Book Versus Film: Jaws by Peter Benchley

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Before Freddy Krueger stalked our dreams, before Jason Voorhees begun mercilessly killing amoral teenagers, and before Charles Lee ‘Chucky’ Ray became stuck in a doll by voodoo, terror lived beneath the ocean in form of a white grey fish. We all should know Steven Spelberg’s 1975 Starktastic film that began the Shark attack genre of horror, Jaws, but did you know that it was based on a book by Peter Benchley and was written just one year before the film was made and released. There is no denying that within our society books and film share a friendly yet unstable existence and while reading Benchley’s Jaws I couldn’t help but think how it differed from the film and if the film did the book justice on the big screen. So let’s dig into it with:

The Plot

In the small town of Amity, the body of a young woman has been discovered after she is reported missing, her gruesome remains tells local police chief Martin Brody, she has been attacked by a shark. After few more attacks the Chief decides its time to put an end to the Shark before it takes any more lives.

The books plot surrounds a lot more than the shark, while the shark is the main part of the book, it does taken the back seat quite a lot to the sub plots that are happening throughout. The sub plots feature, Martin’s wife Ellen who misses the life she had before becoming married and having children and finds a way to relive that life once more through an affair with Ichthyologist Matt Hooper. The other sub plot follows the Mayor Vaughan’s dealings and his own reasons for wanting to keep the beaches open.

Spoiler Alert: If you want to find out about the film or the book before I discuss this, please go read it first!

I like the added depth to the plot in the book, it gave a bit more layers to the characters, particularly the ones that a very two dimensional in the film. Mayor Vaughan is put forward as a villain but when his secret is reveal you do understand why he would want to keep the beaches open and it puts him in the grey state of the moral dilemma. I think they should have kept that sub plot in the film, but there was no need for Ellen’s sub plot. I’ll talk about Ellen when I get to the characters.

The main plot holds up and film follows it quite closely. All the deaths are accounted for but the order is different. In both the film and book, a woman named Chrissie Watkins is the opening kill, second is a young boy named Alex. In the book an older man is killed right after Alex and Ben Gardiner is killed off page. However in the film, Gardiner is the third to be killed, but like in the book it is off screen and the final kill is the older man, in front of Brody’s son, in the book it is Mayor Vaughan that witness’ the death of the unnamed man, and it leads him to allow the beaches to be closed down.

There are more differences in the plot between the book and the film for example, Hooper surviving, Quint’s dark backstory, how the shark tooth is found on Gardiner’s boat and by whom. The awesome interaction between Hooper and Quint is kind of there in the book but is much better developed in the film, although it wasn’t Quint and Hooper were butting heads, it was Hooper and Brody and Quint’s death is different in both the film and book. While in the film he is eaten by the shark, in the book his death is more like Captain Ahab in Moby Dick and the death of the shark is also different. It’s Quint who kills it, with his harpoons and persistence, but in the film it is Brody who kills the shark by blowing it up.

The Characters

Like I stated before the book gives a little more depth to the characters than the film. In the film Brody is the Hero, Vaughan is the human villain, Ellen is the devoted wife and mother, Hooper is doing his job and Quint is basically the same person in both incarnations. While in the book, I found that I actually didn’t like any of the characters with the exception of Quint.

Brody is not only portrayed as a man who is doing his job and trying to protect the small town but also a snob who hates the tourists that come to Amity. He quickly dislikes Hooper within seconds of meeting him because Hooper is from a privileged background. Brody treats Hooper with such contempt, it’s almost childish in a way and then suddenly cares when Hooper goes missing for a day. Book Brody tries to be honourable, but he is also childish and infuriatingly snobby to those he, ironically, consider as snobs.

I touched on the character of Larry Vaughan before, stating that his character in the book isn’t really black and white as it is in the film. At the beginning of the book he is more or less like the character from the film. He seems to be obsessed with keeping the beaches opening out of fear that their closer would have a negative effect on the town. Someone is killed in front of him by the shark and he finally allows the beaches to be closed. In the film Brody forces film Vaughan to close the beaches and is portrayed as a greedy mayor who only cares about the income coming into Amity through tourism. In the book Vaughan is shown as a man who cares about Amity and its people but is pushed to press Brody to keep the beaches open because of much darker reasons which have little to do with greedy on his part.

Ellen in the book is a character I just did not like, while I dislike the book version of Brody who was basically acting like a spoilt brat he had some redeeming qualities. There is no redeeming quality to Ellen. She sees herself as a devoted wife and mother, in reality, she pining for a life she can never really get back, her pursuit of Hooper makes little to no sense at all. She has an affair with him to relive her life before she met Brody. Ellen came from a wealthy family and dated Hooper’s older brother when she was a teenager. You don’t really get the impression that she got what she wanted from Hooper, since their affair takes place in a motel outside of town and they both never see or talk to each other after that. Ellen even states that Hooper meant nothing to her, he was never meant to be a lover, just someone she used to try to relive a life she lost. This is why I’m happy that this was left out of the film, to me this was pointless, her reasons for doing this made no sense, I could understand if she wanted to have a life with Hooper, since he had the life she missed and was yearning to be a part of again. Having them spend some time together, have Hooper show her even more of what she was missing, and even have her be tempted to go off with Hooper. That would make so much more sense than what was actually in the book. After doing some research I found that the bits with Hooper were actually from Editor meddling so, yeah.

Hooper, in the book, is a little like he is in the film, but a little more of, I would say, a coward and an asshat. He does nothing to deter Ellen from their affair, and while he does stand up for himself when Brody shows that he had a problem with him, he always backs down from their arguments. Hooper in the film shows that he can be fierce when he needs to be, the banter between him and Quint shows is proof of that. In the book Hooper is more reserved shying away from both men, when faced with Quint who has no regards for marine life, Hooper quickly falls into place behind Quint. However, I believe that Hooper is the catalyst for Quint’s obsession with killing the Shark. In Quint’s eyes Hooper is a young man who just hasn’t been hurt by life yet, to Quint he is an innocent and he slowly warms to him.

Film or Book

Both have their merits. The film focuses more on the horror of the shark, and is a bit more straightforward, you get the bare minimum of the human characters since you came to see the shark after all. You get enough to empathise with the human characters and it works. Quint is the more developed of the characters, you get his back story and his interaction with Hooper develops both characters, Quint is the one death in the whole film in which you can see everything, there is no music just the sounds of water and Quint screaming. His personalities is a lot like his book counter point, they replicated him perfectly.

The book is more developed with the characters and the reader can love or hate them, some more than others. Brody is the hero and wants to protect the people of Amity and when he’s met with resistance by the mayor, the higher ups and the people of Amity who care little about a Shark swimming around killing swimmers and more about how closing a beach will affect their businesses, you do feel anger for him. However Brody is no saint himself, yes he will do whatever he can to help but he is also a snob who hates the tourists that come to Amity every year, he sees them as people who try to make him feel bad about his own life, completely forgetting that Ellen, his wife use to be one of those he hates so much. Larry Vaughan is an interesting character that they should have kept in the film, while he is seen as a villain, when a person dies right in front of him he can not deny that public safety is at risk. It isn’t Vaughan who is the villain but his circumstances, he is doing what he can to survive, unfortunately, he’s found himself between a rock and hard place.

There is a character that I think perfectly mirrors the shark. Some would say that it is all of Amity who are also Predators, they need to feed off of the rich Tourists who come to Amity every summer, but I think it’s Ellen. The devoted wife who actively seeks out a young man to relive her life before. Her dialogue is more like a hunter or a fishermen, baiting her hook with comments, trips to the past, to pull Hooper in, and he falls for it hook, line and sinker. She takes him out for a meal and once she has him, and it’s done, there is nothing more she wants from him, no remorse, no tears shed for him. She moves on, cold and unfeeling like the shark.

Maybe it liked the taste of human flesh and wanted to relive its first kill again.

Hmm, that makes me think, I could be wrong, but if Ellen is like the shark, then maybe the shark is like Ellen. Maybe the shark hung around Amity because it wanted to relive an experience? Through the book there are references to the past, things will never be like they were in the past. This is seen through Ellen, Quint and a woman who works in an Antique store, even Larry Vaughan is dealing with something that happened in the past. What if Chrissie Watkins was its first human kill, it’s first taste of human flesh and it liked it. It liked the feeling of her blood, and taste of her body and it kept coming back because it wanted to relive that again and again. Even when the weather and temperature changed it never left because it wanted to relive it’s first human kill again.

“The past always seems better when you look back on it than it did at the time. And the present never looks as soon as it will in the future. It’s depressing if you spent too much time reliving the old joys. You think you’ll never have anything as good again.”

Or it could have just been a crazy fish that decided it was going to eat people with no special reason why.

The film and the book each have their own special thing that makes them classics. Personally I’d say the film wins this round. While reading about the shark is very scary and heart pounding, I think the film had it right with excluding all the infuriating sub plots that added little to nothing to the story. I do, however, think they should have put Vaughan’s sub plot into the film because it would have made people think, ‘what would I have done if that was me?’, but they didn’t, it became a big hit, it began the summer blockbuster and the rest was history.

A classic case of the film being far better than the book

Like this review? Dena Natali is the reason i checked out this book, her review is about the movie check it out.

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