First off, I would just like to point out that this article does contain *SPOILERS*, although they are mainly for the book, because if you haven’t seen the movie of Jaws by this point, I really don’t know what you have been doing with your life!
It is safe to say that a vast majority of people know about the movie Jaws, whether it is the infamous theme tune, the quote “I think we’re gunna need a bigger boat” or the fact that Kevin Smith named his main characters in Chasing Amy after the three main characters from this franchise; it has become so popular since its release in 1975 that it has become a cultural cinematic icon over the years. Some may not realise though that the film is actually based on a novel that was released the year before, and having just recently finished reading the novel myself I thought it would be a good idea to compare the two.
I don’t think I need to go into too much detail with the plot, as most people already know the story; but for those few that don’t have a clue at what I’m talking about, I will sum it up briefly. The story follows a small American town on the edge of the ocean called Amity on the run up to labour day weekend. Things seem to be going as planned, as they normally do and the local residents are waiting for the arrival of summer tourists so that they can survive the quiet winter. However, things take a drastic turn for the worse, when the local waters become home to a great white shark. The local chief of police Martin Brody is then tasked with killing the shark so that it doesn’t kill again. The plot may seem simple, but both the novel and the book are a brilliant thrill ride that keep you gripped from the start.
I understand there is always a problem with reading a book when you have already seen the movie adaptation, because you have seen someone else idea of how the book should have transferred to the screen and sometimes it is better to just keep your ideas in your head about how something should have been shot. I have to say that throughout reading the novel, as soon as a character was mentioned I instantly had a picture of the actor in my head from the 1975 film version. The adaptation did quite a good job with casting suitable actors for the role, and they didn’t seem too far removed from the source material.
The trouble with adapting a novel though, is that not everything can be taken over to the film. In the film, the mayor doesn’t want the beaches closed over the holiday, because he feels it would have a detrimental effect on the town and the commerce of the area and this is also shown in the book. However, there is a deeper subplot in which the mayor is also in debt to a member of the mob, and as a local estate agent, he has bought up a vast majority of the surrounding land so that he can sell it back to people when the market picks up and then be clear of his debt to the mafia. He is much more selfish character in the novel, although you do feel sorry for him as the original reason he borrowed money from the mafia was to help fund an operation for his wife. It was very cleverly played out in the book, and really goes to show how far some are willing to go to try and save their own skin. He didn’t mind putting the lives of many people who chose to go swimming in the sea at risk, as long as he was able to sort out his own financial problems.
Another interesting subplot in the novel, that wasn’t covered in the film is one concerning Matt Hooper, played by Richard Dreyfuss in the film. In the novel, it turns out that he is younger brother of a man Ellen Brody, the wife of the chief of police, used to date. When he comes back to Amity and ends up meeting Ellen once again, she takes it upon herself to have a relationship with this man, behind her husbands back. She feels, at times, that he has taken away from the life she used to live, where she only summered in Amity instead of having to live there all the time; and the connection with Hooper makes her long for her past. As the novel progresses, Brody becomes more and more suspicious of the two and tries to find out, much to his annoyance and disgust, whether something has actually gone on between the pair.
One of the biggest changes between the novel and the film is the ending. Unlike the film, things don’t go as well in the book. Firstly, Hooper dies whilst trying to photograph the shark in shark cage. The beast attacks him and then comes out of the water to gloat at Quint and Brody with the body still hanging out of his mouth. Secondly, although Quint still dies, he isn’t eaten by the shark. They are in process of trying to capture the fish and his leg becomes tangled up on the rope of one of barrels and he gets pulled down the shark as he cannot get himself free and thirdly, in my opinion, the ending is quite vague. In comparison to the film, the shark isn’t actually seen to die. Whilst in the film, we get to see Brody and Hooper blow the shark up with a gas tank, in the novel, after it has been stuck several times with the harpoon and barrels, it is just left to sink into the sea with Quint attached to it. For all intents and purposes the animal could still be alive. There is no definitive proof that the shark is completely dead.
After reading the novel, I am glad that I am now able to see what the source material was actually like and can look between the film and book and see how they differ. I personally thoroughly enjoyed the book and it hasn’t tarnished my enjoyment of the film in any way and I certainly think I will be reading the book again the future.