Universal // 1975 // 124 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Gordon Sullivan // August 14th, 2012
The film that still makes audiences afraid to go into the water.
What could possibly be left to say about Jaws? To even ask the question is a cliché at this point. Critics and scholars have mined the film for its aesthetic achievements (updating Hitchcock stylistically and thematically) and its historical import (by essentially kicking off the "summer blockbuster" phenomena and launching director Steven Spielberg into the public consciousness). It's the film that has kept millions of people away from the beach: the story of a small New England town beset by a man-eating killer shark of gigantic proportions. Only three men -- the sheriff (Roy Scheider, The French Connection, a fisherman (Robert Shaw, The Sting), and a marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss, American Graffiti) -- can stand against the monster menacing Amity Island.
At the risk of repeating hundreds (if not thousands) of other critics, here are my impressions from watching Jaws again for this review:
* I enjoyed it a lot more this time. I first saw it as a teenager, and a combination of living in Florida (and therefore being somewhat immune to fears of the oceans) and having a father who worked in marine research made it all seem a bit hokey to me. Watching it now on the eve of my thirtieth birthday, I'm much more sympathetic to the nuances of the film's first half. Now that I've had a job and worked to support myself, I feel much more keenly for the mayor and the merchants of Amity. Before, these earlier scenes just kept me away from the shark, the real draw of the film. Now, they're integral to the film, and arguably more scary than anything that the shark is physically capable of.
* This film has one of the most "real" looking casts of any film, ever. Sure, many of them are actors, but even they are chosen for their human qualities rather than their good looks. Many of the secondary (or even tertiary) characters look like actual New Englanders, of all ages, sizes, and colors. Though the area isn't as racially diverse as progressives might hope, there are non-white citizens on Amity's beaches, and their presence (however small) lends a veracity to the story that a modern remake might overlook.
* Jaws is really two films. Its first hour is an exercise in Hitchcockian suspense, complete with close-ups and Vertigo-style zooms. The second half is much more noir-on-the-high seas. Despite being on the open ocean, much of the action is confined to the cabin, lit by few lights. The outdoor action lacks the sweep that contemporary seafaring films stress. The film's lack is our gain. My only real complaint about the film watching it now is that each of these films deserves its own 90-minute plot. I'd love to see a Jaws that never goes out onto the water but instead sticks with the town and its anxiety. On the flip side, I'd love a Jaws that was all claustrophobic boat footage.
I don't know if I've said anything important about the film or not, but I can say that Jaws itself is important, as is Jaws (Blu-ray). To paraphrase the film, "you're gonna need a bigger wallet." You may have bought the 2000 DVD edition (which was pretty good for its day) or the 2005 anniversary edition (which was also good for its day), but you can make 'em walk the plank after you see this Blu-ray.
Things kick off with a remarkably improved transfer. Jaws has always looked a little "off" on home video. Part of that is definitely the '70s film stock, but also the transfers themselves have been lacking. That is pretty much all corrected in this AVC-encoded 2.35:1/1080p high definition transfer. Detail is striking in places, and in fact shows that some of the original shots aren't entirely in focus. Colors have been the worst aspect of previous transfers, and that's fixed here as well. Skin tones are accurate, and the green cast of previous edition is gone. The red of blood shows up especially well in places. Furthermore, grain is appropriate without being overpowering and doesn't appear to be the victim of excessive over-processing. Overall it's a frankly amazing transfer of a film that has deserved better all along but had to wait until Universal's 100th anniversary to get it.
Things get even better with the audio options. On one hand, fans get a beautifully immersive DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track. Some ambience and directionality has been added to crowd scenes and the like, but the most important aspect that the track gets right are the dynamics. Williams' famous score can go very quiet, but detail is always present, and when things get loud there's no hiss or distortion to be found. On the other hand, fans of the original mono mix get a DTS 2.0 mono mix to appreciate the original choices Spielberg and company made in 1975.
Extras are equally impressive. There's a Blu-ray exclusive feature-length documentary from 2007, a slightly longer (and older) documentary that give fans over three hours on the making of the film. There are almost 14 minutes of deleted scenes (which look pretty rough), a vintage "from the set" featurette filmed for British TV, a featurette on the restoration, and a variety of short pieces on the film's afterlife in marketing and subsequent popularity. There are also DVD and digital copies of the film included as well.
Quibble about the lack of a Spielberg commentary. Quibble about the fact that the film's restoration isn't as breathtaking as any of the top-10 restorations of all time. Quibble that the packaging doesn't look like a shark or a compressed air tank. That's pretty much all you can muster now that Jaws (Blu-ray) is available.
It's really simple: This is the version of Jaws to own. Its picture is improved well above the DVD editions in both detail and color. Its sound mix is appropriate and vital, and its extras are informative and essential. Upgrading is absolutely recommended, and Jaws (Blu-ray) is perfect for anyone who has somehow managed to avoid seeing this oceanic classic.
You don't have to go into the water to know that Jaws is not guilty.
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Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* DTS 2.0 Mono (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 124 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Photo Gallery
* DVD Copy
* Digital Copy