One of the greatest event films of all time finally comes to Blu-ray, and the results are a must-own disc for all discerning lovers of cinema.
It is difficult to quantify the impact that Steven Spielberg and Jaws had not only on popular culture, but on the very nature of cinema itself. Prior to 1975, and of course Star Wars (1977) from contemporary George Lucas, this kind of film was popular, but mostly confined to drive-ins. It is now largely considered to be the prototypical blockbuster movie, where a summer film is released simultaneously across thousands of cinemas supported by massive advertising. Indeed, Hollywood has now become much like the Mayor of Amity Island (played here by Murray Hamilton), covering up any negative press to ensure that the summer audiences pack their wallets right next to their scant regard for their own cinematic safety.
In the sleepy town of Amity Island, a seaside village dependent on the tourist dollar, a series of shark attacks raise the suspicions of out-of-town police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider). He wants to shut the beaches down, but the city fathers put the kibosh on it, concerned about frightening away visitors for the all-important Fourth of July weekend. They turn a blind eye and write it off as a propeller mishap, but as visiting marine biologist Matt Hooper ( Richard Dreyfus) succinctly puts it, “This was no boat accident”. More slaughter in the water ensues before Brody gets his way. Some hastily prepared signs and some blackboard scraping later, and Hooper and Brody take to the waters with grizzled old sea-dog Quint (Robert Shaw) to catch the great fish. They’re going to need a bigger boat.
Countless imitators, sequels and blatant rip-offs later, Jaws remains a flawless example of horror and thriller filmmaking. That it takes place largely during the day adds to the fear-factor. This isn’t, after all, a crazed knife-wielding killer, a supernatural force or an alien invasion. It is an ancient predator that strikes fear into the hearts of swimmers everywhere by mentioning its very name. “It’s all psychological,” the Mayor tells Brody. “You yell barracuda, everybody says, “Huh? What?” You yell shark, we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July”. The shark may never have worked properly, and the construction flaws remain obvious today, but none of this really matters. Like Spielberg’s earlier Duel (1971), the terror lies in the unknown and the unexpected, striking us at our most vulnerable and relaxed.
Aided by the menacing and now iconic John Williams score, the slow-burning first half of the film draws in viewers so convincingly that the action-packed back half of the film is upon you before you’ve even had time to say “fish fingers”. Without the phenomenal cast, each who bring as much of their own unique style to the character as what is in Benchley and Gottlieb’s script, this would not have been possible. One moment of levity, among several such classic sequences, sees the male trio singing “Show Me the Way to Go Home” aboard their shark hunting vessel, solidifying their camaraderie only moments before another attack.
While Spielberg would go on to direct the equally iconic Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) in rapid succession following this, Jaws remains a masterclass in blockbuster entertainment, and set down his game plan for several decades that followed. If you have never seen Jaws before, this is the best time to do it.
With the 100th anniversary of Universal, we are getting all manner of restorations and such, and this is a Jaws-dropping example of how to do it. The transfer sparkles, having been remastered from the original negatives. It is not without some issues due to its age, but this is a clean print that shows up more details than we have ever seen before. Likewise, the primary English DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio brings a whole new element of immersion to this familiar film.
Bonus features are a collection of things from the 25th and 30th anniversary editions, along with some new bits and pieces for this Universal 100th anniversary release. Along with a 100th Anniversary Trailer (2:28), fans are treated to the full The Making of Jaws (122 minutes), which goes all the way back to the 1995 laserdisc edition. A new documentary also accompanies this, The Shark Is still Working: The Impact & Legacy of Jaws (101 minutes), and can be watched in parts or as a feature whole, covering the production through to high-profile fans it influences today. Another new inclusion is the Jaws: The Restoration (8 minutes) piece, that is a fascinating examination of why this Blu-ray looks so damn good. There’s also the collection of Deleted Scenes (13 minutes), a vintage From the Set piece (9 minutes) and the theatrical trailer. Delving into the Jaws Archives, we get a terrific collection of storyboards, production photos, marketing material and a bit on the Jaws phenomenon.
One minor quibble is Universal’s menu system, which doesn’t label anything on the top menu, forcing a bit of guess-work. The extras, for example, are merely labelled with an asterisk. Otherwise, if you buy one Blu-ray this year, make it this one. Then go and save some more money, because you clearly need the other Spielberg releases due out in the coming months.