Jaws is a great movie, a true cinematic classic. The book? Not so much. Think back to the first time you saw the film. Picture the best moments, the most quotable lines, the scariest scenes. Now strip them all away and pretend they never happened. What’s left? One boring-ass book by Peter Benchley.
Benchley co-wrote the screenplay with Carl Gottlieb — the two never working directly together — with additional script doctors doing uncredited work on the project as well. These other writers deserve recognition for elevating the premise-driven notion of a shark terrorizing summer beachgoers into a true study of terror. Sure, Benchley created the characters of Martin Brody and Quint, but the screenplay really breathed life into them. Quint’s whole backstory as a survivor of the USS Indianapolis wasn’t in the book, for example. And Benchley has the shark slowly drown in the novel, while in the movie it’s blown to pieces. One of those death scenes is way cooler than the other.
The movie’s better than the book in every way. The 300-page story only gets interesting once Quint’s introduced, 80 pages from the end, and the main characters actually start hunting for the great white shark. The other 200+ pages are interminable, padded by unnecessary subplots that involve Brody’s wife having an affair and the town mayor getting in over his head with the mob. The novel is broken up into three main sections. Benchley could’ve excised the whole second part and not hurt the overall plot.
The movie had a long-lasting impact on the environment itself. Imbued with a newfound fear of sharks, people started killing the animals in mass. Ironically, Benchley spent the rest of his life advocating for marine conservation, especially protection for sharks. First he got folks terrified of the predators, then he tried to teach us that sharks aren’t really mindless killing machines that attack people out of malice. By then the damage was already done.
I’m trying to think of something I liked about the book, and I’m coming up empty. It strings you along, promising drama and terror on which it never delivers. Don’t bother with this one, ladies and gentlemen. It suuuucks.
This book is BULLSHIT