Which Shark Did It Better?

“Jaws” vs. Jaws


Loren Beale, A&E Editor

“Jaws” is a classic horror movie blockbuster that was adapted from Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel, Jaws. The book and movie follow the same outline, a shark prays upon an island and three men go out to kill it. The book, much like the movie, was an instant success selling over twenty million copies. Much of the fame was due to director Steven Spielberg, who released the film the following year, June 1975. Overall, the movie follows the books plot to the tee, and only changes what the book seemingly needed to improve upon.

The novel and film start off the same way, a female tourist swims at night gets attacked. However, later in the book the shark also consumes a boy and an elderly woman, but in the film, only the young boy, Alex, is eaten. The book gives more details then the movie, which is normal. We learn about the islands financial problems which adds to why everyone is so reluctant to close to beaches. The island makes all their money during the summer months, and then by the spring, everyone is broke. Along with the background of the islanders, the reader gets to see things from the shark’s point of view. This informs us that Jaws is an eating machine that has little thought to anything outside of food and instincts. These parts of the novel are scientifically accurate, but later contradict other scenes where the shark uses strategy and thought to carry out a plan.

The most drastic differences from the book and the film are seen in how the characters are portrayed. For starters, in the book, the main characters are terrible people. The director of the film even said in an interview that, while reading, he was routing for the shark to win. So changes were made for the big screen to insure the audience liked the protagonists. Chief Brody is the most similar from the book to the movie, however, he is much older in the novel and doesn’t care much about anyone outside of himself. He has a wife in both adaptations, but they don’t get along in the book like they do in the film. Due to the wife feeling trapped in the marriage, she has an affair with Matt Hooper, the oceanographer. None of which is even touched upon in the movie.

Due to the actor, Hooper is only goofy in the movie. The character was originally written to be nasty and a bit of a scoundrel that saw himself to be better than everyone else. He takes pride that he has come from an IV league school, and hates anyone else that makes opinions that are not his own. The only time this is ever seen in the movie is when the fisherman Quint proves his theory about the shark is correct, and calls Hooper out on the argument saying, “It proves that you wealthy college boys don’t have the education enough to admit when you are wrong.” The novel continues the subplot of Hooper’s affair with Brody’s wife which leaves Brody trying to strangle him and feeling jealous. The movie slightly portrays Brody being out of his element when dealing with the shark attacks, but there is never any sign that Hooper and Matt are anything but friends.

The movie’s mayor character is a fool and simply wants to make sure there are tourists on the island no matter how dangerous the eaters are. He doesn’t need any motivation in the film, he is just a clueless dope. But, the book goes deeper. The book mayor owes money to a mysterious partner which then ends up bring the mafia. The reporter, Harry Meadows, uncovers this.  Meadows has a much larger role in the book being the one to write about the shark attacks, the mayors strange partners, and even hiring Matt Hopper. In the film he is simply a cameo role played by the co-screen writer.

Quint’s character is hugely different. The book’s fisherman rarely talks and is seeming based of the captain from Moby Dick, while the movie has Quint giving monologues and spouting at Hooper and Brody. The film counterpart is much more memorable and, due to the amazing acting, carries out some of the best dialogue in cinema history. This is seen in the backstory Spielberg gives the character. The heart breaking story of the ex-navy man gives reasoning to why he hates sharks, rather than simply wanting to hunt them the way the book develops his character. Additionally, a subplot is brought up between Quint and Brody when the chief of police discovers that Quint uses baby dolphin meat as chum. This conflict is completely removed for the big screen. Quint also dies differently from the book than in the movie. He is not eaten, but rather drowns the same was the captain from Moby Dick does.

The director of the movie perfectly creates the feeling of isolation by keeping the three men out on the boat overnight, this builds suspense and makes the viewer sit on the edge of their seat. While the book has the characters come home every night and sleep in their own beds.  Spielberg changed Hooper’s fate to improve the movie as well. The book’s Hooper dies in the shark cage, where as in the movie, his counterpart is able to swim away while Jaws is distracted. The best change the director made was at the end. The book had a much less “explosive” conclusion compared to the film. In the novel, after Quint and Hooper have both passed, Brody finds himself in the water with the shark. As Jaws comes at him, the chief of police prays his death will quick in painless, but, as the shark approaches, it slows down and dies from all the wounds. This ending just wouldn’t cut it in the world of cinema, so Steven Spielberg used some movie magic to make the last ten minutes really memorable. Even though Myth Busters proved that shooting an oxygen tank won’t make it explode, it still looks amazing.

In my opinion, the greatest part about the making of “Jaws” is that the movie was going to have more about the shark in it, like the novel. But due to technical error with Bruce, the fake shark that failed to swim, the director had to become creative. This lead to the iconic billow water view of the victims. Seeing the ocean from the shark’s point of view made this movie the true definition of suspense and horror.  In addition to the underwater shots, the barrels from the hunting scenes allowed the shark to be featured without actually having it be a part of the filming process. This also adds to the suspense because the barrels become taunting to the three men. The saying going “the book is always better than the movie,” but in the case of “Jaws”, the book is not better than the movie. It is, simple put, an accidental cinematic masterpiece.