Jaws: 30th Anniversary Edition
Running Time: 124 minutes
Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (2.35:1)
Subtitles: French and Spanish
Audio: English – Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, and Dolby Digital 2.0; French and Spanish – Dolby Digital 5.1
June 14th, 2005
Duh, Duh… Duh, Duh…
If you have an interest in the art of film or pop culture, or if you just like good movies, odds are that you have already seen Steven Spielberg’s classic thriller Jaws. Further, over the past three decades, so much has been written or said about this film, the first bona fide “summertime blockbuster” (and first film to rake in $100 million at the box office), that whatever I write has almost certainly been written or spoken somewhere before – this film is that big. Nevertheless, if you are taking the time to read this, you deserve my take on Jaws, which scared beachgoers out of the ocean and propelled Steven Spielberg towards super-stardom.
So, what can I say about Jaws, other than it is the first film I saw that truly scared me (I think I was about 6 at the time)? Let’s start with a description of the simple, and yet extremely effective, plot. Basically, Jaws is the story of a very large Great White shark that plunges the small New England town of Amity into chaos at the height of its busy summer tourist season by feeding on unsuspecting swimmers.
The story begins when the aforementioned denizen of the deep feasts on about half of a beautiful young lass that goes for a swim in the ocean at the worst possible moment. When her remains wash ashore, the cause of her death is pretty clear, but because the local economy depends so much on tourism for support, its leadership wants the girl’s death to be reported as a boating accident.
This request to report a phony cause of death does not sit well with Amity’s Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), who initially wants to evaluate the situation further. As mentioned above, however, Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) will have none of it, particularly with a big Fourth of July bash just around the corner. In his view, the local economy simply cannot sustain the closure of Amity’s pristine beaches, which are one of the town’s main draws.
Later, after a second person falls victim to the shark, a marine biologist/shark expert named Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), who strongly disagrees with the town’s top brass, joins the party. He adds his voice to chief Brody’s, and demands that the beaches be closed before more carnage occurs. After hearing his comments, Amity’s leadership calls for a shark hunt, and ultimately ends up retaining a crazed shark hunter named Quint (Robert Shaw), who vows to bring them the killer shark for the princely (in 1975, anyway) sum of $10,000. Shortly thereafter, Chief Brody and Mr. Hooper board Quint’s vessel, and the three men set out to catch themselves a shark…before he catches them first!
As you can see, the plot is fairly simple, which is actually one of the film’s strengths. Jaws is a tale of man versus beast in a forbidding environment that does not favor the man, and the story’s simplicity allows Spielberg to focus his attention on creating the appropriate levels of tension and excitement within the confines of the story. And as the tale is told, the characters not only battle the shark, and each other, but must also face primal fears, like the possibility of becoming lunch for a shark…and of still being conscious while the shark clamps its powerful jaws and razor sharp rows of teeth onto you. However simple the film is though, the manner in which this story is told makes it a very powerful viewing experience!
Speaking of storytelling, I think another key element of Jaws’ success was the directorial prowess of young Steven Spielberg, who agreed to helm the film in part because it was somewhat similar to his wonderful tele-film Duel. To his credit, Mr. Spielberg elected to use viewers’ imaginations against them in Jaws by not showing us the shark too early or too often. Instead, he places us in the shark’s world to create a sense of unease, and uses shots from the shark’s point of view to create terror, until the massive beast is finally revealed.
The film also benefits immensely from the brisk pace that Spielberg establishes and maintains, and from John Williams’ Oscar® -winning score, which is one of the most memorable in motion picture history. Finally, in addition to a solid screen adaptation of his own book by Peter Benchley (with some help from Carl Gottlieb), the three leads, Scheider, Dreyfuss, and Shaw are all very good in the film.
I do want to briefly mention something that folks may be surprised to learn – namely that spontaneous solutions to problems experienced on the set also helped Jaws become the great film it is. For example, the mechanical shark was out-of-commission so often that Spielberg was forced to film some sequences from the shark’s point of view, a decision that really paid off in spades! Indeed, the film’s imagery (think of the POV shot of the shark closing in on the young lady at the beginning of the film) is still frightening enough to make people scared to swim in the ocean – much more so than in cheesier CGI-filled films like Deep Blue Sea.
Apparently, several memorable lines were also ad-libbed by the actors. Be sure to watch the bonus features, for more information on this, and for details of sequences that were dropped from the film (like a bird’s eye view of the shark circling a victim’s raft that was planned, but was abandoned). It sure would have been awesome if ambitious sequences like the one I mentioned could have been done!!!
All in all, whatever the reasons are, Jaws is a motion picture that not only works on every level, but is a testament to why I think Steven Spielberg is one of the greatest filmmakers of our time. More specifically, it is frightening, gripping, well acted, and expertly directed, and despite the “low-tech” approach taken due to the frequently malfunctioning mechanical shark, the production values are very high, and the effects still hold up even now. Bottom line, this is a terrific film, which should sit proudly in every film enthusiasts DVD library!
SO, HOW DOES IT LOOK?
Given that this DVD marks the 30th Anniversary of Jaws theatrical release, I suppose it is fair to look upon the film as a “vintage” title, produced at a time when image reproduction technology was not what it is today. Still, when taking this into account, I have to say Jaws looks simply stunning, just as it did when Universal released it as a 25th Anniversary edition! In fact, this double-dip contains what I believe to be the very same anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) transfer that the last release sported!
Getting down to the nitty gritty, although the film still looks a little soft, colors are rendered splendidly, from the steely grays and stark whites of the shark, to the clean blues of the ocean and skies, to the dark crimson blood – of both shark and human. Of course, there are a few print flaws that pop up occasionally, such as specks, minor scratches, and a negligible amount of film grain, but these issues are very minor, and the image is still quite clean overall.
The film’s contrast is also handled exceptionally, and blacks are inky, allowing for an abundance of shadow delineation in all but the very darkest shots. Better still, edge enhancement is only an extremely minor presence, and compression artifacts are nowhere to be found. The image is not quite perfect, but I really cannot find too much fault in Universal’s image transfer for Jaws…the film looks much too good for that!
WHAT IS THAT NOISE?
Like this disc’s visuals, Jaws’ soundtrack, which is now available in BOTH its Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS incarnations, sounds quite impressive. While most folks may take being offered multiple surround mixes on one disc for granted nowadays, this is really a welcome change, since the competing surround mixes were only available separately for the 25th Anniversary edition of Jaws.
To be frank, both tracks are fairly front-heavy, but the DTS track outshines its Dolby counterpart where it counts, in terms of spaciousness, fidelity and imaging. This is only my opinion, but I think this makes a much bigger difference for Jaws than most “older” films that have been remixed, since the film relies so much on John Williams’ wonderful music to drive the action!
In terms of surround usage, you will find that, generally speaking, the rear channels are used lightly in both mixes, chiefly only to support the score and emit ambient noise, but the subwoofer gets pressed into service towards the end of the film, when Chief Brody, Quint, and Hooper are engaging in the final showdown with Jaws.
All in all, though the Dolby Digital track is not bad, I think I have to argue that if you are going to listen to this film in 5.1, you have got to go with the DTS mix for the more involving experience it offers – unless you are a purist, in which case the film’s original monaural track is also available!
UPDATE: Well, I finally got around to watching the film again (with the monaural track selected), and I had to re-watch the film a second time just to really make sure my ears were not deceiving me...other than The Terminator: SE this may be the only other time I have grown to prefer the non-5.1 channel mix!
Let me start of by saying while it is not without flaws, after two listens this mix just seems to me to be a more natural representation of Spielberg's masterpiece and the wondeful John Williams score.
The main issue I had with this presentation of the film's soundtrack was that dialogue and effects tended to become a little abrasive at times, but both still sounded good overall, and the score seemed to be more seamlessly integrated with the remainder of the audio information as well.
Frequency response is also surprisingly good, with even low bass response being rather impressive. Finally, and this is a big one for me, sound effects have not been replaced, as some were in the 5.1 mixes, due to the inherent difficulties in isolating some effects from the original media. I know this is not a deal-breaker for some folks, but when I notice it, as in the case of the aforementioned Terminator disk, it really burns me up!
All in all, and keep in mind that this is coming from someone who has never heard the monaural Jaws soundtrack before, save for through TV speakers, I think this track should please most folks! Reference quality it is not, but it will certainly be the way I listen to the film from here on out!
NOTE: Extras that are NEW to this edition are denoted by asterisks!
*** The Making of Jaws
The “Making of Jaws”, which runs for a full 2 hours, is an wonderfully entertaining and extremely comprehensive look at all things related to Jaws. Interestingly, this documentary, directed by Laurent Bouzreau, was originally available on the Jaws laserdisc, but this is the first time it has been available in its entirety on DVD. A portion of it (59 minutes worth) was available on the 25th Anniversary edition of Jaws.
In any event, this much meatier version of Bouzreau’s documentary is one of my personal favorite “making of” pieces, as it addresses just about everything you could want to know about the movie, via interviews with the cast, crew, and writers, as well as behind-the-scenes footage. That is right, you get information on everything from Peter Benchley writing the book and struggling to find a title, to Spielberg coming on board as director, to the casting process, to the film’s lasting impact on modern cinema. It is all here, and I am not going to spoil any of it, because it is a must-see!!!
I know two hours is a long time, but do yourself a favor and set aside the time to watch this “making of” – it really is worth it, especially if you appreciate Jaws. If you have already seen the 59-minute version, watch it again!
*** From the Set
This featurette, which runs for 9-minutes, takes viewers directly onto the Jaws set, via a never-before-seen interview with young director Steven Spielberg, who talks about some of the challenges he had been experiencing in getting his film made.
Deleted Scenes and Outtakes
There are about 14 minutes worth of excised scenes and outtakes from Jaws, most of which are really not that interesting or funny. For me, the lone exception was a few takes of Roy Scheider (as Martin Brody) trying to get his prop gun to fire, without any success! It gets me laughing every time!
*** Jaws Archives
The Jaws archives includes a large number of storyboards, production photos, and posters, as well as a special segment on the impact of Jaws on the cinema. Some material has been added to the “archives” since the films 25th Anniversary Edition, so be sure to give it a look if you are fond of such things!
Also included is a very classy collector’s booklet (roughly 60 pages), which features production photographs, anecdotes, and quotes from the cast and crew.
NOTE #2: A few supplements were trimmed from the 25th Anniversary Edition, including the “Shark World” featurette and trivia game, but with one notable exception, I did not mind these cuts, the exception being the lack of trailers. To me this was rather disappointing, and I am sure that most Jaws fans will agree.
(on a five-point scale)
THE LAST WORD
Jaws is one hell of a film, gripping, frightening, superbly directed, well acted, and featuring some of the most memorable music ever created specifically for a film. For all of these reasons, and more, the movie is ranked number 48 on the American Film Institutes Top 100 movies list, and deservedly so.
Not your run-of-the-mill cross promotional re-release, this “30th Anniversary Edition” DVD is actually a great double-dip as well, as it offers the two-disc special edition of this film that I am sure most fans wanted for its 25th Anniversary, complete with a great image transfer, both DD and DTS 5.1 channel surround mixes, and about all one could hope for in terms of extras, since Spielberg does not do commentaries. Oh yeah, the commemorative booklet that accompanies the set is a nice touch as well.
On one hand I hate Jaws because it still puts that little doubt in the back of my mind when I hit the beach, but on the other I love it, because it is one of the greatest thrillers ever made. Thankfully, this 30th Anniversary edition DVD release does the film proud, and I highly recommend making some room for it wherever you house your DVD collection, because it certainly belongs there!!! Get it…before it gets you!