I’m a big fan of Bear Manor Media, a small press that publishes great books about television, film, radio and the stage. I have raved about their books here in the past (like the Encyclopedia of TV Spies and the 12 O’Clock High Logbook), so it pains me to have to say that one of their latest, Just When You Thought it Was Safe: A Jaws Companion is underwhelming.
It’s not that it’s a bad book, but it’s simply a serviceable rehash of material that has been told over and over and over again. If you’ve never seen a documentary about the making of JAWS, or read any of the other fine books about it, than I suppose that this one provides a nice, if superficial, over-view. For me, it felt like a recap of stuff I already knew and without the depth and detail of previous accounts. Far too much of the book relies on previously published interviews and is padded with unrevealing and uninteresting interviews with d-list actors, bit players (on screen and off), and background extras (the non-speaking roles) that only the most ardent JAWS officionado would care to hear from (for the most part, their perspective adds nothing new or even vaguely interesting). A pointless chapter on the 2005 JawsFest personifies just about everything that’s wrong with this book.
What is supposed to set this book apart from all the JAWS books and documentaries that have come before is coverage of the sequels. But it’s just that, coverage. It doesn’t go much deeper. I never really felt like I was getting into the nuts-and-bolts of how the sequels were developed, shot, and distributed. The exception are fascinating and candid interviews with director John Hancock and his wife Dorothy Tristan, who talk about their vision of JAWS 2 and why they were fired three weeks into filming. If only the rest of the book was as fresh and intriguing.
The best Bear Manor books focus on TV shows, movies, etc. that have been largely overlooked and unexamined until now. The mistake with this book (unlike, say, the book on 12 O’CLOCK HIGH in all its incarnations) is that this is a subject that has already been extensively covered…to death. There simply wasn’t a need for yet another book…especially one that doesn’t break any significant new ground.
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I got a big kick out of James Reasoner’s widely, and justifiably, praised HUNT AT THE WELL OF ETERNITY. It’s a throw-back, in the best sense of the word, to the pulps of yesteryear. But you don’t have to be a fan of old movie serials and comic books to enjoy this Doc Savage/Indiana Jones-esque tale, a rollicking, fast-moving, and thrill-a-minute action adventure that aspires to be nothing more than it is: pure, escapist fun. James has set the bar mighty high for the next five authors in this “ghost-written” series.