By Sherry Lipp
This article first published as Blu-ray Review: Jaws on BlogCritics.org.
At the time the film went into production in 1974, Spielberg was only 26 years old. He was becoming a rising star amongst Hollywood insiders, but he was virtually unknown to the public. He had only directed one feature film prior to Jaws. That film, Sugarland Express, had been enough of a hit to help pave the way for Spielberg to take on bigger projects. Still, handing the reigns of a huge project like Jaws to a virtually unproven director had to have been a giant leap of faith for the studio. As documented in the special features included on the new Blu-ray release, the film was fraught with production problems, the biggest of which being a mechanical shark that didn’t always work on cue. Shooting on the ocean, near Martha’s Vineyard, rather than a huge tank also proved to be no small feat.
The end result however was a near perfect combination of drama, adventure, and horror. The shark may have been mechanical, but its presence was very real. John Williams’ masterful score and iconic theme song evoked terror without even a glimpse of the shark itself. At the heart of the movie are the characters. Sheriff Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and the salty sea captain Quint (Robert Shaw) make up an unlikely, but perfect, trio of shark hunters. Hooper is the intellectual, Quint is the realist, and Brody is the everyman. Hooper is convinced his education and expertise in shark behavior is the answer to Amityville’s shark problem, while Quint knows his real life shark-hunting experience is what’s needed. Brody just wants to solve the problem so that life goes back to normal.
What draws the viewer in is the ordinariness of the setting. The town looks lived-in, like a place any viewer may have lived in or visited at some point in our lives. The townspeople are familiar like aunts and uncles or neighbors we once knew. Their way of life is threatened in a very real way by the shark, but also figuratively by a force that is beyond their control. The story is cleverly crafted, primarily through foreshadowing and character reaction. The story builds with increasing intensity that grips the viewer in just the right places. Jaws is not a film filled with gruesome shark attacks. The shark makes is appearance at key moments, but in the case of this film, less is definitely more. Jaws is about people first and shark attacks second. That’s what makes it great and timeless. The performances of Scheider, Dreyfuss, and the scene-steling Shaw are not to be missed.
The meticulous restoration process used for this release has resulted in a spectacular looking Blu-ray. The picture is presented in 1080p AVC-encoded transfer in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. According to one of the special features on the restoration process, the original negative was repaired and scanned frame-by-frame. Spielberg himself says in the featurette that the resulting image looks better than when it was projected in theaters. I can’t personally attest to that, but the image does look startlingly sharp. The ocean water sparkles in the bright sunlight, the sandy beaches are warm and inviting, and skin tones look natural. The details are sharp, and the overall picture is vibrant.
The sound is presented in 7.1 DTS Master Audio. Modern audiences may find the multi-channel track to be on the sparse side, but considering the original film was originally projected in mono (as was common for its era), I found the new mix to be effective. Ocean sounds fill the surrounds, creating an immersive feel to the film. The bumps and knocks to the boat during the final act are eerily real, with deep bass response. The highlight of the entire soundtrack is Williams’ score, whether it is a sublte, almost subliminal presence, or surging from both the front and surround channels. Overall, I found the sound to be well done, and an enhancement to the visual presentation.
This Blu-ray release offers a few new special features along with some carry-overs from previous DVD releases. The most substantial of the new offerings is the previously unavailable 2007 feature-length documentary “The Shark is Still Working: The Impact and Legacy of Jaws.” The one hour and 41 minute documentary has a little bit of making of footage, but is more about the impact of Jaws on the movie industry. It features interviews with people involved with the production, as well as other industry professionals and the perception of the film.
Also new is the eight and a half minute featurette “Jaws: The Restoration, which catalogs the restoration processed used for this Blu-ray release. Vintage features include the two hour “The Making of Jaws.” This making of was previously available on the laser-disc, as well as the 30th anniversary DVD release. The 25th anniversary DVD release featured a one hour version of the documentary, so anyone who only had that will be happy to have the whole thing. There is also a short piece of vintage footage from the set, along with deleted scenes and some amusing outtakes, and the original theatrical trailer. The “Jaws Archive” contains extensive still galleries, including storyboards.
Overall, this is an excellent Blu-ray release. The restored picture should please any fan of the movie. Jaws is Spielberg at his best, with unforgettable performances from Scheider, Dreyfuss, and Shaw, and of course one scary shark.