Book Review: Just When You Thought It Was Safe — A JAWS Companion

With the 35th anniversary of “Jaws” arriving, it’s a bit surprising Universal Studios hasn’t done much to commemorate this landmark film. No Blu-ray release, no reboot, not even a theatrical re-release. Thankfully, author Patrick Jankiewicz took the initiative to delve into the history of the killer shark franchise with his book “Just When You Thought it was Safe: A JAWS Companion”.

Over a third of the 233 page tome deals with the original classic, detailing practically every aspect of the troubled shoot by a then relatively new director who would go on to become the revered Steven Spielberg. From the inauspicious beginning of optioning Peter Benchley’s novel, to writing the screenplay, casting the film and dealing with the unreliable mechanical shark, Jankiewicz spares no details and makes it all a fascinating read. Equally intriguing is how Spielberg worked around the malfunctioning fish, as well as the truth of how the infamous “Indianapolis” speech came to be. The details of the casting process, normally a dry read, becomes fairly interesting as we learn who the first choice for every role as oppose to who was ultimately cast.

The second part of the book, dealing with “Jaws 2”, proves equally fascinating; we learn about the acrimonious dismissal of John Hancock, the rejection of his darker, gorier version, and the on-set strife between Roy Scheider and replacement helmer Jeannot Szwarc. As with “Jaws”, there are plenty of interviews with the cast and crew of the sequel, allowing for plenty of anecdotes about the making of the film — especially a section on the merchandising (from trading cards, comic cooks, to even children’s activity books).

We’re given less information on “Jaws 3-D” and “Jaws: The Revenge”, although in some respects the less said the better. We do learn that the third “Jaws” was to be written by noted writer Richard Matheson, writer of the novel “I Am Legend” and numerous “Twilight Zone” episodes; his story was considered to be quite good and involved a cameo for Mickey Rooney. Sadly, numerous script doctors devolved Matheson’s script into the film we have today. He also found himself battling Universal over asinine ideas, such as using the shark from “Jaws 2” in the third movie.

Even less is written about the fourth film, although we’re given details about the ending re-shot the day after the movie opened and the absurdity of the plot, as well as the film’s financial failure. Far more fascinating is the sequel that was proposed instead: “National Lampoon’s Jaws 3, People 0”. This spoof would have had author Peter Benchley eaten by a shark in his private swimming pool, but Universal vetoed it, fearing it would “foul their own nest” in terms of the series. Ditto for the sequel by Steve De Jarnatt, who wrote “Miracle Mile”, a quirky tale about Quint’s son arriving in Amity to collect a $10,000 bounty on a new shark. The oft mention U.S.S Annapolis tale proposed by Steven Spielberg pre-“Jaws 2” was also rejected.

Chapters concerning the numerous foreign rip offs of “Jaws” and the yearly Jawsfest at Martha Vineyard’s are covered, to show how the films still lives on in the mind of the public. This year, rumors were rampant of a 3D reboot coming soon. If anything, this book can satisfy “Jaws” fans until that day arrived.

Just When You Thought It Was Safe: A JAWS Companion
By Patrick Jankiewicz
BearManor Media, 2009