The Book Vs The Movie first edition: Jaws
Book vs Movie:
The Book is better than the movie; It’s an age old argument that has been around since filmmakers started adapting published works into motion pictures. Sometimes the notion is spot on correct and other times it is just plain ludicrous. In this recurring segment I will compare and contrast films from their respective books and decide once and for all if the book really is better than the movie. Since Shark Weeks is now airing on Discovery I think it is appropriate to begin with Jaws.
Jaws is my favorite movie ever made. On top of its incredible plot and terrifying sequences, the film is also the poster child for film ingenuity and the politics of working for a studio. The film, which I am sure that most of you have seen (I work with a few people who haven’t seen it. Crazy I know) follows a local town police chief who must close the beaches of his town to protect them from a man eating great white shark that has claimed the lives of many already. He is met with opposition as the town relies on the tourist revenue to get by. Eventually Sheriff Brody enlists the help of marine biologist Matt Hooper and local fisherman Quint on a voyage to find and kill the fish. This is not so different than the plot of the book.
In Peter Benchleys Jaws there are a few minor differences that don’t exactly change much of the plot. Matt Hooper is much younger and actually has an affair with Brodys wife. This is of course part of the overall strife that surrounds Brody. Jaws isn’t just about a shark. It’s about a man locked in a war with nature, while also being locked in a war with man. In addition to Hooper, Brody has issues with the mayor and the mafia. In the book the mafia have bought up real estate that they plan to make a profit on by selling, but the market is going to the crapper with the shark and closed beaches. The mayor who has been in bed with the mob all this time refuses to close beaches, puts pressure on Brody and causes other lives to be lost to the killer shark. Peters version of Quint is merely a rip off of Abe and Mobey Dick. He has no true reason to hate the fish beyond the fact that he is a hunter and wishes to catch the best prey. The only other major difference is that the sharks death at the end is merely the result of its wounds and does not die directly by Brody’s hands.
On paper the film was set to follow the book much more closely and feature the shark more prominently. Though the mechanical shark would break down often and ruin days of shooting. The film was over budget and way past schedule. The suits at the studios would call every day and tell Spielberg that he would never work again. It was a nightmare on location every day, but if these circumstances were different we may not have gotten such an amazing film.
Since the shark didn’t work often they had to come up with other ways to make it appear that the shark was there. This is where Spielberg had the idea to film swimmers from underneath the surface. Allowing the audience to view and imagine the shark looking up at them, waiting to pick on of. This is probably the most effective tool of suspense ever used in film and had the big mechanical shark worked we may not have gotten it at all. In addition to these underwater shots they also came up with the idea of using the barrels speared into the fish as a way to feature the shark without actually featuring the shark. After being harpooned by three of these barrels the shark is still able to submerge and disappear. But the shark sure enough returns for his victims and the as the barrels pop out of the water and breach the surface they almost appear taunting.
Possibly the best addition to Spielbergs classic is the back story given to Quint. He was a member of the navy and was on the ship that delivered the Hiroshima bomb. This ship famously sank and its mission was so secret that help didn’t come for days. He recounts, in a most haunting fashion being stuck in the water and fighting off sharks, watching others killed and eaten and in this scene we know just why Quint is the way he is. He has a blood thirst just as dangerous as the sharks own thirst for blood.
One of the things removed from the books plot is Hoopers affair with Bordy’s wife. It is appropriate because Hooper is often one of the best characters in the movie and one that is easy to root for and relate to.
Finally when the shark is finally killed he is killed by Brody, which doesn’t happen in the book. In the novel the shark just succumbs to the wounds and sinks and dies on his way to eat Brody after devouring Hooper and Quint. But considering the nature of this book is that Brody takes crap from literally everyone and everything, and this fish showing up and killing the people he is sworn to protect creates a personal vendetta and an inferiority complex. After everything Brody goes through he must be the one to finally bring this killer giant fish to its end.
The book is certainly good and though not nearly as high on my list as the film It is still a great read, and if you’re already a fan of the film it’s an interesting take on a story that you are already familiar with. For all of these reasons mentioned above I have to say that in the case of Jaws the book is not better than the movie.