Saturday, February 9, 2013

Books to Movies: Jaws vs. Jaws

Adam C. Zern discusses the film adaptation of Peter Benchley's Jaws:

"There are very few things that loyal fans of a book love more than to see their beloved book adapted into a film.  (There are exceptions to every rule, of course, as we shall see).  Normally, the response to a film adapted from a book is that the book is better.  It provides more exposition, more character, more detail, more of what readers love.  However, every now and again, an adapted film surpasses its source material in every way, and I cannot think of a better example than of Jaws.

Peter Benchley's Jaws is one of the few books that I confidently tell others to never read; it's just not worth anyone's time.  Jaws the book is overly complicated and consistently gratuitous, including a repulsive sex scene between two characters, Matt Hooper and Ellen Brody, that have no business having an affair, as well as one too many scenes of blood and gore.  After all, unless I care about the characters, I don't frankly care who gets eaten, no matter how terrific and bloody the encounter is.  The shark in the book is more of an afterthought, albeit Benchley does make an honest effort in using it as a symbol of corruption in the town of Amity, instead of the main conflict.

Steven Spielberg's Jaws, on the other hand, avoids making every mistake the book made.  It simplifies the story to a man vs. beast conflict without abandoning character development.  It's violent, yes, but the violence is intermittent and relies more on suspense than blood and gore.  The shark, for example, doesn't make a full appearance until near the end of the film, although it is a constant, ominous presence throughout the film.  Best of all, when the final showdown happens, the story and characters are developed enough so that you genuinely don't want to see certain people get harmed or, in the worst case scenario, eaten.  It's entertainment at its finest and thank goodness the filmmakers borrowed only the idea and the title from the source material and not much else.

In conclusion, Jaws the film is one of those exceptions to the rule that the books are always better than the movies they inspire.  It certainly is an exception, but I'll discuss the testaments to the rule another day."

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