Movie Mom

Movie Mom


Jaws Turns 40

posted by Nell Minow

In honor of the 40th anniversary of Peter Benchley’s Jaws, the book that inspired the first big summer blockbuster movie, Oxford University’s blog has a great tribute by Kirk Curnutt, focusing on the novel, now almost, well, swallowed up in public consciousness by the behemoth of a movie from Steven Spielberg, then still in his 20′s.

The novel that scared a generation out of the ocean and inspired everything from Shark Week to Sharknado recently turned forty. Commemorations of Peter Benchley’s Jaws have been as rare as megalodon sightings, however. Ballantine has released a new paperback edition featuring an amusing list of the author’s potential titles (The Grinning FishPisces Redux), and in February an LA fundraiser for Shark Savers/Wildaid performed excerpts promising “an evening of relentless terror (and really awkward sex).” Otherwise, silence.

The reason is obvious. Steven Spielberg’s 1975 adaptation is so totemic that the novel is considered glorified source material, despite selling twenty-million copies. Rare is the commentator who doesn’t harp on its faults, and rarer still the fan who defends it. Critics dismiss the book as “airport literature,” while genre lovers complain it lacks “virtually every single thing that makes the movie great.” Negative perceptions arguably begin with Spielberg himself. Amid the legendary production problems that plagued the making of the movie—pneumatic sharks that didn’t work, uncooperative ocean conditions that tripled the shooting schedule—the director managed to suggest that his biggest obstacle was Benchley’s original narrative: “If we don’t succeed in making this picture better than the book,” he said, “we’re in real trouble.”

It is good to see an argument made for the book, though Curnutt is frank that it is more an artifact of its era than the movie, which still feels timeless.  But it had its power, at least for the then-10-year-old Curnutt.

Maybe it’s because my friends and I had great fun sneaking ketchup packets into the pool to reenact it, but Shaw’s blood-belching final close-up never haunted me as much as the novel’s Ahab-inspired image of Quint dragged to a watery grave snared in his own harpoon line. Hooper’s fate is even more macabre. As the ichthyologist is turned into a human toothpick Brody attempts an ill-conceived rescue by strafing the water with rifle fire. He manages to miss the shark completely yet land a bullet in Hooper’s neck. Long before reading Melville, I intuited that this was how a naturalistic universe mocked humanity.

By the way, author Benchley was the grandson of 30′s humorist Robert Benchley, noted wit (and an Oscar winner for one of his series of short films).  And he was the son of Nathaniel Benchley, also a writer, whose book was the basis for another story set at the shore, the hilarious comedy The Russians Are Coming, The Russians are Coming.



  • keV dale

    Well I love the jaws novel and the film both are essential whatever your age if lost count how many times iv read and seen jaws

    • Nell Minow

      That’s great to hear, KeV dale! It’s hard to believe it’s been 40 years.

  • keV dale

    I remember forty years ago when my dad took me to the pictures to see jaws it scared me to death and really made me laugh Robert Shaw was superb as quint I loved every moment and forty years on its still my favourite film when I see jaws I always think of my late dad

Previous Posts

Guardians of the Galaxy
The summer movie you've been waiting for has arrived, a joyous space romp that all but explodes off the screen with lots of action and even more charm. Our recent superheros have been complex, often anguished, even downright tortured. It has been a while since we've had a charming rogue with a ba

posted 5:59:33pm Jul. 31, 2014 | read full post »

Get on Up
There are a lot of challenges in taking on the life story of James Brown, known variously as the Hardest Working Man in Show Business, the Godfather of Soul, Mr. Dynamite and others with vari

posted 5:59:21pm Jul. 31, 2014 | read full post »

Magic in the Moonlight
Woody Allen's 44th film is an amuse bouche without a meal, a dollop of whipped cream without the dessert underneath.  In last year's film, "Blue Jasmine," the strength of the performances (especially Oscar-winner Cate Blanchett) and the resonance of its Bernie Madoff-ish crossed with "Streetcar Nam

posted 5:58:31pm Jul. 31, 2014 | read full post »

Exclusive Clip: Behind the Scenes on "Calvary"
Brendan Gleeson gives a magnificent performance as a warm-hearted priest in a sad and damaged world in "Calvary," opening next week across the country.  Here's an exclusive peek behind the scenes, featuring Gleeson and Director of the Pauline Center for Media Studies Sister Rose Pacatte. [iframe

posted 3:45:01pm Jul. 31, 2014 | read full post »

Tonight: The Last of Our Pre-Code Series, Jean Harlow in "Red Headed Woman"
Tonight is the last of the Pre-Code films Margaret Talbot and I will be presenting at Washington D.C.'s Hill Center.  And it's a doozy, Jean Harlow in "Red Headed Woman."  We'd love to see you there. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ATDif96J5Ms[/youtube] Margaret and I will be back a

posted 3:37:33pm Jul. 31, 2014 | read full post »




Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.