Ahhhh, Amity Island. A relaxing seaside retreat. Far from the hustle and bustle of city life, you can kick back and enjoy the pristine white sand beaches and quaint small-town charm of the island. After all, Amity means friendship… Or does it?
The settings in Jaws can basically be divided into two contrasting spaces: the safety of land on Amity Island and the danger of the ocean. When you're on the water the shark can eat you. When you're not, it can't. But the movie keeps the scenes on land interesting because there are things there constantly driving people into the water.
The looming threat of financial ruin—ever-present for the audience thanks to Mayor Vaughn's incessant harping about "summer dollars"—keeps Vaughn and Chief Brody from raising a warning voice to unsuspecting swimmers. Even when a shark attack pushes people out of the water, the economic necessity of carrying on with business as usual pushes people inevitably back into the water. It's a constant tug-of-war, and that keeps the tension taut and the drama hot. The juxtaposition of the scenes of families happily frolicking on the beach with the terror that lies beneath is what makes this movie so suspenseful. We know what's out there; they don't.
The film was actually shot on Martha's Vineyard, a vacationer's island paradise off the coast of Massachusetts. It's a very contained setting, so the ocean scenes, with their wide open chases, are strikingly different.
Fun fact: Shmoop hasn't set foot on Martha's Vineyard since 1975.