Peter Benchley's Jaws was first published in 1974 and immediately became the must-read book of the year. Like the movie, the book focuses on a great white shark as it terrorizes the town of Amity during the height of tourist season. And also like the movie, the central figure of the story is local Police Chief Martin Brody, who faces the ire of the local business owners and town politicians for his reluctance to keep the beaches open during the main money-making season.
And that is where the similarities end.
While the book is filled with occasional gruesome moments, much of the story is just discussion of the fish, the politics of the town, and a deep dive into a broken marriage between Brody and his wife. Even director Steven Spielberg had issue with the book, which he found initially difficult to adapt. The helmer stated that when he first read the book, he found himself rooting for shark because the characters were so unlikable.
And though the book is a well-written page turner, Spielberg's version is a truly terrifying masterpiece. The very first summer blockbuster of its time, Jaws is a movie that will keep generations out of the water thanks to Spielberg's vision.
Some of the screen changes were superficial: Martin Brody is a native to Amity rather than a New Yorker, he has three sons rather than two, there are different casualties of the shark... all can be forgiven for the sake of storytelling. But in addition to the small tweaks, there are also massive plot points that were removed in an effort to create a cohesive and scary story for the big screen.
So, what made it to the screen and what was scrapped? Here is a look at key plot points and scenes from Benchley's original novel that were best left behind.
There's A Super-Cringey Affair Between Ellen Brody And Matt Hooper
In the book, Ellen Brody and her husband appear trapped in their marriage when 20-something Matt Hooper is first introduced, and then Ellen is immediately smitten. As it turns out, the two share history together, as former New York socialite Ellen once dated his older brother.
Ellen begins focusing her attention on the young oceanographer, casually inviting him to a dinner party then to lunch, which launches their affair.
The two have drunken, cringey conversations regarding intimacy, including the following statement about "schoolgirl fantasies":
Ellen thought. What should she say? "That’s supposed to be every schoolgirl’s fantasy," she ventured playfully.
"To be a... you know, a [call girl]. To sleep with a whole lot of different men."
The two continue to explore their dark sexual fantasies before a very detailed account of the duo's drunken afternoon fling.
This was best removed for the screen as not only did it pull audiences away from the central story, it would have ruined the movie's character dynamic.
Hooper Is An Insufferable, Narcissistic Hottie Whom Martin Brody Immediately Dislikes
In the book, Hooper is described as:
Handsome: tanned, hair bleached by the sun. He was about as tall as Brody, an inch over six feet, but leaner: Brody guessed 170 pounds, compared to his own 200. A mental reflex scanned Hooper for possible threat.
Needless to say, it is a far cry from the portrait created by Richard Dreyfuss.
In addition to his good looks, Hooper is given an attitude to match, coming off as a cocky know-it-all whom Police Chief Brody finds insufferable.
Ellen And Brody Are On The Brink Of Divorce
In the movie Jaws, the relationship between Brody and his wife is loving, even playful at times. They might fight, but in the end, they are a team, and the warmth of their relationship shines through to the audience.
In the book, not so much.
Ellen was a former New York socialite who used to vacation on Amity, one of the so-called "summer people." She married Brody while still in college and shed her former life. As she got older, she began to resent her husband for causing her to miss out on the life she could have had, then treated him accordingly.
In the book, Ellen is cold and downright mean to Brody, a far cry from the loving Ellen as depicted by Lorraine Gary. Book Ellen is not likely to want to "get drunk and fool around."
Quint Is More Like Captain Ahab Than Robert Shaw
Robert Shaw's performance as Quint in Jaws is a tour de force and a downright masterstroke given what he had to work with.
In the book, not much is known about Quint, not even his first name. He is a man of few words much like Moby Dick's Captain Ahab, a grizzled captain who lives and perishes by the sea - with the exception that book Quint is bald and has all of his limbs.
Book Quint lives by his own code and outside the laws of man. This is proven when he intends to hunt the great white shark using a prenatal baby dolphin, a protected species that is unlawful to capture.
In the end, Quint grows obsessed with the shark, much like his screen counterpart and his classic literature equivalent. But unlike screen Quint, book Quint isn't given an iconic monologue that explains his person. Rather, he just grows more and more obsessed. Without the tale of the USS Indianapolis, book Quint is given no redemption for his surly nature and penchant to slay baby dolphins. He just remains unlikable.
In the end, Quint isn't given the memorable departure gifted to him by Spielberg, but rather, he is entangled in the rope attached to a harpoon and dragged under the water, much like Ahab.