Novel versus Movie: Our love affair with Hooper

Novel versus Movie: Our love affair with Hooper

Ashleigh talks about her experiences of Jaws, the movie versus the novel, and the relationships throughout.

Not just a story about a killer shark

We already know that Peter Benchley’s Jaws was not just a story about a killer shark.

Jaws enthusiasts find themselves wincing whenever someone refers to it as, “that movie/book about a killer shark,” before we unite in saying, “It’s a lot more nuanced than that!’ in perhaps too-shrill a voice.

Having grown up watching Spielberg’s Jaws, finding out that this thrilling movie of my childhood was an actual readable novel left me beyond excitement. Basil Fawlty can be seen reading Benchley’s Jaws in bed during an episode of Fawlty Towers. I think it was at this point that I got myself a true-vintage hard copy in a tattered paper wrap.

I knew I was in for a great ride, but what struck me from left-field once I turned the final page was in fact the gaping differences between the novel and the movie that I’d always loved – including the different portrayals and trials of one Matt Hooper.

Spielberg’s Jaws is a movie that devoured my childhood and coloured it Great White.

A fear and fascination with sharks

I developed an irrational fear – and morbid fascination – with sharks. Kicking my legs on the toilet with a scary book about sharks spread open on my lap, I dared myself to turn each page, never knowing what toothy, black-eyed killing machine would be gliding through the velvety depths. Every blue carpet in every household became shark-infested water. I navigated spaces by leaping ungracefully from couch to couch, more often than not losing a leg or an arm, flailing too close to the ocean.

When I mail-ordered a VHS promotional film for Universal Studios, there was one ride in particular that I wound back again and again to see: the Jaws experience. With Bruce bursting nose-up from the water to the backdrop of terrified screams, I would jump in fear and delight, wondering: would I dare to go near the water? My answer would come the next time I visited the swimming pool, or took a bath. With my eyes fixed on the current, my heart would rise to my mouth as I imagined the spike of a glinting silver fin.

Like many Jaws fans, I was enthralled, but terrified. Is it any wonder, after what happened to that poor Kintner kid?

In the novel

The subtle reflective layers – the micro, macro subtext in Benchley’s novel – were explored in depth throughout the original story. Woven gracefully between the threat of recession to Amity Island and Chief Brody’s failing marriage is a cool, Great White shark. The subtle demon. The sudden death of all that’s at stake.

But there’s another threat creeping closer to Brody’s all-American, working class dream. There’s something lurking in the waters around his seemingly stable marriage, his career, his happy children. And it’s nothing like the movie.

In Benchley’s novel, the smiling son of a bitch is Matt Hooper.

If you haven’t read the book or researched it, then this revelation will have bitten you right in the arse.

That’s right: the dweeby-yet-brilliant Hooper of the movie is extinct in the novel, where instead he is a country-club-attending, badminton-bat-swinging, blonde-haired, blue-eyed threat to Brody’s failing marriage. The residents of Amity Island aren’t the only delectable morsels at risk here. Ellen Brody, in mourning for her glory days and watching her youth fade away, meets the brother of an old flame and finds herself a snack. That snack is Matt Hooper.

Are you in shock? I was in shock.

What’s interesting as you read on is that when Brody finally slays the Great White – this steely-eyed, sharp-finned threat to society – Hooper meets his own ghastly, grizzly end. In fact, I think this makes perfect sense, along with the Captain Ahab-style death of Quint. After the threat has been destroyed, that courageous fighting instinct – personified by Quint – can fade down into the depths of the ocean. With it, in the novel, must go Hooper – after all, he was one such threat.

Brody then surfaces a hero: dishevelled, exhausted, scarred, but alive. Just like Amity Island, he survives…

In the movie

So why, then, in the movie, does Matt Hooper rise victorious too? Why does the affair never happen? Why in place of this Hollywood dreamboat do we have a bespectacled Richard Dreyfuss; the other half of our beloved Brody-Hooper bromance?

Though mostly faithful to the original novel, Spielberg appears to have a love affair with his new Hooper.

Do we blame him? Of course not – that developing bromance in Jaws the movie, culminating in a slow-paddle towards shore after the Great White explodes into pieces, has been cherished from the day it first hit screens. I’d go so far as to say it is sacred to us fans.

Countless reviews and articles about the movie have explained that Spielberg deliberately focused on Jaws as a killer shark story, leaving out much of the melodramatic subplot. Much like a struggling marriage, the movie was fraught with difficulties, and when Benchley – initially given the green light to provide the screenplay – failed to provide the goods, Spielberg brought in new writers to finish it off.

In conclusion

The Hooper of the novel is drowned and a new version re-born, devoid of infidelities and filled with sarcasm, wit, and intelligence. His goofy charms entranced us all to the extent that we dived in head-first, floated on our backs, and basked in his rays. The Matt Hooper of the movie lives to study another day; another shark. Maybe the Hooper of the novel was Benchley’s, but Dreyfuss made him ours. We went to bed with Benchley and woke up with Spielberg, and we’ve been trapped in that love affair ever since.

For me, having seen the movie first and read the novel second, it felt more that I’d had a sordid affair with the novel Hooper, betraying all I’d known in the Dreyfuss version.

Whatever way it played out for you, I’m sure we can agree on one thing: the movie is the version we all come home to – and that is one stable marriage indeed.