Reveiw: Jaws, by Peter Benchley

In his 2005 introduction to Jaws (1974), author Peter Benchley makes a very valid point in saying that he could not possibly write Jaws today. His reasoning has much to do with the current global standpoint on conservation and appreciation. It's true - the world has a very different perspective on Sharks than it did in the early 70s. But Benchley and his novel had had a lot to do with that shift and, if he hadn't written it, someone else would have.

Perhaps that's why it doesn't seem as scary to me as it should. There are too many movies, documentaries, etc. on great whites and other sharks to make this novel very frightening. I've seen all four Jaws films...I own all four films in the franchise. I'm also a proud owner of the Italian rip-off of the original film (The Last Shark, aka L'ultimo Squalo). I've seen Shark Attack and its two sequels. I've even seen Debbie Gibson in the never should have been made Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. But what am I afraid of in the ocean? Not the big sharks, no. I never go out far enough to be scared by the big sharks. I'm afraid of stepping on jelly fish and anenomes, urchins and horseshoe crabs. I'm more afraid of having to have someone pee on my leg than I am of actually losing that leg. Although that's not wholly true -- I do find myself quite fearful of bull sharks and other sharks that, through the education of Discovery Channel's Shark Week, I know like shallow water, which is where I hang out.  

Jaws, as Benchley wrote it, just isn't quite so relevant anymore. Sure, big sharks are scary, but I'm much less afraid of sharks who, according to Ellen Brody in the final chapter, Jaws the Revenge, are...well...out for revenge, than I am of the people who go and hunt these beautiful creatures and cut off their fins for soup. Okay enough grandstanding, back to the book...

Benchley also goes on to say that of course the novel is not the film - the book he wrote was well-rounded, with a quiet understanding of the socio-economic undercurrents as well as a relatively solid grasp on female emotion, while the film (albeit BRILLIANT) was about a big shark. And while I already knew most of the changes made for the film, it was a treat to go back and see what the story was before it was the first summer blockbuster, and how those exclusions contributed to making it such a hit.


  1. Read this book when I was 14. Re-read it when I was something other than 14. . . but still pre-college. Looking back, I understand now why the affair was part of the story and why it was essential to the whole book. I understand now why it ended without exploding shark guts.

    I also appreciate, now, why the affair would have hindered the movie and why the movie ended with one less death and a giant exploding shark. As a book it was very well conceived and written. As a movie I am extremely grateful it was modified.

  2. Well, the Brody in the film is so different from the Brody in the novel. His insecurities are completely different, and so the affair would have served no purpose in the film. At the end of his intro, Benchley writes:
    "I had never written a screenplay, but I had asked for and been given permission to write the first couple of drafts of Jaws. At our first meeting, after an exchange of pleasantries, Richard Zanuck said to me (I'm paraphrasing here), 'This picture is going to be an A-to-Z adventure story, a straight line, so we want you to take out all the romance stuff, the Mafia stuff, all the stuff that'll just be distracting.' You who have never read Jaws, you who have only seen the movie, I can see you frowning, I can hear you saying to yourself 'Romance? Mafia? What's he talking about? Where's all that stuff?' Read on, please, and discover for yourselves."

    The execs at Universal knew what they were doing by streamlining the subject and making it about exploding shark guts, though it was Spielberg who should really take the credit for the thriller aspect of it all. After all, it's what you don't see that scares the most - delaying the actual appearance of the shark until after several people had died was key - something Benchley didn't do in giving us the scientific details of the hunter from the first.

    On the other hand, the Italian rip off, L'ultimo Squalo, shows the shark far too much, and far too often it's a bath toy - HILARIOUS!

  3. I have not read the book; but, as you know, I am a huge fan of the film. My dad is too. We have similar taste. He also loves A League of Their Own, which is a little bit weird.

    Anyway, I totally agree that what you DON'T see makes the film. If I start to watch it, I can't stop. It always draws me in. Have you seen or read Open Water?

  4. No, I haven't seen/read Open Water yet. Another one to add to the never ending list...


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