I’m sure I speak for everyone when I say that Jaws was a damn good movie. I saw it for the first time when I was about ten and I don’t think I took another bath ever again: Literally any body of water that I could submerge myself in was a no-go for fear of shark attack. I was ten…leave me alone. Recently in a little charity store I found the book of Jaws by Peter Benchley, and I have noticed quite some stark differences in them both.
SPOILER ALERT IN PLACE.…if you have not seen Jaws, or wish to read the book, do not read further!
1. The people
In the book, the most appealing character of the whole story is the shark. The people of Amity are seriously xenophobic: Anyone that is not from Amity is simply there for money-making. The whole town relies on the summer tourists visiting the town and the beach so much that everyone there has to struggle through the winter to afford to stay in a relatively expensive seaside town. The houses are all rented out to summer folk, businesses hike up prices, and the main beach is opened to attract everyone even though there’s a man-eating shark around. The town is also pretty corrupt: There is only one journalist who runs the local newspaper, and he is best friends with the chief of police and the Mayor. The Mayor is also funded, it turns out, by some New York mobsters before they invested so much
Even the main characters are pretty nasty people. In the film, the main characters are pretty likeable: Brody is your run-of-the-mill chief of police, keen on public safety and a loving relationship with his happy wife and happy children. In the book, he is blunt, old fashioned and, most of the time, drunk. His wife, Ellen, is bitter, yearning for her younger years of rich friends and socialite lifestyle. Hooper is a cocky and womanising young man, who’s arrogance is almost as high as his IQ. The only character is somewhat endearing in his unlike-ability is Quint, the aged shark hunter, and only because he makes no apologies for who he is: He knows he’s a bit of work, but owns it.
2. The affair
One of the main things that the film doesn’t cover is the affair between Hooper and Ellen Brody. Having known each other as upper class children, Ellen begins to fantasise about having a fling with Hooper. He is everything that she feels she left behind when she chose to marry Brody and live in Amity: rich lifestyle, fancy dinners, big social events, and a high profile name. Hooper doesn’t say no, but throughout the book Hooper is simply your generic rich-kid: He is used to not being told what to do and so very rarely will do what is needed. He and Ellen, while it only lasts for one night, go about their affair with blatant disregard for Brody. But at the same time, Brody is such a detached husband you almost can’t really blame Ellen for wanting someone more attentive. In the end, the very brief fling makes Ellen realise how lucky she is to have Brody and how much she does love him. Plus…well it’s not like the affair could continue…
3. The deaths
While the film hit most of the key deaths – the opening scene is quite possibly iconic in the horror world – the book has a few extra ‘deaths’ that the film played on slightly. In the book, the only deaths that are really talked about are, obviously, the very first attack on Christine Watkins and then the death of little Alexander Kintner. Every other death is only simply guessed upon: When Ben Gardener fails to communicate with base while he is out on his boat, people assume he has been eaten. The fact that no body is ever found also convinces everyone that he has been eaten by the huge shark. In the film, the floating severed head coming out of the boat sort of confirms that he is absolutely shark-meat, but the book seems to try and high light how paranoid the little town is becoming. Furthermore, even when the main characters die – Hooper is actually bitten in half by the shark when he is in the shark cage, and Quint is dragged under the water and drowned when his foot gets tangled up in a harpoon rope – you don’t really acre that they’ve died. If anything, I was almost proud of the shark for ending the lives of such horrible characters.
4. The shark itself
The book did a wonderful job of making the shark seem like the innocent victim in the situation. He is just a fish, surprisingly clever for a ‘mindless predator’, who is simply just trying to have some dinner and survive. The attitudes in the book highlight just how old the book really is: Written in 1974 the book plays hugely off of the general scariness of sharks. In modern day, and most likely due to the huge success of the film, more and more people are realising that sharks are not mindless killers, that they have intricate and complicated lives that we are still learning about to this days. The solitary lifestyle is something that the book plays on, making it seem that this fish has picked this little town to terrorise. In reality, sharks very rarely attack people, and of these attacks few are ever fatal. When it comes to sharks it is having respect for the sharks home: Don’t swim near seals, if attacked/if a shark gets to close punch it on the nose, or stay close to shore within sights of a life guard. The book (and to some extent the film) is very old fashioned in its view that sharks are nothing but viscous predators, but to some extent that’s what made this book so enjoyable to read.
The book is a great read: Story aside Peter Benchley writes in such a way that you can not put the book down. Even just reading about a dinner party he can create tension so thick that you need to keep reading to find out what horrible thing happens. The book constantly puts the reader on edge and has you reading way into the early hours of the morning because you just can’t tear yourself away from it. The film is also excellent: I don’t think I would have researched sharks as much as I have done over the years if not for this film scaring the absolute pants off me when I was 10. Both do an excellent job of telling the same story, but simply with different end goals in mind: The film wants you to cheer for Amity, while the book wants you to cheer for the shark.