Directed by Academy Award winner Steven Spielberg, Jaws set the standard for edge-of-your seat suspense quickly becoming a cultural phenomenon and forever changing the movie industry. When the seaside community of Amity finds itself under attack by a dangerous great white shark, the town’s chief of police (Roy Scheider), a young marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) and a grizzled shark hunter (Robert Shaw) embark on a desperate quest to destroy the beast before it strikes again. Featuring an unforgettable score that evokes pure terror, Jaws remains one of the most influential and gripping adventures in motion picture history. Jaws is one of 13 classic Universal films to be digitally remastered and fully restored from 35mm original film elements as part of Universal’s ongoing 100th Anniversary celebration. The Jaws restoration began with researching and evaluating the existing film elements to determine the best means to restore the film. Over the course of several months, skilled technicians at Universal Studios Digital Services meticulously balanced color, removed dirt and scratches, and repaired any damage to the film elements shot by shot and frame by frame. Following the picture restoration, Universal Studios Sound team up-mixed the iconic Jaws soundtrack to DTS-HD Master 7.1, optimizing the sound on the Blu-ray for the latest home theater technology. The entire restoration process was conducted in conjunction with Steven Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment’s post-production team to ensure that the integrity of Spielberg’s original vision remained intact.
Despite its troubled production, Jaws not only marked the 26 year-old Steven Spielberg’s first masterpiece, but it also was the first summer blockbuster as well as the movie that made people world-wide afraid to go into the water. Part horror film and part thriller, this taut and suspenseful tale of a massive killer great white shark terrorizing a summer resort town is nothing short of perfection across the board. Jaws is one of the few films in history to have every element involved in the film such as the director, the cast, the crew, and the composer be all so perfectly selected that it seems like it was destined. There is no weak link in this movie, nor any wasted scenes, as this movie is a lean take no prisoners endeavor that set the standard for a bunch of wannabe imitators including official sequels of its own.
The movie sets the tone quickly with a group of young people having a party on a beach until two of them decide to go skinny dipping in the ocean. While the boy ends up being too drunk to get his clothes off to get into the ocean, the young girl Chrissie strips down and goes for a moonlight swim alone only to end up being the first course for a ravenous great white shark. The fact that the shark is never seen just makes the attack even more terrifying as we witness her struggle to survive against death itself. The next morning Amity’s new police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) is called to investigate the missing girl’s disappearance and he later discovers her remains on the beach. When Brody learns that the cause of death was due to a shark attack, he immediately starts planning to shut down the beach until he is stopped by Mayor Larry Vaughan (Murray Hamilton) who is worried about losing the summer revenue from tourists that the town depends on. Vaughan even goes so far as strong-arming the medical examiner into changing the cause of death from shark attack to a boating accident. Left with little choice but to comply or lose his job, Brody goes along with their decision to keep the beaches open. When a little boy is later killed by the shark, his mother offers $3,000 to anyone who kills the shark which starts a frenzy between the professional and amateur fishermen.
When a large tiger shark is captured, Brody and the rest of Amity are ecstatic since they believe their troubles are over, but Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), the marine biologist that was called in doesn’t believe it’s the right shark. Vaughan won’t listen to him even after the caught shark’s stomach reveals no human remains and after Brody and Hooper discover another death and a massive shark’s tooth left at the scene. Vaughan’s unwavering obstinance is only broken when during the Fourth of July celebration, hundreds of beach-goers witness the shark kill again in an estuary that also contained Brody’s son and other kids. Brody finally convinces a shaken Vaughan to hire a local shark hunter known as Quint (Robert Shaw) to kill the shark. Even though Quint wants to work alone, Brody demands that Hooper and himself join Quint so he can make sure that no others will die on his watch. The three men embark on Quint’s ship the Orca, and begin their epic confrontation with an evil so elemental that they are once they are on the ocean, they are all immediately at risk. This shark is not only smart, it’s also relentless and what started out as a shark hunt ends with the shark mercilessly hunting them. On their own and without any sign of land nearby, the three men will be tested and face a terror that they couldn’t imagine.
For those people that haven’t seen Jaws yet, the concept of a great white shark methodically hunting a group of men may sound like one of Roger Corman’s creature features, but with Spielberg at the helm the movie is much more than that. Due the the mechanical shark not working most of the time, Spielberg had to push himself harder than he ever had before to make the movie work, which forced the film into Hitchcockian territory. Since he couldn’t use the shark much, Spielberg used objects such as barrels or a pier to represent the shark’s location and when you couldn’t see anything, he left it to the viewer’s imagination which made it even scarier. Watching multiple people get viciously attacked without explicitly showing the shark itself just made it even more terrifying, so when the shark does show up the suspense level has been ramped up so much that many people freaked out. Being the master director that he is, Spielberg deliberately set up a laugh line that turns into a scream once the shark does finally make its first appearance. Combined with the legendary score by John Williams, audiences didn’t have a chance and I speak from personal experience since I was shown this movie at a young age and the ending scared the living daylights out of me. Even hearing the shark’s theme was enough to scare the bejesus out of me. Of course, now the film is one of my all time favorites and I love the soundtrack, but I don’t recommend the movie to young children even if it did miraculously receive a “PG” rating instead of the hard “R” it really deserves.
I can’t say enough good things about this cast and their portrayals and that extends to the supporting cast who are just as good in their roles. Roy Scheider’s Brody serves as the audience’s surrogate and he’s very believable as a good man caught up in an impossible situation. Scheider grounds the film with his performance and easily deserved an Oscar for it. Just watch the Fourth of July scene to see just how good Spielberg and Scheider are when a tense Brody is on the edge of his chair waiting for something to happen only to have a false alarm turn into a real attack. Just watch his face to see the dawning realization that his son is in the same estuary as the shark as he makes his way there faster and faster. The psychological impact of this scene and how it affects Brody is one of my favorites scenes in the movie and it was shot perfectly by Spielberg who kept the camera on Brody for essentially one long take thanks to some very clever editing that brought the camera closer and closer to Brody as each person walks in front of him. As Brody’s bureaucratic nemesis, Murray Hamilton does an incredible job of making the Mayor both despicable and understandable. On the surface, his concerns about Amity needing tourist dollars make sense, but his willingness to gamble those tourists’ lives on the hopes that the shark will leave, even in the face of several attacks ends up costing him his integrity. It’s only when he witnesses an attack himself that he changes his mind when confronted by Brody. Haunted by his decision to order his employees to get into the water to draw the tourists in by bringing his own children to the beach, you get the sense that Vaughan will never be the same after the attack.
Richard Dreyfuss was an inspired choice to play the marine biologist Matt Hooper and I’m glad that the movie changed Hooper’s fate in the book and dropped the other subplots (such as an affair with Mrs. Brody) that would have made him less likable. Or might have at least, since Dreyfuss is imminently likable anyway and he brings a lot of humor to the movie. His burgeoning friendship with Brody feels real and they share a great camaraderie together. In what could have been a one-note rich kid know-it-all kind of character, Dreyfuss gives Hooper a fully rounded out character that has a depth and purpose to him. Hooper has seen what sharks can do and because of that he’s devoted his life and family fortune to studying them. Even knowing that the shark they are chasing is a dangerous anomaly, he still wants to be a part of the search even though he is well aware of the high degree of risk. The only other person who knows what they are facing is Quint and Robert Shaw turns in a larger than life performance as the shark hunter who has a personal grudge against sharks. A nice character defining detail that shows that his hatred of sharks is so pervasive is the fact that he named his ship the Orca which is the only animal that’s a natural enemy to sharks. Quint doesn’t get along with people, let alone with Brody and especially not with Hooper who Quint feels hasn’t worked a day in his life. That animosity doesn’t last too long though in the face of certain danger. One of the treats of this movie is watching these dissimilar people bond together thanks to the presence of an implacable enemy. The scene where they compare their scars that leads to Shaw’s speech about the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis is simply amazing. How Shaw didn’t get a best supporting actor Oscar is beyond me.
Jaws has deservedly entered into our pop culture with countless lines from the movie being repeated non-stop (“We’re gonna need a bigger boat” or ) as has as the iconic score by John Williams, which has been repeatedly used to signal impending terror. Williams himself has described the shark’s theme as “grinding away at you, just as a shark would do, instinctual, relentless, unstoppable.” The music announced the shark to the audiences and conditioned them to tense up and be ready for the shark’s next appearance. Counting on that, Spielberg and Williams later surprises the audience with the shark appearing without the music foreshadowing it which resulted in a lot of popcorn being thrown into the air. Williams’ music synced so perfectly with the visuals and brought so much to the movie that Spielberg later stated that the movie wouldn’t have been half as successful as it was without the score. The Jaws score has been voted the sixth greatest score by the American Film Institute (William’s score for Star Wars holds the number one position). Jaws ended up winning three Academy Awards for Best Film Editing, Best Original Dramatic Score, and Best Sound and was nominated for Best Picture but somehow lost to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. A bigger travesty was the fact that Steven Spielberg wasn’t even nominated for Best Director which has to go down as one of the biggest errors ever made by the Academy, but nevertheless Jaws is a staple on critics’ best movies of all time lists and has been selected by the United States Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry as a “culturally significant” motion picture.
This 1080p (2.36:1) transfer looks gorgeous and it’s easy to see how much work Universal put into restoring the movie. Since this transfer was supervised by Steven Spielberg himself, we can be sure that this transfer meets his expectations and and desires. All of the flaws of the earlier releases such as the scratches, the mismatched color timing for certain scenes, the lack of detail, and the overly dark palette has been fixed with this new restoration. There’s an amazing amount of detail present now and it’s really like watching a brand new movie. In fact, if you watch the restoration featurette below, you will see just how much better the movie looks now compared to the previous effort. Colors are vibrant and pop off the screen (just wait until you see the bright red blood in the water) and each of them are well defined. Flesh tones are natural and consistent and the black levels are pitch black and solid. This restoration by Universal is just beautiful to look at and I’m very happy that Jaws has been given the love and respect it deserves! For comparisons, take a look at this restoration featurette that can be found on the Blu-ray:
Considering just how important the sound is for Jaws, I am happy to report that this brand new DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix is amazing. There is still a DTS 2.0 mix on the disc for the purists, but for me, the new 7.1 mix is the way to go. This new mix adds a lot of immersion into the movie and brings John Williams iconic score to the forefront where it should be. The front channels offer some crisp and intelligible dialogue that’s easily understood even during the action scenes and it’s never over-powered by the score. The rear channels deliver a you are there kind of immersion which really comes into play during busy scenes like the Fourth of July fun on the beach. The directional effects are accurate and impressively done and even during quieter moments like the showing of scars scene on the Orca, there’s a lot of ambiance to be found that wasn’t as noticeable before in previous releases. Even more importantly, John Williams’ score which was always essential now seems to have even more power and presence. In a funny bit of trivia, Spielberg mentions that he’s happy with this mix also because you can now clearly hear his dinosaur roar from the shark after the final confrontation. It’s the same roar that he used for the truck in “Duel” and he considered the truck and the shark to share a kinship as they were both soulless killing machines.
Wow. For us fans of Jaws, the last special edition release of the movie had a lot of cool extras, all of which were added to this Blu-ray along with a brand new documentary called The Shark is Still Working which examines the impact of the film. Another new extra includes a look at the restoration efforts for this Blu-ray (you can view that above). The only drawback to these extras are that they are in standard definition with the exception of the restoration featurette which is in high definition. While I wish Spielberg would offer a director’s commentary, he has a large enough presence on the documentaries that we do get a lot of information. On the plus side, Universal has generously offered us not only the Ultraviolet copy to stream, but two digital copies of the film (one in HD and one in SD) and extras as well! Well played Universal…well played.
- The Shark is Still Working: The Impact and Legacy of Jaws - Clocking in at under two hours, this documentary narrated by Roy Scheider, focuses on the impact of the film and its legacy with interviews with Steven Spielberg, Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, John Williams, author Peter Benchley, writer Carl Gottlieb, production designer Joe Alves, producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown, Susan Backlinie, Jeffrey Kramer, Ron & Valerie Taylor, Dick Warlock, Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Bryan Singer, Greg Nicotero, Tom Savini, Eli Roth, M. Night Shyamalan, trailer voice over artist Percy Rodriguez, and Paul McPhee. What I liked about this documentary is that it works in parallel to the other documentary on here – Laurent Bouzereau’s The Making of Jaws. The two complement each other and focus on different areas even though there is some overlap. This is a great documentary but I wish they had included the full cut of it.
- Jaws: The Restoration - A look at the painstaking process of restoring Jaws that includes comments from Steven Spielberg and the Universal technicians and executives. We also see the before and after shots from the film to show just how much of an improvement this restoration really is.
- The Making of Jaws - At a little over two hours, this is the definitive Jaws documentary for me as it contains the best information on the making of the film and the best stories from all involved. We hear from Steven Spielberg, Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw (in archival footage), Lorraine Gary, John Williams, Ted Grossman, author Peter Benchley, writer Carl Gottlieb, production designer Joe Alves, producers Richard Zanuck and David Brown, Bill Butler, Susan Backlinie, Jeffrey Kramer, Ron & Valerie Taylor, Dick Warlock, and more talk about the struggles to make the movie. Another reason I like this one the best is because it features the most time with Spielberg and the cast.
- From the Set - A short vintage look behind the scenes with a very young Steven Spielberg who had just started filming on the ocean and hadn’t yet fallen behind schedule.
- Deleted Scenes and Outtakes - A collection of deleted scenes that were wisely cut since they didn’t really add anything to the movie. I’m glad that Spielberg trimmed the fat which kept the movie lean and mean.
- Jaws Archives - A collection of storyboards, production photos, and promotional material. The “Jaws Phenomenon” focuses on the marketing for the international market. I’m not usually interested in the photo galleries, but I did this time as there’s a ton of photos grouped by subject matter that includes a lot of really cool behind the scenes pictures.
- Original Theatrical Trailer – This is one of the best trailers every made and it features Percy Rodriguez’s legendary narration. ”It is as if God created the Devil and gave him…jaws.” Awesome!
- Ultraviolet, Digital Copies, and a DVD version – Universal went all out here and I hope the other studios pay attention to how it should be done. Not only do we get an Ultraviolet option which we can stream, but we also get two digital copies (one in HD and one in SD)! That is totally cool and much appreciated. Not only that, but we also get some extras as a digital download too! And to round out the generous package, we also get a DVD in case we need it.
- Pocket BLU App
- D-Box and BD Live Enabled
Jaws is one of my all time favorite movies and it’s absolutely perfect in every way. The town of Amity and everything and everyone in it feels true to life, from the small town politics to the interactions between the islanders and the tourists. All of this combines together to ground the film and anchor it in reality even when there’s a buffet going on for a gigantic great white shark. I am so happy that Universal has invested the time and the money to restore this movie to the glory that it deserves. This Blu-ray offers some stunning audio and visual quality and a ton of fantastic extras to view after you watch the movie. If you haven’t seen this movie before or if you are no longer afraid to swim in the ocean, then you need to see this movie right away. This is without a doubt, the finest horror/creature film every made and it stands up to anything Hitchcock ever did. It mixes the humor, suspense, drama, and horror genres together to create something better and new. Jaws rightfully put Steven Spielberg on the map and was his first of many masterpieces. This is a must own title so make sure you get yours right away!
Order your copy of this masterpiece today!