Book vs Film: Jaws

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It occurred to me just the other day that I’ve been slagging the book Jaws for years but I’ve never actually explained why I prefer the movie version. So I suppose it’s about time that I do just that.

First of all, let me just say that I’m a huge fan of Jaws in all its shapes and forms. And when I say huge, I mean huge enough to watch every documentary associated with the film (like the one that gave me Brody’s ultimate booklist) and read every book about the making of the film, like The Jaws Log by Carl Gottlieb. I’ve also watched the 2-hour documentary The Making of Jaws and highly recommend it, even if you don’t love the movie like I do. It takes a closer look at what went into making what would go on to become the world’s first summer blockbuster. Fascinating stuff, if you ask me.

I watched The Making of Jaws again recently and found the discussion with Jaws author Peter Benchley particularly interesting. In the interview, he talked about how he came up with the now-iconic title for his little book. These were some of his rejected book titles:

A stillness in the water
Silence in the deep
Leviathan rising
Jaws of death

While those titles might seem kind of pretentious and a little overly dramatic, that’s not the reason Benchley didn’t choose any of them for his book. In the end he chose the title Jaws because it was short and fit nicely on the book jacket. That’s it. But while Jaws might seem like the obvious choice to us now, Steven Spielberg points out that the word “jaws” was not in the national consciousness at the time, so I’m sure many people thought it was a weird title at the time. Still, Bantam agreed to publish it and Universal bought it for a pile of cash, which isn’t bad for a book about a fish.

Not surprisingly, Spielberg kept Jaws as the title for his film adaptation. And oddly enough, one of the main reasons he agreed to direct the movie at all was because Jaws had the same number of letters as his first film, Duel, and he took that as a sign that he should do it.

Peter Benchley initially adapted his own book for Spielberg and eventually the script ended up in the capable hands of Carl Gottlieb. These are the three things that were cut from the screenplay that I think make the movie version of Jaws better than the book:

The affair between Hooper and Ellen
I’m so glad this didn’t make the movie. I much prefer the drama of Jaws to come from what goes on in the water over what goes on between the sheets.
The mayor’s mafia connection
I remember skipping some of the mob pages in the book. I just wanted to know what happened with the damn shark not some complex, boring mafia sub-plot.
The death of Hooper
He was a much more annoying character in the book but in the movie Hooper is charming and completely likeable, so audiences would have been devastated if he got killed off. Spielberg’s ending of Brody and Hooper swimming to shore is way more satisfying, and the last lines they say to each other are some of my favourite lines from any movie ever:

Brody: “I used to hate the water.”
Hooper: “I can’t image why.”

I was absolutely thrilled when they released Jaws into the theatres earlier this summer to coincide with the 40th anniversary. I took my dad to see it since he’s the one who introduced me to the movie when I was a kid. Seeing Jaws on the big screen was even better than I imagined it would be. Do yourself a favour, see the movie (again, hopefully) and skip the book. Spielberg got it right.

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