"Just When You Thought It Was Safe: A Jaws Companion" Book Review
Written by Patrick Jankiewicz
2009, 233 pages, Non-Fiction
Book released on January 5th, 2010
Jaws screenwriter Carl Gottlieb wrote the quintessential book on the making of the classic film with his 1976 release The Jaws Log. For over thirty years this has remained the final word on the inside story of the making of a Hollywood blockbuster. Patrick Jankiewicz steps up to the plate with a similar tome called Just When You Though It Was Safe: A Jaws Companion as a counterpart to Gottlieb’s much loved production diary.
Jankiewicz has written for numerous publications including Fangoria, Starlog and Film Review, as well as working for years with the SyFy Channel. Over the course of this genre-based career his love for the movie Jaws continued to grow and as the 35th anniversary approached without any planned studio celebrations, he opted to compile a retrospective book that would review all four films in the series by pulling vintage materials while conducting new interviews with cast and crew members along the way.
What results is an incredibly entertaining and very fast read. The author tracks down several industry people who worked on various installments of the franchise and interviewed many of the locals at Martha’s Vineyard who appeared in the original film. Jankiewicz visits with the actors who ended up as victims in the 1975 classic, as well as those in supporting roles as they recount how the experience changed their time on the island that summer.
Starting with coverage of Peter Benchley’s best-selling novel and moving on to individually address each aspect of the task of bringing the book to the screen, Just When You Thought It Was Safe studies how producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown took a chance with a practically unknown Steven Spielberg (The Sugarland Express) and having the courage to stand behind their choice of director as the film schedule spiraled out of control for an unprecedented six months of shooting.
There are new interviews with several key players that readers will enjoy, starting with cinematographer Bill Butler recounting tales of shooting on the water and the growing pressures of life at sea. Production designer Joe Alves contributes details about the construction of the shark and displays original concept drawings. Carl Gottlieb also returns to the world of Jaws with a new interview that reveals the true authorship of the iconic U.S.S. Indianapolis speech delivered by Robert Shaw in the film.
While the majority of the book focuses on the Spielberg frontrunner, there is ample coverage concerning the sequels and behind-the-scenes drama that followed this saga. Jaws 2 receives the best coverage here and much is revealed regarding the firing of director John Hancock and his replacement by Jeannot Szwarc (Somewhere in Time), who faced his own troubles with actor Roy Scheider.
The series declined over the years and less time is spent on the later films in the quartet of terror. Tales of studio interference and creative differences are brought to light to explain what went wrong from one film to the next. Actor Lance Guest (The Last Starfighter) shares some pretty funny stories of last-ditch efforts to salvage the comically abysmal finale to Jaws: The Revenge by filming re-shoots after the movie was released in theaters!
While each film is discussed with individual chapters, a nice additional bit of information as bits of trivia appear within the margins as a series of “fish facts” that are at times impressive with their obscurity. Just When You Thought It Was Safe does not stop there, but rather continues with attention paid to the knock-offs, rip-offs and marketing tie-ins that followed. Director Joe Dante (Gremlins) discusses his involvement with the abandoned satirical sequel Jaws 3- People 0. The book concludes with a special section devoted to the 30th anniversary reunion held on Martha’s Vineyard called “Jawsfest”.
Jaws remains a cinematic gift to movie-goers everywhere and fans will certainly want to check out Jankiewicz’s book that reads like a laid-back visit with friends, reminiscing about what a nice time they had on Martha’s Vineyard all those years ago.