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Sharks make a fantastic subject for film directors. With a psychological fear already deeply embedded within western culture, a man eating shark on the rampage is a truly terrifying narrative guaranteed to have audiences on the edge of their seat.
The famous iconography created by Steven Spielberg in the film Jaws, has greatly impacted generations. The mere hint of a shark fin gliding across the water instils chilling fear, helplessness and a sense of impending doom and of course we all ultimately end up singing the Jaws theme tune. Immediate connotations are made to the malicious beast with a ravenous and unstoppable appetite for human flesh. This characterisation of the White Shark remains in some circles to this day, and this film was released in 1975! And yet in reality the White Shark is listed as a globally Vulnerable species on the IUCN Red List. Spielberg clearly provides us with an excellent illustration of the power of the moving image.
It is however interesting to consider whether Jaws has had a completely negative impact on shark conservation; for although the film may have embedded a deeply rooted fear/hatred for sharks in some, it has inspired a deep admiration in others and pushed sharks into the limelight of the public eye.
As many famous artists have done throughout history, images can be used to reverse generally accepted views by turning them on their head. Inevitably this causes a viewer to challenge their current preconceptions and question the image. And what better image to challenge than the iconic Jaws poster? In 2005 the Shark Trust featured an image by Saatchi & Saatchi that powerfully contrasted the themes running through Jaws, by reversing the roles of man and shark. The image reconstructs the composition of the original poster but the shark takes the place of the vulnerable victim on the surface of the water while the predator is replaced by a human holding a spear head. This is an attention grabbing image that causes the viewer to question the relationship between man and shark.
Below is a list of shark films, most of which tend to demonise these vulnerable animals and use the somewhat oversaturated narrative laid down by the original Jaws. However there are two films that deviate from the usual horror associated with shark films; Rob Stewarts' controversial Sharkwater, which reverses the roles of shark and man in a factual depiction of man’s exploitation of sharks around the world and Disney’s Shark Tale, which features a vegetarian White Shark called Lenny!
By challenging misconceptions about sharks through the accessible media of film, the public have a readily available source that exposes the current bleak reality of all sharks. Films such as Sharkwater therefore provide the general public with the means to make their own informed decisions about this animal based on facts. It is encouraging to see the release of such films which could mark the beginning of an emerging shift in attitudes and offer hope for future shark populations.
➤ Jaws 2
➤ Jaws 3-D
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