Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Which Jaws has the bigger bite?

While I'm resurrecting old bits, here's the first piece I published in RVA Magazine.  It's a comparison of Steven Spielberg's film and Peter Benchley's book.  It's brief, but since that there are few (if any) tales that I enjoy more, it's something I had a lot of fun with.  Enjoy!

Which Jaws has the bigger bite?

It’s a true anomaly: a stellar book is optioned by Hollywood and brought to the screen in epic fashion, surpassing the source text in the eyes of many.  For once, fans of either format can sit and ponder the merits of these beloved blockbusters, engaged in a difficult debate.  Which version has the sharpest teeth? 
            When Peter Benchley wrote his signature novel, he ignited the literary world with a gripping “Man vs. Nature” opus that plunges the reader into a marine nightmare on the first page and never looks back.  Benchley based his work on an actual series of attacks on the East Coast attributed to a single shark and this gives his plot a potent dose of realism.  The characters are well drawn, the setting is perfect, and the prose is both rhythmic and knowledgeable, a delicate balancing act performed to perfection here.
            Steven Spielberg took Benchley’s book to tinseltown and frightened audiences across the country out of the water with his amped-up approach and an explosively different climax (literally) that won the author over despite some initial conflict.  Young Spielberg was willing to take more chances and it shows, this stark and scary picture is a far cry from the family fare the director is also known for.  Here, his ambition and ability join forces with an exceptional cast to land an instant classic.  Give an assist to John Williams, the famed film composer who supplied one of cinema’s grandest scores.
            Since there can be no doubt that both versions of this tale have touched countless lives, a prominent question arises: which is the better fishing trip to go on?  Unfortunately, this is a query that simply cannot be answered.  The two visions vary enough that it simply will not work if one attempts to compare and contrast them.  Prominent characters and subplots within the novel didn’t make it before the cameras, most notably an extramarital sexual encounter between Matt Hooper and Ellen Brody that charges the third act of the book with blistering tension as three men take to the sea in pursuit of one of nature’s most violent killers.  Alas, who can forget Robert Shaw’s incredible monologue regarding his service on the Indianapolis, a plot device Spielberg originated and a setpiece the actor ran wild with.  There is also the conclusion to consider, as well as the fact that a primary character who survives on celluloid perishes in print.
            This is all a blessing, as those who know and love the story have two separate experiences to enjoy, both of which are frequently cited as favorites by bookworms and film buffs alike. 

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