That was the original studio pitch by Alien screenwriter, Dan O’Bannon, to sell his soon to be sci-fi classic. Of course, Alien – which celebrates 40 years since its original release in 1979 – is not a remake of Jaws; it’s more of a haunted house movie in space.
But, just how much film DNA does Jaws and Alien share? The Daily Jaws’ Chief Writer, Dean Newman, dons spacesuit to investigate, remembering that in space, no one can hear you scream you’re gonna need a bigger spaceship.
The Great White shark in Jaws and the Xenomorph in Alien are monsters armed to the teeth. Both the Xenomorph and Bruce have limited screen time, the alien clocking up a mere four minutes, whilst Bruce appearances are mostly fleeting. Both films make great use of POV shots, not showing the full creature and – in the case of alien – an effective strobe effect to conceal that it is just a man in a suit.
Nature Against Man
Both the Great White and the Xenomorph are apex predators, they are both perfect examples of Nature against Man, which was prevalent in 1970s cinema, think of it as eco-horror or an extension of the cycle of disaster movies. Both Alien and Jaws follow several of these tropes.
We know that these creatures are top of their food chain and both films feature very similar lines underpinning that.
In Alien, Ash talks about his admiration for the newly discovered creature by saying: “You still don’t understand what you’re dealing with, do you? Perfect organism. Its structural perfection is matched only by its hostility.”
Which has several echoes of Matt Hooper’s admiration for the shark when he is talking to fashion icon and Amity Mayor, Larry Vaughn. Hooper – played by Richard Dreyfuss – famously states “Mr Vaughn, what we are dealing with here is a perfect engine, an eating machine. It’s really a miracle of evolution. All this machine does is swim and eat and make little sharks, and that’s all.”
The crew of the Nostromo out on their own in the depths of space whilst the Orca crew are out of their depth at sea, they are both fighting for survival in the domain of the monster hunting them.
In Jaws, we of course have the still powerfully disturbing opening unseen attack on Chrissie Watkins, we wrote in detail about the making of this iconic scene here. Alien avoids the horror cliché of a woman being shown as the easy first target; instead we have John Hurt as the casualty of this symbolic rape, complete with penis-like chest bursting scene that still packs as much punch as Chrissie’s death.
Iconic Scenes Spoofed
These very two traumatic scenes would be spoofed for laughs by the very stars that originated them, first by Susan Backlinie in Steven Spielberg’s 1941, where she was ‘attacked’ by the conning tower of a Japanese submarine.
And then John Hurt played his death scene for laughs in the Mel Brooks Star Wars spoof, Spaceballs.
As well as the class war between Hooper and Quint onboard Orca, there is still class division in space with Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton pushed below deck, clearly on a different pay scale than the rest of the crew – helping to create a little tension.
Thanks to Watergate, pretty much everything in 70s cinema involved a cover up or a conspiracy. Jaws and Alien are no different. The town of Amity – including its Mayor – tries to cover up the fact that a killer shark is roaming its shores and in Alien the cover up is simple. Get a sample of the new species, at whatever cost to the safety of the crew.
All of which leads us nicely into obsession, as Ash – under strict order – is driven to deliver the promise of a sample of this new species, even if it means losing his android cool to the crew and attacking them. This could be seen as akin to Quint’s blow up in Jaws when he destroys the radio that could have brought them more help. He will stop at nothing to get that shark.
Dialogue & Explosions
Thinking that she has destroyed the Alien, Ripley utters the words” I got you, you son of a bitch” post the Nostromo explosion.
A more famous “Smile, you son of a bitch!” is spoken by Chief Brody as he fires a bullet into the oxygen tank being carried by the shark, resulting in a mighty explosion.
At the start of Alien, you’d probably put your money on Dallas (played by Tom Skerritt) as the hero of the piece, rather than Ripley. Likewise, you wouldn’t have initially put money on water phobic Chief Brody seizing the day at the end of Jaws over shark fisherman Quint and shark expert Hooper.
So, if Ripley is Brody, does that mean Jones the cat is Hooper?
Steven Spielberg’s cinematic debut was with The Sugarland Express in 1974, with Ridley Scott’s being the same year as the release of Jaws with The Duellists, so Jaws and Alien were both their second features as directors. Both directors had also started on in television, with Scott also directing several television commercials as well as various dramas.
Even the sequels in each franchise have similarities, there’s a larger cast of ‘potential victims’ in Jaws 2 and Aliens, and the lead actor in both original films returns and carries each film. Aliens ramps up the ante with multiple Xenomorphs, Spielberg did toy with the idea of having multiple fins swimming towards Amity at the end of Jaws
Jeannot Swarc, who helmed Jaws 2, debuted with Bug, released the same year as Jaws, about a breed of mutant intelligent, flying super-cockroaches. Whilst Aliens Director first flexed his directing muscles on Piranha 2: Flying Killers (also known as Piranha 2: The Spawning) - a follow up to the original Joe Dante Jaws cash-in, Piranha. Part 2 opens with a couple who swim into a sunken wreck - which naturally is also a piranha lair - and they are both killed and eaten by the unseen piranha. Echoes of Jaws 2 there.
Both Jaws 3D and Alien 3 share debut directors in the form of Joe Alves and David Fincher, respectively. Alien Resurrection and Jaws The Revenge er both share the letter ‘R’ featured prominently in their titles. Both were also disliked immensely by legendary critic Roger Ebert.
Of Alien Resurrection he named it as one of the worst films of 1997 and wrote that he felt “there is not a single shot in the movie to fill one with wonder.” In his review of Jaws the Revenge a decade earlier he gave it a big fat zero stars and said that is not simply a bad movie, but also a stupid and incompetent one.
By Dean Newman
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