Today, for the very first Cinematic Words review, I thought I should talk about one of the greatest movies ever made, that many don't know was a book first. It is a classic movie, whose book counterpart was based on real events. The film also features one of the best and most recognized scores in movie history.
Jersey Shore, 1916.... July 1-12. 4 people dead, 1 person injured. 5 attacks, 1 survivor
February 1974---a book based on these events is published, being the author's first novel
June 20, 1975----a movie adaptation of the novel is released and sweeps the nation, becoming one of the highest grossing movies ever, to this day it holds the 126th place for highest grossing movie. Also made audiences afraid to go back in the water.
For those who have never heard of the 1916 Jersey Shore shark attacks and have no idea what I'm rambling on about, the subject for this review is Jaws by Peter Benchley. Jaws is one of the most popular movies ever made, and yes, it was also a book. Steven Spielberg and John Williams worked together on the Jaws movie, which backs up the notion that it is an incredible movie that is a MUST SEE. Steven Spielberg has worked on some of the best movies known to mankind, which include, but aren't limited to: Jurassic Park, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, and The Terminal. Many of which included John Williams, a well known composer who has also worked on numerous great films (and who is my personal favorite composer of all time). John Williams has done scores for: Jurassic Park, Superman, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Indiana Jones, Jaws, Harry Potter, Home Alone and Star Wars.
Peter Benchley wrote a pretty decent amount of books. He has some fiction and non-fiction, of which I only know the fiction. Jaws was his first and is the only novel I've read of his so far. I've also picked up two others which I plan to read in the future, Creature (previously published as White Shark) and Beast.
by: Peter Benchley
Book: 3/5 Movie: 5/5
Jaws is the story of Amity, a small island town off the coast of Massachusetts. Amity is a summer town. The main chunk of revenue they get is from the summer months, when the vacationers come and settle into their summer homes and take trips to the beach. This is where the heart of the conflict lies. The cover shows a shark and the main draw of the movie and book alike, is the shark. Don't be deceived. This is the first difference between the book and the movie (I will try not to give away many of them, so you all have some to find on your own and so I don't give spoilers to any who have yet to experience them). The movie is, pretty obviously, more shark centered. The book on the other hand is all about Amity. We hear the story of Amity's hardship through the supporting characters that police chief Brody interacts with. Many of the decisions that lead to any conflict are made for the benefit of the town's prosperity. Amity is threatened by a shark that is looming in the water, scarily close to their beaches.
In the opening scenes of both, this shark makes its presence known.
Jaws the novel is a morsel, to put it shortly. It is not a long read and there is not a whole lot of depth to it. The book centers around the life of police chief Brody, from his ordeals with the townspeople over his decisions, to his struggling relationship with his wife (also overlooked in the movie). The book has more domestic drama than shark action. This is where I start to like the movie more.
In the movie, the shark is not shown often, but it's presence looms over Amity like a shadow of death. In the book you hardly even know whats going on in the water until Brody gets word of things or goes out there towards the end. If a book has a shark on the cover, I'm gonna want plenty of shark. I really think that the cover of this book should've been Amity with a small shark placed with its mouth open by the beach water, with Amity being the bigger part. This would give you the idea that its about more than just the shark, its about how it affects the business of an island and the livelihood of its citizens instead of making you think you're going to get lots of blood in the water from serrated edge teeth. The movie is full of action that just keeps going until the very end.
Spielberg and Benchley, when working on the movie, reached a conflict when it came to making the end scenes. Benchley's book ended one way and Spielberg wanted something bigger. Spielberg won out and left his own personal touch. I will not give it away, just know that if you've had experience with one, don't expect it to be just like the other, because its not going to happen. I watched the movie before reading the book and went in expecting one thing, and getting another. Its taken me a while to digest it and see what its really about. I've had to put in a lot of thought to how I experienced both, considering all the expectations I had. This is just a friendly warning to wipe out your knowledge of which version you've read or watched before checking out the other and go in with a pretty clean slate.
The book is good, lots of character development and development of character relationships. There is not just one character that is great and the others are flops tossed in just because. Each character has its own place of fit and its own background.
The movie cut a lot of this but added in other parts I found better. Spielberg, upon reading the novel, enjoyed the shark hunt at the end to be the most enjoyable and wished to cut a lot of the subplots in the original. Peter Benchley wrote the draft screenplay. It was in these stages that the movie took on a life of its own. The relationship issues between Chief Brody and his wife were taken out and more shark was put in. The movie has many merits to it, that the book lacked. There is a great scene where 3 of the main characters are on the Orca, hunting for the shark. One of them does a monologue that is just incredible. This was written as a collaboration between two writers working on the film and the actor who played the character. It is an excellent and stunning piece that really brings him to life and shows you why he is the way he is.
Peter Benchley also makes a cameo appearance in the film, as a reporter on the beach. I always thought that was a neat touch. A little something extra that wouldn't be caught by a person who didn't know that it was a book first or didn't know who Peter Benchley was.
Also in the movie, one of the characters has been changed pretty dramatically from how he was in the book. I will not say who, just know that one character does a lot of things that, if you saw the movie first, you would not believe. The character development for him is very different from the book to the movie. I preferred him as he is in the movie. To me he is more likable there.
Jaws is also one of those movies that people love to quote. So here's a little fun fact on one almost everyone has probably heard (I heard it before I ever saw the actual movie). Roy Scheider, who plays Chief Brody, ad libbed the line "We're going to need a bigger boat." It wasn't in the script and it isn't in the book either. I was hoping it was, because its a great one liner that really adds tension and urgency. Its one of my favorite lines, but its only in the movie.
Overall, I have to say that I prefer the movie to the book. The movie plays more to what I enjoy. I came for a shark, and the movie gave me all the shark I needed. The book was very entertaining to read and I'm glad I read it, but again, its more about the town of Amity and its overall prosperity. Reading the book and watching the movie is like seeing the same events through different viewpoints. The book would show you all the underlying tensions that don't occur in the movie.
There are several sequels to this movie. 3, to be exact. None of which I have been able to see yet. As I find those, I will watch them and provide reviews. Peter Benchley never wrote a sequel, however, a Jaws 2 novel was published in 1978, based on a screenplay for the movie of the same title. It was written by Hank Searls. I have had the good fortune to find copies of both the first and second novels, and hopefully sometime in the future I can deliver a review to the sequel novelization.
This concludes my first Cinematic Words review, hopefully you enjoyed it and will keep coming back as I put up more content. I eagerly await our next encounter.
Thank you for reading!