A Wizard of Oz Leitmotif in Steven Spielberg's films
Alex’s mother appears in the midst of the harbor’s competitive chaos. Everybody in town is debarking. They hope to win a fabulous bounty for catching the man-eating monster. Mrs. Kintner is dressed all in black. Like the Wicked Witch of West, she cleaves through the center of crowd. You recall how the Munchkins hailed Dorothy in raucous celebration until the witch sucked their joy away? The bereaved mother has the same effect here. With vitriolic demeanor, she confronts Martin in an angry threatening speech, beating him down as the witch did Dorothy.
There are several clinking, tinkling interludes in this movie that warn you the shark is coming, like the WOO signal that let you know Glinda was on her way. Unlike the soundtrack music that tricks you sometimes…this prescient clinking is never wrong. The buoy rings as the girl goes for her dip, a warning the shark is going to get her. Before Alex and Tippett get chomped listen to the background music for orchestral chimes. Those two won’t escape. There are no chimes in the famous roast beef scene because the fisherman escapes, but you will hear them at the pond when the helpful man falls out of his boat and becomes shark bait. Listen for a flat drumming knell when Hooper dives around Ben Gardner’s disabled boat before he finds the gory corpse. Even when Orca’s crew is chasing and being chased, despite music implying danger, suspenseful clicking of fishing pole, beeping of monitor, you only hear the chimes to verify doom. No chimes when shark initially toys with broken boat but when the crew tie on three barrels, Jaws gets mad. He goes after them and then the chimes sound. Someone is going to pay. When he eats Hooper’s cage the chimes are silent; Hooper will survive. When the ship is sinking and the bell tolls, Quint will soon be a dead man. The bell rings again right before Martin shoots the gas canister that blows the shark to smithereens at which point you will hear a profusion of happy chimes while pieces sink! See Always, A.I., E. T.,The Color Purple, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Super 8, Twister, Twilight Zone, Joe vs. the Volcano, Poltergeist.
I have seen this film dozens of times, two or three at the movie theater when it first came out. It is one of a handful that never fails to suck me in as I try to click by. I thought I had noticed everything WOO until recently I became aware of Steven’s heavy use of the red and yellow color scheme: Amity’s billboard, beach decor, costumes the extras are wearing, Ben Gardner’s boat scene, the man’s red and yellow dinghy on the pond, Alex’s yellow raft covered in blood, yellow barrels, red lifejackets, the Orca herself. And here’s an interesting detail: the Orca’s paint job changes frequently. Watch how she starts out with yellow letters on a red transom. Then she goes to an all red stern with black hull…perhaps as a better backdrop for yellow barrels? At one point before the boat burns, the stern even seems to turn yellow! WOO, one of the first color films ever made employed its eye-popping hues to best advantage, most notably ruby slippers against the yellow brick road. See A.I., E. T.,The Color Purple, Always, Close Encounters, Empire of the Sun, Super 8, Twister, Twilight Zone, Joe vs. the Volcano, Poltergeist.
On the 4th of July an army of bicyclists debark from the ferry. See E.T., Munich, Adventures of Tintin, Amistad, 1941, Always, Super 8, War of the Worlds, Empire of the Sun,The Goonies, Sugarland Express, Inner Space, Used Cars. If there’s a way to squeeze a bike in, Steven will find it… even in a film that is set primarily on water!
Quint, of course, is the lovable trickster. His methods are questionable, especially when he destroys the radio that might have saved them all. But Martin’s quest to kill the monster would not have been fulfilled without Quint’s maniacal manipulation. SeeEmpire of the Sun, The Color Purple, Lincoln, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, A.I., Always, Goonies, Jaws, Catch Me if You Can.
The happy ending shows our survivors coming in sight of home as they swim. See references to safety of home, Empire of the Sun, Close Encounters, Catch Me if You Can, Amistad, The Terminal, Munich, Saving Private Ryan, Poltergeist etc.