JAWS vs. SHARK NIGHT: two kinds of shark movie posters

Since it's SHARK WEEK, I'll look at the two kinds of shark movie posters.

Let's compare a classic with a new one:

The gold-standard is the above artwork for the 1975 film JAWS. We all know this iconic image: Lady swims naked, blissfully unaware that she is about the be chomped by the giant shark.  

But in SHARK NIGHT's image, the woman realizes the life-and-death situation, her face expresses panic and terror as the leviathan lunges towards her.

So which works better for you?

The blissfully unaware victim OR fully-aware damsel in distress?

The JAWS poster reminds me of something from Hitchcock, there's a ticking time bomb underneath a table where two women are having tea -- they don't know it's there, but we do. It's suspenseful.

In Gary Larson's 10th anniversary exhibit The Pre-History of the Far Side he includes some early rough-sketches of his single-panel cartoons.  One of the comics features a lobster being held just above a pot of boiling water.  A group of chefs look on, as the cook throws a baseball towards the target.  It's just inches away from making contact and sinking the doomed lobster.

Larson scrapped this version, claiming that it took away the dramatic tension. So he drew it again, this time showing the cook holding the baseball, rather than throwing it. The same dread that's used in the comic is seen in some of these movie posters.  (Of course in both versions, the lobster is aware of it's unpleasant fate, but you get my point, right?)

Heather, aware and scared. So scared.
But the second approach (seen in SHARK NIGHT 3-D's poster) reminds me of something I'd read about THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT.  One journalist observed that the film had become a runaway success because rather than showing the witch or a monster or a murder -- the audience is watching someone who is afraid.  We're moved by seeing emotions run rampant. The up-close image of Heather freaking out is more powerful than the depection of a rubber severed head spewing fake blood.

My wife observes that in the JAWS-style image, we relate to the woman as prey -- because that could be any of us.  But in the SHARK NIGHT poster, the viewer is encouraged to identify with the predator; we feel the thrill of making the woman scream.

I kind of think it's the other way around -- if the character is oblivious to the peril, we DON'T relate to her.  (Isn't that why some people yell at the movie screen?)

What do YOU think?  Which approach do you prefer?

Before you answer, look at a few examples from the past few decades:  (note -- occasionally the shark is replaced with another sea creature.)

Chesty British Scientist is totally UNAWARE of that shark. 

This swimmer is very, very, VERY AWARE of the shark. 

80's lady on a raft is surprisingly UNAWARE.

She seems WELL-AWARE of the giant, killer octopus.

Italian wind-surfer has NO IDEA about the iceberg-like shark (or the lawsuit that will keep this movie from being seen in the U.S.) 

Bikini-clad babe KNOWS SOMETHING'S UP.

JAWS 2 water-skiier is UNAWARE of the toothy leviathan.

But the JAWS 2 scuba-diver is HIP TO SHARK DANGER.

This theatrical poster shows a CLUELESS swimmer.

But the PIRANHA VHS art features a swimmer who is FRIGHTFULLY AWARE of the fish.  

But does she know she's the same woman in this next poster?

Roger Corman got his money's worth out of this poster-model. 

For a self-conscious re-boot, she's SADLY UNAWARE.

Meanwhile, these guys are like "HOMINA, HOMINA, HOMINA!"

International DVD artwork shows an OBLIVIOUS blonde. 


In this TURKISH poster, the swimmer CAN'T HELP BUT NOTICE the shark (and the Oscar)

Spidey-sense DOES NOT WORK in the water. 


Is the shark aware that it's about to get skewered by Mrs. Brody? 

And does Lorraine Gary know that this will end her career?

In conclusion: Women on inflatable rafts are more likely to be unaware of the rapidly approaching death-chomp. 

*   *   * 

So.... which approach do you prefer?  

Leave your comments below. 

Related posts: 

Horror Movie Characters: A-Z

Happy Shark Week: shark artwork

DELETED SCENE from Kevin and Matt Geek Out About Sharks


Gisele Noel said...

Bottom line - as long as there's a hot chick involved, no one is paying attention to what expression is on her face.

But I do agree that it's easier to identify with a show of emotion than none at all - especially since the average person isn't likely to immediately identify with anyone appearing ignorant or stupid. I think the expressionless version is more likely to trigger protective feelings, which is probably better imagery for a political campaign than a thriller since the sick part of me wants to see what that shark will do next.

john mapes said...

What always freaked me out about the JAWS poster artwork was the calmness of it all. Also the use of negative space(the water) to show how isolated the swimmer is. THE most effective poster design of all time.

clew37 said...

Just once I'd like to see the shark about to eat a guy(not a comic book guy either). Especially a pedophile or rapist. It could start with the Speedo...This would provoke more winceability for the movie.

Agent Orange said...

Did you notice the shark and the girl have the same attitude?
Mirrored, yes, but look at the way they both arch their backs and hold their heads, open their mouths wide showing their teeth.
This creates an interesting effect to me, a symmetry that attracts me.
The Jaws poster is an endless classic, for the reasons other posters already mentioned, but I rate the Shark Night 3D one above the other similar ones because of it.

Alec said...

sharks only eat hot chicks in bikinis- aware or unaware. So, if you are a hot chick who likes to swim in shark infested waters, take this advice, it might save your life.

buy a one piece.

For the record- I love the totally unaware for more than the instant of panic.