J aws is a 1975 American thriller film, directed by Steven Spielberg and based on Peter Benchley’s novel of the same name. It is regarded as a watershed film in motion picture history, the father of the summer blockbuster and one of the first “high concept” movies. In the story, the police chief of Amity Island, a fictional summer resort town, tries to protect beachgoers from a giant man-eating great white shark by closing the beach, only to be overruled by the town council, which wants the beach to remain open to draw revenue from tourists during the summer season.
After several attacks, the police chief enlists the help of a marine biologist and a professional shark hunter. Roy Scheider stars as police chief Martin Brody, Richard Dreyfuss as oceanographer Matt Hooper, Robert Shaw as shark hunter Quint, Murray Hamilton as the mayor of Amity Island, and Lorraine Gary as Brody’s wife, Ellen. The screenplay is credited to both Benchley, who delivered the first draft, and actor-writer Carl Gottlieb, who rewrote the script during principal photography.
Jaws bears similarities to several literary and artistic works, most notably Moby-Dick by Herman Melville. The character of Quint strongly resembles Captain Ahab, the obsessed captain of the Pequod who devotes his life to hunting a sperm whale. Quint’s monologue reveals a similar obsession with sharks; even his boat, the Orca, is named after the only natural enemy of the white shark. In the novel and original screenplay, Quint dies after being dragged under the ocean by a harpoon tied to his leg, similar to Ahab’s death in Melville’s novel.
A direct reference to these similarities may be found in the original screenplay, which introduced Quint by showing him watching the film version of Moby-Dick, with his laughter throughout making people get up and leave the theater (Wesley Strick’s screenplay for Cape Fear features a similar scene). However, the scene from Moby-Dick could not be licensed from Gregory Peck, the copyright holder. Screenwriter Carl Gottlieb also drew comparisons to Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea, saying that “Jaws is more of a titanic struggle, like Melville or Hemingway.” What do you think? Did Steven Spielberg pay tribute to Herman Melville and John Huston or is this just a shameless rip-off?