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A mechanical shark & movie adaptations of books

Last week I sat down with the family to watch a movie my husband had NEVER seen (!). It was the rather popular shark movie (specifically a great white shark) made in the late 70’s to scare people away from ever swimming in the ocean despite the rare occurrence of a shark attack. According to Reader’s Digest (see link in the previous sentence):

Shark attacks are rare and almost never deadly

But the truth about shark attacks is beside the point and would ruin the whole premise for the book and movie. Are you wondering what movie I’m talking about? JAWS. It was a book with the same title that was made into a movie and produced by Steven Spielberg.

Movie adaptations of books, more often than not, miss the mark when I’ve read the original book. In fact, I often wish the marketing tagline would say something like: A book was written with similar themes, but this movie really veers off course from the original intent. Or, we decided to change a ton of stuff from the original book including the trajectory of the main character for this film adaptation. I know it’s a tactic to get the people who read the book to see the film. Don’t get me wrong, I often see movies after I’ve read a book with the same title. I’m just starting to realize that I need to approach movie adaptations with a different view, that it really is a completely new story. I’m a little slow. It doesn’t apply to JAWS because I never read it, but now I’m curious.

Anyway, as we watched the movie I couldn’t help but think about Moby Dick (well, the first half of MD. . . I never finished the book, I admit it!). For obvious reasons the shark reminded me of the whale in MD, but also some of the characters had similarities.

SPOILER ALERT (regarding character backstory)

Quint is the shark hunter in JAWS. Not until a particularly drunken conversation between Quint and the marine biologist revolving around who has the most terrible scars/injuries do we find out that Quint has a vendetta against sharks, all sharks. In the war (WWII), his boat sank and along with thousands of other soldiers was left to be fed to the hundreds of sharks (another scare tactic and likely would never happen) that devoured all but Quint in the end. I won’t give away the ending, but in the end, this story was more about what the shark represented to the American people in the 70’s. Interpretations include greed, capitalism, and fear of the unknown.

Mental Floss created a list of interesting facts about the movie, my favorite? #13 on their list. A local fisherman was the inspiration for the character Quint. Check out the clip on the Mental Floss link.

In any case, there are very few movies who are able to stay true to the original book they were adapted from. I’m sure a lot has to do with funds, the versatility of cast, and the overall ability to interpret the original work. Lately, though, I haven’t found one that stays true enough to the book. I’m thinking of Ready Player One, The Glass Castle and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Those were all vastly different than the books they were adapted from. My favorite out of the three was The Glass Castle. I think they did a fairly good job overall on that one.

Now, I loved the JAWS ride at Universal Studios as a kid and that, too, made a lasting impression on me.

Check back next with when we hear from Erica Steele in an author Q and A!

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