The summer of 1975 gave birth to not only one of the scariest films of all time, but also one of the most successful. Spielberg’s epic horror film about a rogue shark that attacks the coastal community of Amity Island became the first true summer blockbuster, as audiences frenzied over the dramatic tension and impressive special effects of the popcorn flick. It inspired four sequels, though despite increased budgets and improved special effects, none could match the movie magic of the unparalleled Jaws.
Inspired by the 1974 best-selling novel of the same name by Peter Benchley, the film (and the franchise as a whole) focused on the shark as a monster, putting it in the same league as King Kong or The Creature from the Black Lagoon. The novel took a more nuanced approach, with the shark featuring for a fair portion of pages in its own environment, and the citizens of Amity Island often more detestable in their floundering morality than the shark in its pure purpose of survival. Below are ten facts about the shark that they leave out in the movies.
10 ITS PERSPECTIVE
The classic scene at the beginning of the novel that features the swimming teenager and the great white is written from two perspectives. The film, being a visual outlet, doesn’t have the opportunity to tell audiences the shark’s intent, only “show” it, and reinforce the notion that the shark is a malevolent monster.
“The eyes were sightless in the black, and the other senses transmitted nothing extraordinary to the small, primitive brain.. .it survived only by moving” the opening paragraph details, suggesting the shark simply exists to exist.
9 ITS TRUE SIZE
In the book, the great white is already enormous, described in the opening paragraph as being twenty feet from snout to tail. In the first film, Spielberg felt the shark needed to be even bigger to adequately inspire terror, so the three full-scale mechanical sharks that were built were constructed to be 25 feet long. In Jaws 2, Jaws 3D and Jaws: The Revenge, the sharks are between 25 and 30 feet long.
The largest great white shark ever recorded was documented recently by divers off the coast of the Hawaiian island of Oahu. Nicknamed “Deep Blue”, it’s 20 feet long, about 50 years old, and weighs 2.5 tons.
8 IT WASN’T A MAN-KILLER WITH A GRUDGE
Peter Benchley had been fascinated by sharks ever since he was young. In 1964, a great white weighing close to 5,000 pounds was caught off the coast of Montauk, which inspired him to document a similar shark going rogue and attacking swimmers off the coast of Long Island in his novel.
Benchley, who became a shark conservationist, didn’t pen his shark as a man-killer with a grudge. In the first film, the shark seems to get “upset” with the three men that try to prevent it from getting access to its “food,” so it begins to target them specifically. In Jaws: The Revenge, the shark is attacking Chief Brody’s family. This isn’t typical shark behavior; they’ll typically only attack humans to get them to leave their area, not eat them.
7 IT’S ABOUT A FAMILY SEEKING REVENGE
Sharks will occasionally interact with other fish, but they’re reclusive creatures. Therefore, it’s odd that in the novelization for Jaws 2, it’s established the first shark had a mate (nicknamed “Brucetta”) that was terrorizing Amity Island once again out of revenge.
It only gets worse when the offspring of the sharks from the first two films seek revenge on Chief Brody’s family specifically for killing its parents in Jaws: The Revenge. This is left out of the films, but the connection is drawn in the books.
6 THE LACK OF HUMAN DEATHS
Though sharks may make scary villains in the Jaws films, there really isn’t a danger of humans becoming a part of their food source. Sharks eat marine life, like seals and fish, and aren’t attracted to humans as a source of nourishment. They view humans more as rival predators in their oceans, and will occasionally attack them as a warning to leave their territories.
Shark injuries occur less than a hundred times a year, and rarely result in death. Sharks usually take a chomp out of someone and then leave. Rarely has a real shark ever actually ingested a human, but in Jaws, it kills several people, in Jaws 2, “Brucette” kills eight, etc, but the body count is less in the books.
5 ITS REPRESENTATION OF FINANCIAL RECESSION
In the Jaws novel (which came out during the 70s recession), the shoreline of Amity Island is a major tourist destination. The town relies on the tourism trade to keep its economy going, and when the shark begins attacking people, the citizens (including the mayor) put their collective heads in the sand to put profit ahead of people.
Police Chief Brody wants citizens to stay off the beaches, putting him directly at odds with the objective of the local politicians and business owners. The shark represents the dichotomy of private enterprise versus public service, though the film would have you believe it’s simply about the dichotomy of good versus evil.
4 IT’S NOT AN EVIL MONSTER
In Benchley’s book as well as the film, the shark is a killer. From its first paragraph, we get a sense that it must eat to survive. When it devours the swimmer, it immediately establishes itself as a dangerous predatory threat to the human population of Amity Island. However, where the book and film diverge is how “monstrous” the shark comes off.
In the book, it is simply a killing machine: “The fish was impelled to attack; if what it swallowed was digestible, that was food; if not, it would later be regurgitated.” It attacked without motivation, and certainly not because it was inherently an evil creature.
3 IT DRAGS QUINT TO HIS DEATH
The character of Quint was meant to represent an Ahab-like character in Jaws, who had a fanatical obsession with sharks ever since his experience serving aboard the USS Indianapolis, where dozens of his brothers in arms were thrown into shark infested waters. In the film, he receives a similar fate, but in a manner that doesn’t reflect the literary inspiration for his perspective.
In the book, he gets the cable from a harpoon wrapped around his leg (as Ahab did) as he’s trying to kill the shark, and the shark dives under water with him being pulled into the depths of the deep. In the film, he simply gets eaten by the shark.
2 IT KILLS HOOPER
The marine biologist Martin Hooper, a reluctant hero in the film, met a grim fate in the novel. He’s placed into a diving cage and used as bait for the great white, a trick that eventually proves fatal when the shark is able to chomp through the metal cage and through Hooper.
According to behind-the-scenes information from the documentary The Making of Jaws, Spielberg got some great footage off the coast of Australia of “Jaws” attacking an empty diving cage, and wanted to keep it in the film. So it was decided that Hooper would narrowly escape the cage, going on to be the hero of the film later on.
1 IT DIES FROM ITS INJURIES
Though the shark in Jaws terrorizes the citizens of Amity Island for over two hours in the film, the epic climax involving the three men trying to kill Jaws doesn’t occur until the film’s dramatic conclusion. The shark is getting ready to devour Brody when it succumbs to its injuries and simply stops moving, sinking into the deep.
In the film, it’s about to eat Chief Brody until he gets the idea to make it explode by shooting an air tank that gets stuck in between its jaws. This made for a much more thrilling blockbuster ending. All the other sharks from the sequels die in similarly spectacular fashion.
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