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I Just Read Peter Benchley’s Jaws - Here’s How the Film Differs from the Book

You might remember me mentioning a month or so ago that I was reading Jaws. It’s one of the reasons I stepped back from posting for a bit as I wanted to immerse myself in it with no distractions. Well as it happens, I got through it pretty quick and intended to give you my thoughts on it a few weeks ago, but there’s been a lot going on lately.

As you probably know by now Jaws is one of my favourite films of all time, and after hearing that there were such big differences between it and the book it's based on, I’d put off reading it for years because I was worried that my viewing experience of the movie would be affected.

I didn’t need to worry because I absolutely loved it!!

I’m actually not a big reader, I much prefer films. They require way less commitment and you can generally get through one in a couple of hours. This book though grabbed me from the first couple of pages and I couldn’t put it down!

If you haven’t read Peter Benchley’s classic novel, there are indeed some significant differences to the film. If you’re interested to know in more detail what they are, carry on reading. If you’d rather not know, this is as far as you should go.

Firstly, unlike in the movie, none of the characters are particularly likeable.

Brody is a bit of a grumpy asshole, Hooper is a pretentious rich kid who has an affair with Brody’s wife, and Quint - well actually Quint isn’t too different to Robert Shaw’s version of the character. He’s slightly darker, less colourful and has no connection to the USS Indianapolis (that scene being arguably one of the best in the movie).

In the film the main reason for the town’s officials opposing Brody’s desire to close the beaches is purely down to fear of losing revenue. The book delves deeper into this and it’s revealed that Mayor Larry Vaughan has ties to the mob and owes them a large sum of money which he intends to pay back via his real estate company. Basically, if no one rents his houses during the summer months he can't pay the mob and he’ll be "swimming with the fishes"…

The final confrontation between the three main characters and the shark is also significantly different to that in the movie.

In the book a lot of the tension on the boat is actually between Brody and Hooper (Brody rightly suspects Hooper has slept with his wife), and also between Hooper and Quint since Hooper disapproves of some of his methods.

Hooper gets eaten by the shark during the cage scene, and the ending itself is completely different. It sees Quint die from drowning after getting his leg caught in one of the barrel ropes that’s attached to the shark, and the shark itself dying from the injuries it’s sustained during the battle just seconds before it reaches Brody, who closes his eyes and waits to be eaten. In fact, as good as the book is, I was a bit disappointed with the anticlimactic ending - especially considering how action-packed and satisfying (if not slightly unbelievable) the movie’s air tank-exploding ending is.

I’ve read a few reviews of the novel since finishing it and was surprised to find that a lot of them were mixed despite it becoming a best seller.

Most criticised the lack of likeable characters with one even saying, "Jaws has rubber teeth for a plot. It's boring, pointless [and] listless.”

I totally disagree. As someone who struggles to get gripped by a book this one had me right from the start.

I found Benchley’s description of the attacks riveting, and the way the book is written makes it very easy to keep turning the pages. I often find some writers try to be too descriptive and “arty”, but Peter Benchley does it just enough to paint a perfect picture of everything that’s going on.

I guess between that and having seen the film so many times I felt like I was watching a different version of the movie in my head.

In fact, as much as I’d never want to see a “remake” of Jaws, the book and the film are different enough that there could potentially be room for a truer film adaptation of the novel, and the movie we all love so much to co-exist…

Like I said though, I hope that never happens!

I think the biggest thing I was surprised to find reading the novel is that the story is less about the shark and more about the characters, their relationships with one another, and the resort of Amity and how the attacks impact the town’s economy. The film decided to emit a lot of the subplots and focus more on the shark, making it the central character. Personally I think this was a brave and ingenious move as it made the film far more entertaining than it might've been. For this difference alone both the book and the movie are great in their own right.

If like me you’ve never read Jaws and love the film, I highly recommend you give the book a read. I absolutely loved it, and along with I Am Legend by Richard Matheson I'd go as far to say that it’s one of the most enjoyable books I’ve ever read.

Read it? Let me know below.


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