Brody, Chief of Police. As chief of police Brody tries to close the beach before the second death and then again before the third.
- A nerdy/geeky expert - Matt Hooper, shark expert. Not particularly geeky, but scholarly and from a rich family.
- The experienced tradesman - Quint, shark hunter. Tells Hooper he has city hands and yells at him a lot. Nicer to Brody. Also Ben Gardner who doesn't like the fishermen who go out to hunt the shark with him.
- The wash-out - Quint, shark hunter. Heavy drinker, slightly crazy.
- The joker - Charlie & Denherder. A pair who try to catch the shark, played for laughs.
- Relatives of the important guy - Vaughn mentions his family was on the beach, too, during the third attack. It is the Brody boys who actually appear onscreen as endangered family members of a major character.
- A typical family - Martin Brody, his wife Ellen and their two boys.
- The loving couple - Martin & Ellen possibly, but they aren't endangered (well, Martin is.)
- The child - Alex M Kintner and the Brody boys.
- The older woman - The Secretary, possibly. Maybe Alex's mother.
- Animals - Pippet the Dog.
- Not appearing in this film - The new man (Ellen & Martin are happy); The criminal; Someone religious; Minor celebrity; The officious but incompetent person; The bickering couple; The tired couple.
"Wanna get drunk and fool around?" ~ Ellen Brody.
- Nudity - Chrissie Watkins, the first victim was famously a heavily silhouetted skinny dipper. You may be able to see boob as she's thrashing around in the water getting eating by a shark, but it is brief and hardly an erotic moment. This is still more than most disaster films. It is however fairly coy. Then again the film got a PG even with the blood and gore, I guess nudity would have caused it problems. However, she does appear on the poster, so go figure.
- Sex - Despite Ellen's suggestion it doesn't actually happen.
RULE #3 - The Disaster
"Well, this is not a boat accident! And it wasn't any propeller; and it wasn't any coral reef; and it wasn't Jack the Ripper! It was a shark." ~ Hooper.
- Manmade Disaster - The shark is natural, the refusal to close the beaches makes it worse.
- Size - Hooper notes that the shark is bigger than those natural to these waters.
- Unreal - Peter Benchley, who wrote the novel, says he would not have written the book if he knew the real behaviour of sharks.
- True story - The real life Jersey Shore shark attacks are referenced by Brody and Hooper while trying to convince Vaughn that the threat is real.
- The moment - There's no real "moment". The death of Alex at a crowded beach, or the shark attack of the Fourth of July weekend come close.
- Ongoing - The shark continues to attack swimmers, Hooper .
- Sudden end - When the shark is killed, naturally.
RULE #4 - Endangered
"Ha, ha - they're all gonna die." ~ Hooper.
- Warnings - No warnings are missed, but the mayor stops them being spread.
- Warning issued too late - Literally true for Alex.
- An Event - Vaughn is concerned about Amity Island's big weekend - the Fourth of July - being ruined if they close the beach and tell people a shark is (still) out there
- Sneaking out - Chrissie and the guy she's subduing basically do this, leading to her death.
- Rescuers - Hunters put their lives in danger a number of times trying to capture the shark, leading to the death of at least two of them.
- The stubborn - Quint, is stubborn. He destroys the communication equipment to stop a call for help, refuses to go back and blows the engine because he can.
- Unheard warnings - True of the third attack in "the pond."
- Meetings - There is a town hall meeting. Brody wants to close the beach, Quint wants money to kill the shark.
- Did not happen - Criminal activity; Arguments; Fear.
"Martin, it's all psychological. You yell barracuda, everybody says, 'Huh? What?' You yell shark, we've got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July." ~ Mayor Vaughn..
- Panoramic opening - Not panoramic, but the shot of the ocean floor from the shark's POV. It does then pan across a group of party goers
- Warning bouts of destruction - No real destruction except a dock, Gardner's boat and the Orca (Quint's boat)
- Landmarks - No landmarks.
- The tipping point - The tipping point for deaths, rather than destruction, is either Alex's or later the unnamed male victim.
- Ongoing destruction - The destruction of the Orca is occurs over a long period during the last third or so of the film. It could be considered, at that stage, ongoing.
- The final event - The final event is when the shark starts to rip the Orca apart, killing Quint and causing the boat to sink.
RULE #6 - Death
"I just found out, that a girl got killed here last week, and you knew it! You knew there was a shark out there! You knew it was dangerous! But you let people go swimming anyway? You knew all those things! But still my boy is dead now. And there's nothing you can do about it. My boy is dead. I wanted you to know that." ~ Mrs. Kintner.
- Prelude deaths - Chrissie Watkins, skinny-dipper. This death happens immediately, but isn't discovered until the next day. It is quickly discounted by authorities.
- Panic - Some injuries but probably no deaths occurred when some boys pretended to be a shark and caused panic on the beach.
- The expert tradesman - Quint dies after blowing the engine on his boat. Gardner dies, but the reason isn't clear.
- Reminders of danger - Alex and the unnamed man count.
- One half of a couple - Chrissie seemed to be about to become half a couple (however briefly) but then she because half a Chrissie instead.
- Children - Alex M Kintner is the second death (third if you count the dog.) An actual child death!
- Pets - Pippet the Dog, dies just before Alex. An actual pet death!
RULE #7 - Last Ditch Group
"We're going to need a bigger boat," ~ Brody.
- Heroes - The second half of the film is based around three characters (Brody, Hooper and Quint) out at sea hunting the shark.
- Survivors - There's no clear group of survivors.
RULE #8 - Ridiculous Solutions
"Smile you son of a BITCH." ~ Brody.
- Outrun - Brody is climbing a mask on a sinking ship to keep out of the water and away from the shark.
- A plan - Not so much a plan as seeing the tank stuck in his mouth and hoping to shoot it.
- Big & simple - An exploding gas tank, is biggish and outrageously simple.
- Critical fail - Quint and Hooper's plans fail, Brody's stabbing the shark and first couple of shots fail.
- Time - The ship is sinking, once it's in the water if the shark's still alive Brody is food. Hooper probably has limited air, but we've stopped caring about him.
- Instant - The shark explodes. That's instant.
- Dangerous - Brody doesn't seem to get close enough for the explosion to be dangerous. He is on a sinking boat, so it isn't safe, though.
- Explosive - Exploding gas tank.
:What day is this?" ~ Brody.
"It's Wednesday... eh, it's Tuesday, I think" ~ Hooper.
"Think the tide's with us?" ~ Brody.
"Keep kicking." ~ Hooper.
"I used to hate the water..." ~ Brody.
"I can't imagine why." ~ Hooper.
- Reunited - Ellen and Martin Brody don't fall out of love to be reunited. She doesn't even appear at the end, though we presume they'll meet again (and sequels suggest so.)
- Together - See "reunited." Hooper and Brody are close, but it's not the same thing.
- Vindicated - The vindication of Brody and Hooper's claims were much earlier.
- Retribution - There is no hint that this is nature's retribution for anything. If there was it would be called Jaws: The Revenge and a very poor film indeed.
- Lesson - The lessons are probably earlier.
- Or not... - Not yet.
- Sunrise - It is daytime, but as they paddle back to shore, there is some confusion about the day of the week.
- Beautiful - Them kicking to shore on wreckage, followed by the vista of the beach they come ashore on counts as beautiful.
RULE #10 - Sequels
"He is not out on the water, he is in a boat! He's not going to go in the water! I don't think he'll ever go in again after what happened yesterday." ~ Ellen Brody.
- Sequels - This film has three sequels, with decreasing quality.
- Remakes - No remakes, many copycats.
The sequels remain, as yet, uncover. However, notes are made for future reference.
- More deaths - There are 5 deaths.
- More effects - Unbelievable shark, bloody water, some bodies and a sinking boat.
- Better effects - OK for the time.
- More Formulaic - This is a animal attack film, but like it did as a Slasher Film is shares some of the disaster film features and fits the formula fairly well.