Jaws surfaces on Blu-ray this upcoming week in a Universal 100th Anniversary Edition that really honors that birthday. The movie itself continues to be effective and compelling, some 37 years after its theatrical release. Fans of the movie will have a great time with this release, and uninitiated viewers are in for a great time. The Blu-ray includes all the materials from the previous 30th Anniversary DVD edition, and adds in a fan documentary and an HD featurette on the restoration of this film. This release is Very Highly Recommended. Run, do not walk, to purchase it.
Length: 2 hrs 4 mins
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
BD Resolution and Codec: 1080p, AVC (@ an average 34 mbps)
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (@ an average 5.0 mbps, up to 6.4 mbps), French DTS 5.1, Spanish DTS 5.1, English DTS Digital Surround 2.0 Mono (Original 1975)
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Film Rating: PG (But let’s not kid ourselves here – Violence, Language, Shark Attacks)
Release Date: August 14, 2012
Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, and Bruce
Screenplay by: Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb (and uncredited work by Howard Sackler)
Based on the Novel by Peter Benchley
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Film Rating: 5/5
Jaws is a marvel of storytelling, with all the resources of the filmmakers being worked to express what is a brutally simple tale. The movie effectively adapts Peter Benchley’s novel about what happens when a Great White shark starts eating the swimmers who dare go in the waters at the fictional Amity Island beaches in New England. The story is told from the point of view of Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), who first battles to get the town elders to understand the seriousness of the problem, and then goes to sea with the men who have the ability to kill the shark. And that’s the simple description of the movie. For those who have shamefully never seen this movie before, please skip ahead to the technical areas, as it would be criminal to spoil the fun you’re about to have.
SPOILERS: Among other things, Jaws is an example of great adaptation work. The source novel by Peter Benchley is loaded with subplots that can be gobbled up by summer readers (who ironically have been reading this book on beaches for nearly the past 40 years) but which are not necessary to the spine of the story. The first half of the story, in which the shark menaces the Amity beaches and Chief Brody struggles in vain to get Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) to close the beaches and deal with the problem, has a much more complicated setup in the book. Granted, it makes more sense in the book that Vaughn won’t close the beaches due to Mafia investment in Amity real estate (an investment sure to tank when word gets out about the shark), but you don’t need to know that to see that the Mayor is simply making sure that the summer dollars Amity depends on don’t disappear. The book also has an unnecessary subplot about how Brody’s wife is so dissatisfied with her marriage and life that she has a fling with Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), the oceanographer brought in to help deal with the situation. The movie wisely jettisons that idea to focus on how Brody and Hooper work together with each other and local fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) to defeat the beast. One major change from the book to the movie is actually the result of a production problem. In the book and the early scripts of the movie, Hooper dies when his shark tank is turned into mincemeat along with him by the shark. But during the course of filming real sharks swimming around a miniature shark tank in Australia, Ron and Valerie Taylor shot some incredible footage of one of the sharks getting tangled up with the cage and its cable system – footage that is used in the movie but clearly shows that the cage is empty. Thus, the filmmakers were able to spare Hooper when Peter Benchley had the shark use him as an underwater appertif.
MORE SPOILERS: The effect of stripping away the subplots to focus on the shark and what it is doing has the effect of heightening the shark’s impact. Where in the book, the shark is a creature of instinct and territoriality, the movie shark is clearly and deliberately malevolent. There is no doubt in the movie that the shark is having its way with the swimmers in the first half and then deliberately attacking Quint’s boat in the second half. The other thing that heightens the impact of the shark is the fact that we cannot see it for very much of the movie at all. Given the serious technical problems of getting a mechanical shark to perform on cue in salt water, the movie instead resorts to a series of tricks that make the situation much, much scarier. For the first shark attack of the movie, done to a female swimmer in the pre-dawn hours, the shark is completely invisible. Instead, the camera point of view is that of the shark, rising up from the deep and closing in on the swimmer while John Williams’ Oscar-winning score tells the viewer in no uncertain terms that something fairly unhappy is about to happen. For the next attack, during a daylight beach scene, the pattern is repeated, although a brief glimpse of the shark destroying a child’s raft is included. A night sequence with two idiots on a pier throwing the Sunday roast into the ocean with a hooked chain establishes the shark’s presence by having the unseen presence literally rip off the end of the pier while Williams’ score pulses, and then having the pier TURN ITSELF AROUND while the music increases in intensity and volume. All of this speaks to incredibly effective editing (by Verna Fields) and scoring, as well as to strong directorial choices by Steven Spielberg, who at the time was making only his second feature film and wasn’t even 30 years old.
STILL MORE SPOILERS: The movie is neatly divided into two halves. The first half covers Chief Brody’s inability to get the Amity elders to let him close the beaches while the shark happily munches on swimmers at will. This half concludes with a July 4th attack by the shark at the pond area inland of the beach which nearly kills Brody’s young son and does kill an unfortunate boater who gets too close. The scene concludes with Brody staring intently out to sea and the camera goes there too – signaling that we’re done with the grounded portion of the story. The next scene confirms this, as Brody forces the now visibly shaken Mayor to sign the voucher to authorize the hiring of Quint to kill the shark. (Vaughn’s complete capitulation to Brody in this scene is always satisfying, and it signals that the primary conflict of the first half of the story is now over.) The second half finds Brody on Quint’s fishing boat, the Orca, along with Hooper, and the conflicts rage not only between the men and the shark but between the men and each other. (Some of this conflict clearly spills over from the hostility from elder actor Shaw to younger man Dreyfuss.) This second act includes some really great set pieces, including an agonizing sequence where Quint first hooks the shark – all done with close ups of Quint’s reel and telling bass hits from Williams’ score. A jaw-dropping ghost story of sorts is told by Quint about how sharks killed most of his shipmates from the USS Indianapolis in 1945 after they delivered the Hiroshima bomb. (This scene, which is one of the most effective in the movie, was actually derided by Pauline Kael in her 1975 review…) And it’s in the second act that the viewer finally gets to see the shark. For a few shots scattered between several scenes, the viewer gets a good look at what appears to be a pretty large Great White, one Quint tells us is 25 feet long and weighing three tons. But even here, the movie is sparing with what we can see of the villain. Instead, Spielberg makes a device of harpooning the shark with yellow barrels off of the deck of the Orca, so that when the viewer sees the barrels and hears Williams’ shark music, it’s clear that the shark is on the move. Things come to a head when the shark, after repeatedly ramming the boat and then destroying Hooper’s underwater cage, finally jumps onto the back of the boat (this part actually is from the book) and after taking on Quint, goes for Brody, who as the last man on the ship, is left with the task of finally dispatching the beast despite his fear of the shark and the water. In true Spielberg fashion, the story ends with Brody having defeated the shark and his own fears, and then being joined by a still-living Hooper to swim to shore together. And in true John Williams fashion, the movie ends with a soothing variation of the music heard through much of the boat scenes of the second half of the film. It’s an upbeat ending, and yet it doesn’t undo the horror of what has been going on for the previous 2 hours.
FINAL SPOILERS: Jaws as a movie is an opportunity to see Steven Spielberg at the beginning of what would become a spectacular directing career, and a chance to see what a team of craftsmen could do with a bad technical situation (non-working mechanical shark, filming on real ocean) to create a classic motion picture. It displays a depth of character attention that is truly refreshing, and some stunning directorial choices. The great scene of Hooper trying to persuade Mayor Vaughn about the dangers of the shark, played under the defaced “Welcome to Amity” sign, is played almost completely in a single shot. Multiple scenes are played with simultaneous action happening in multiple areas of the frame. And yet there are still many, many great character moments. Hooper’s attempt to get Brody to let an opened bottle of wine breathe for a moment is a classic, as is the sight of Brody completely out of his element on the Orca as both Hooper and Quint prepare to battle the shark, each in their own way. And there is that incredible monologue by Robert Shaw as Quint, telling the story of the USS Indianapolis. If ever there was an example of what happens when you combine good acting, writing, editing and directing – this would be it – as the monologue is constructed from two different days of filming, in which the dialogue was delivered in two very different states of mind. The effect is seamless. And while there are seams that still show in Jaws, the movie itself continues to be unforgettable.
Jaws will be released on Blu-ray on August 14th. The new Blu-ray arrives with an excellent new AVC transfer, a solid DTS-HD MA 7.1 mix of the sound, and the extras from the 2005 DVD. To this has been added a windowboxed copy of the fan documentary “The Shark is Still Working” and a new 2012 featurette about the restoration work done on the film. The packaging also includes a new 2012 DVD and instructions for downloading a digital copy. In a refreshing surprise, the disc has a Main Menu, unlike many of the other 100th Anniversary releases this year. Given the quality of the movie, and given the quality of the work done on the Blu-ray, a review is practically superfluous here. This release is Very Highly Recommended. Buy it, and then see if you feel the same way about swimming at the beach next summer…
VIDEO QUALITY 5/5
Jaws is presented in a 1080p AVC 2.35:1 picture transfer that presents the film in the best fashion it has ever been offered for home viewing. The movie has been restored by putting the negative through a wetgate process and then putting careful work into correcting multiple tears and other issues faced by a film of its age. The results are a pleasure to see. There isn’t heavy grain visible, but it can be seen. Many details not fully visible before can now be seen, including the print on Mayor Vaughn’s “Anchor Suit”, the wood paneling on a door in the hospital, the blood color in the water after a shark attack. Minor details can be visible outside the windows of various locations. The effect of all of this is to give the viewer the feeling of viewing the movie for the first time – in spite of the bell bottoms and the car stylings, etc, the movie practically looks brand new.
AUDIO QUALITY 5/5
Jaws is presented in an English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix that expands upon the original mono mix, adding some dimensionality and some subwoofer presence. The mix has clearly been done with some care, to make sure that what was originally a satisfying mono presentation doesn’t suddenly turn into an immersion experience that was never designed. The basic idea is that the dialogue stays up front and the music and some sound effects go to the surrounds. This is not done in an attention-getting manner. Instead, things are kept as much to the front as possible. The greatest beneficiary of the new mix is John Williams’ score, which gets a subwoofer boost in areas that are more than appropriate – usually during the various shark attacks. If anything, the score gets a better treatment here than on any prior mix done for this film. Two good examples are the opening shark attack, which alternates between violent rhythms for the attack and moments of silence for the guy who passes out at the water’s edge, and the July 4th cavalcade, which uses a baroque style to underscore and match with things like the foghorns and other sound effects of the big ferries bringing in the tourists. The only reason I have marked this score down a half point is that there are some editorial changes that have been made here – most noticeably a dialing-down of the climactic line by Chief Brody of “Smile you son-of-a-bitch!” which causes the last syllable to be drowned out by the rifle blast. In earlier mixes, the line was triumphantly audible. In the new mix, and in the last few DVD mixes, the line has been dialed down. So, while the rest of the audio is exemplary, I am compelled to take back one kadam, to honor the Hebrew God whose Ark this is… UPDATE: I have now confirmed by crosschecking the audio across 4 laserdisc releases that the mono track is the actual 1975 mono, and that the final line is accurately presented in that mix. Accordingly I am giving back the kadam and upgrading the score to the full 5 stars.
SPECIAL FEATURES 4/5
The Blu-ray presentation of Jaws comes with the same special features as the 2005 DVD, with the fan documentary “The Shark is Still Working” and an HD featurette on the movie’s restoration added in for good measure. The packaging also includes the new 2012 DVD, as well as instructions for accessing a digital or ultraviolet copy. Nearly all of the special features actually date back to the 1995 Signature Laserdisc, which is not a bad thing, considering that this is one of the more interesting laserdisc releases we’ve ever seen.
My Scenes – The usual Blu-ray bookmarking feature is available here, allowing the viewer to set their own bookmarks throughout the film.
pocket BLU – The usual Blu-ray functionality of pocket BLU is present here.
D-Box – This functionality is present for viewers who have this capability.
The Shark is Still Working (1:41:21, 480p, Windowboxed) (NEW FOR THIS BLU-RAY) – This is a recent fan-made documentary, presented in standard definition and windowboxed, which includes interviews with most of the principals, updating the material collected for the 1995 laserdisc documentary. It has some good moments, including what looks like one of the final interviews with author Peter Benchley and one with Percy Rodrigues, the man who provided the eerie narration for the trailers of the movie. There’s some fun stuff here about Craig Kingsbury, the local fisherman at Martha’s Vineyard who provided much of the template for the movie’s presentation of the Quint character, including an admission that he may have been the biggest liar on the island, and that’s from a relative… There’s also some unnecessary fan material, including multiple fans singing out the notes of the famous shark theme, footage of the various Jaws Fests, and multiple takes of local actress Lee Fierro slapping people. It’s still interesting to see Spielberg discuss that if he made this film in 2005, he would have been able to generate a CGI shark and wouldn’t have had to make all the creative choices he did to make the movie work, which would have effectively ruined his movie. The documentary is divided into 10 visible chapters, and can be viewed via those chapters or through a “Play All” function.
Jaws: The Restoration (8:28, 1080p) (NEW FOR THIS BLU-RAY) – This high definition featurette goes into some detail about the work done to restore the movie both for this release, and for posterity. Both the picture issues and the sound mix are discussed here, with Steven Spielberg signing off on the end result as better than when he saw the movie in the theaters.
The Making of Jaws (2:02:48, 480p, Full Frame) (FROM THE 30th ANNIVERSARY DVD) – This may well be the single best “Making of” documentary ever assembled for home video about a major feature film. Laurent Bouzereau’s work here is exemplary, collecting all the living major cast and creative staff members to discuss what happened during the making of the film. There’s a refreshing frankness here, from Spielberg admitting his frustration with the non-working mechanical shark to Dreyfuss admitting how he wound up taking his role in the movie. There are some truly golden moments here, from Carl Gottlieb relaying how Craig Kingsbury was known as the only man on Martha’s Vineyard to get a DUI while driving a team of oxen, to Dreyfuss and Spielberg relating a story about how the picture Orca boat was nearly sunk and while the crew was frantically trying to get the actors off the boat before it went down, the Oscar-winning sound mixer was seen holding the Nagra over his head and yelling “F___ the actors! Get the SOUND CREW off the boat!” There are many more good moments here, including Peter Benchley admitting he was wrong to object to the movie’s spectacular ending and Roy Scheider mischievously admitting to starting a massive food fight at one point. One wouldn’t want to spoil any more, but this is one of those documentaries you really do need to see. The documentary has also been presented in a cut-down hour-long version, which was available on the 25th Anniversary DVD and on the 2012 DVD in this package. One other note – the full-length documentary presented here does not include the main title card or any of the chapter cards. As of the 30th Anniversary DVD, those cards were eliminated, and it appears that this presentation is identical to the 30th Annivesary DVD. There are chapter breaks here, but no menu to indicate where they are, unfortunately.
From the Set (8:56, 480p, Non-Anamorphic) (FROM THE 30th ANNIVERSARY DVD) – This is apparently a news story put together by a British company visiting the movie shoot in 1974. Vintage footage can be seen of the crew at work, and there’s a 1974 interview with Steven Spielberg during the shoot.
Jaws Archives (480p, Non-Anamorphic) (FROM THE SIGNATURE LASERDISC) – This is an archive section which includes many frames of storyboards, production photos, marketing designs, and a final section to mark the “Jaws Phenomenon”.
Trailer (3:15, 480p, Non-Anamorphic) (FROM THE SIGNATURE LASERDISC) – The movie’s original theatrical trailer, narrated by Percy Rodrigues, is included here for posterity. It should still give any sane viewer chills to hear Rodrigues’ description of the shark as “a mindless eating machine.”
SD DVD – (2.35:1 Anamorphic Letterbox) – As a bonus, the package also contains a new 2012 DVD edition of the movie, containing the new transfer downrezzed to standard definition, and the 50 minute version of the laserdisc documentary first seen on the 1995 Signature laserdisc.
Digital/Ultraviolet Copy – Instructions are included in the packaging for downloading a digital copy or streaming an Ultraviolet copy of the movie to your laptop or portable device. The instructions include a deadline of April 30, 2015 for activation.
The movie and special features are subtitled in English, Spanish and French. The usual chapter and pop-up menus are present.
IN THE END...
Jaws is one of those movies that you really need to see. It shows the first strong choices made by a young director, and the support he received from a talented staff and crew when the mechanical shark required to make the movie work, didn’t do its job. It’s also a perennial, showing a certain amount of power even today, 37 years after its original release. Given the work that went into the picture and sound, and the value of the movie itself, this is a no-brainer to show as Very Highly Recommended for purchase.
August 12, 2012.
Equipment now in use in this Home Theater:
Panasonic 65” VT30 Plasma 3D HDTV – set at “THX” picture mode
Denon AVR-3311Cl Receiver
Oppo BDP-93 Blu-ray Player
PS3 Player (used for calculation of bitrates for picture and sound)
5 Mirage Speakers (Front Left/Center/Right, Surround Back Left/Right)
2 Sony Speakers (Surround Left/Right – middle of room)
Martin Logan Dynamo 700 Subwoofer