Before I was shackled down by the chains of work, I had a pleasant summer, a summer full of literature. The one book I couldn’t put down was Peter Benchley’s classic, Jaws. I would go so far as to say the book is one of my favourite first time reads because I literally could not stop reading it and when I did I felt lost without it, I had my Jaws T-Shirt on while reading the book, that’s dedication. We mustn’t forget that behind every great film is a book, usually by, Stephen King and in front of every great book is, Stephen Spielberg rubbing his greedy little hands together. I love the film and the book for two totally different reasons, so with as few spoilers as possible, here is my rationalising of Jaws, the money machine of literature and film.
The Opening Scenes vs. Chapter One.
The film opens with the iconic John Williams theme, which was the summer soundtrack to 1975 and did for Jaws what Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells did for The Exorcist – it made it legendary. We are Bruce’s point of view, (Bruce is the nickname for the mechanical shark) as he swims through the ocean, dodging sea weed and ignoring other marine life, like he is determined to get into the shores of Amity Island and as this progresses the non-diegetic theme becomes louder and louder. Pretty fucking intense right? Well the book opens in exactly the same way. Spielberg took what Benchley wrote on paper and put a simple score behind it, and the rest is history, it’s unlikely that anyone will read the book without watching the film first, but for the opening chapter I’m really glad I had that theme in my head because it made the book even more awesome.
Chrissie Watkins Death vs. Chrissie Watkins Movie Death.
The book plays this down a lot, it isn’t because books and films are different, and it isn’t made out to be such a big deal. A girl drowned, found bits of her mangled body on the beach, carry on with our day is what Amity police do in the book until Chief Brody eventually lists her death as a shark attack. In the film, Chrissie dying starts a snowball effect of trauma and problems all over the small island town and Brody is picking up the pieces, he is literally picking up pieces of Chrissie all over the shore. When you think about the movie poster, Chrissie is the victim and therefore is the main aspect of the film and the catalyst for other deaths. In the book she is the reason the shark has a new appetite for humans. And why Chief Brody is involved, but it is very clear in the book that Benchley wanted Brody to always be the focus of our attention, and luckily he made him extremely interesting.
Chief Brody, The Drunk vs. Chief Brody, The Philosopher.
As above with Chrissie Watkins death, I don’t think that one is better than the other; however both are just as compelling. Brody in the film can be psychoanalysed until the world ends, he is an extremely complex character and he represents a range of different things. To me, personally, he represents the generation of American males at that time, he doesn’t quite fit into Hooper’s newer generation, who in a way is Spielberg himself, and he doesn’t fit with the older working generation of Quint, he can happily glide along with both, but he is an outsider in the situation, just as his family are outsiders on Amity (they aren’t ‘islanders’). At face value he is a New York cop who moved to Amity for some peace and quiet, he also wanted better for his wife and two sons, but he is the provider, and as he is in charge at work, he’s in charge at home. It’s a common theme for Brody to get drunk to avoid getting too tied up in work etc. This Brody is someone we, the audience, can visualise as killing the shark because he is a strong male and detached from his emotions. The book tells a slightly different story, I still feel that my generation theory applies to him in the book, if not more so, but he is a bit more sensitive. Benchley obviously wants the reader to distinguish between the hard exterior to the almost manic interior of Brody, and offers up internal monologue whenever he can. Brody is obsessive over the shark, his wife, his job and the people around him which means that engaging with this character as a heroic figure is virtually impossible. He is determined to bring down the Mayor and the board of directors who want to keep the beaches open and with issues like that; the reader is able to rely on Brody to persevere and get the desired results, but Brody spending all his time on a boat with two other guys? I thought this book would turn into The Shining very quickly.
Bruce’s Quest For Revenge vs. Bruce Acting Like A Shark.
This element of the book underwhelmed me, but that’s only because I’ve seen the film so many times I think it’s normal for a shark to track people down. In the film, Bruce is a mercenary killing machine who targets anyone trying to target him; he has a freakish amount of intelligence and understanding for his surroundings and attacks with motive. In the book, Bruce is just a shark that is attacking people because that is sometimes what sharks do and they can’t catch it because the Mayor is being a fucking idiot. The book is realistic and the film is being, well, a film, I can’t complain on either side, but I just wanted this shark to be pure evil. If Spielberg didn’t do this, would Jaws be the film that stopped people going in the water and caused a lot of sharks to be killed for sport? Would Jaws be, Jaws, or would it be more of a Deep Blue Sea thing?
You can’t say you’re a Jaws fan without reading this book; I haven’t been a true Jaws fan until this summer so you can’t even get annoyed at me for saying it. You can’t give excuses like ‘oh well I know how it ends’, that’s the fun part, the book ends TOTALLY different and some other really crazy things happen which is why I personally enjoyed it more. I bumbled along reading this book thinking I knew what was coming and then suddenly someone dies or something happens that isn’t hinted at in the film and before I knew it, I had shit myself with pure excitement and shock (that didn’t happen, or did it?). Go on Ebay and pick up this beauty of a book for hardly anything, read it and then go for a swim, I dare you.