Review for Jaws (Blu-ray)
Would you believe that it took me twenty years to get around to watching Jaws? It’s one of the most iconic movies of the last century, a film that changed the way that the cinema worked for a generation, one of the first big blockbuster films that paved the way for movies like Star Wars and Superman. The reason why it took me so long was simple. I wasn’t about to watch a stupid movie about a shark. This prejudicial attitude was brought about because I happened to watch Jaws 3D first (without the D) on television, and to top it off, I watched Jaws the Revenge, the movie that famously built Michael Caine’s house, without him ever having to watch it. Once upon a time, the sequel rule stated that all subsequent films would be worse than the original, but the Jaws sequels created a whole new continuum of badness that transcended the simple linear decline of the sequel rule.
Forget Jaws, I avoided any movie with sharks in, was wary of movies set on the ocean, and it was only the fact that my first DVD player came with a free copy of Deep Blue Sea that made me give shark movies another chance. It was only then that I decided on the original Jaws on DVD as part of a three-fer offer, and gave the first film a try. It was then that the veil was lifted, and I discovered what would become one of my favourite films. For a brief time, when I was being selective about what Blu-rays to buy, Jaws was near the top of the list to double-dip on regardless, which brings us to this review.
After a shark attack near Amity Island, Police Chief Brody wants to close the beaches, but is overruled by the Mayor, as the 4th of July celebrations will be disrupted, losing essential revenue. However further shark attacks result in a turnaround in policy and greedy hunters descend on the island in search of the shark and a $3000 reward. In this mayhem appear two characters with differing agendas. Quint, a grizzled shark hunter who will hunt for money, but thirsts for revenge against all sharks, and Matt Hooper, a biologist from the Oceanographic Institute with an interest in all things shark. Brody and Hooper board Quint’s boat and go hunting for the shark; only the shark decides to hunt them.
Click on the restoration featurette, and you can read all about what Universal did for this Studio 100th Anniversary re-release of Jaws, things like wet-gate scan, scratch removal, damage repair, and colour timing. That degree of restoration can raise questions of about how far studios should go in rejuvenating classics, especially when it comes to colour timing. Thankfully, the Jaws restoration is a good one. No orange and teal here.
The 2.35:1 widescreen 1080p transfer is pristine, free of print damage and signs of age, with clear, consistent colours, rich, deep and vibrant. Detail levels are excellent, and the movie looks properly filmic, with a discreet level of film grain. I don’t know if Universal have assaulted this release with DNR, but it certainly doesn’t tell when it comes to detail, skin tones, and the quality of the presentation. The only nit that I have to pick is the loss of definition in the darkest of blacks, and that really only when Ellen Brody is wearing that black turtleneck sweater. And once again, the storytelling, the suspense building is so good in this film, that by the time you actually do see the shark, you forget all its shortcomings as a prop.
Just as with the video, the audio got a brush up too for this new transfer, and we get a DTS-HD 7.1 Surround English mix, alongside DTS HiRes 7.1 French, DTS 5.1 Italian and Spanish, with subtitles in these and many other languages. Once again, they could have gone overboard, but they stayed true to the original intent, keeping the film front-focussed for the most part, and really only using the surrounds to open up John Williams’ iconic score, and immerse you in the ambience of the film. It stays sympathetic to the original sound design, offering great clarity and fidelity. Purists have lamented the absence of the original mono soundtrack though from previous UK DVD releases, and finally this Blu-ray disc remedies that, as it also has the original theatrical mono for English, French, Italian and Spanish in the DTS 2.0 format.
You get one disc in a Blu-ray Amaray, alongside an Ultraviolet code that is probably long expired by now. The disc autoplays a trailer for Universal’s 100th Anniversary before a language select screen loads the animated menu. Thankfully it’s not one of those spoilerific ones.
On the disc you’ll find 13:33 of Deleted Scenes and Outtakes.
From the Set is a contemporary making of featurette from 1974, with a decent interview with Steven Spielberg. This lasts 8:56.
Jaws Archives offers Storyboards, Production Stills, Marketing Images, and The Jaws Phenomenon in a series of stills galleries.
The Theatrical Trailer lasts 3:15. All of these video extras are in SD.
The sole HD offering is the Jaws: The Restoration featurette, which lasts 8:28, and looks at how the movie was made ready for the Blu-ray generation.
The big draw has to be the documentaries. I previously had the 25th Anniversary DVD, not the 2 disc release, so I only got to see the cut-down 50 minute version of The Making of Jaws. It’s here on this Blu-ray in its entirety, running to 122:48 SD, and it is a rewarding and in depth retrospective on the movie, made in 1995, with interviews with the cast and the crew, and a lot of behind the scenes snippets.
In 2005, they revisited Jaws again with yet another feature length documentary. It’s here in its 101:21 SD glory, and while 10 years of extra perspective might not add much to a making of, The Shark is Still Working: The Impact & Legacy of Jaws comes at the movie from another angle, and as you might suspect, takes a look at its effects on popular culture. This is divided into 10 featurettes, but you can Play All.
This is how I want classic movies to look on Blu-ray, clean, stable and crystal clear transfers that respect the original intent of the film and with the same ethos applied to upgrading the audio. They satisfy our quest for digital perfection without compromising the creators’ original intent. Jaws now looks as if it was made yesterday, and that’s just what you want from a timeless classic. That’s what this film is, truly timeless, as effective a piece of suspense now, despite my having watched it several times, as it was the first time I saw it.
I probably said it before when I reviewed the DVD, but it’s worth reiterating. It was adversity and failure that made this movie such an amazing experience. You can see in the extra features just how difficult making this movie was, and how the mechanical shark prop just didn’t work. It meant that they had to be creative with how the shark was portrayed, and it also meant that the characters have a much larger focus in this film than they would have had, if the effects had worked. You get to know Quint, Brody and Hooper; you get invested in the characters and their lives before the climax of the film, which makes it all the more effective. This film is all about suspense, about the quiet before the action, the stillness before the sudden scare, and Spielberg’s direction is spot-on.
I’m sat here with a sense of futility, the wasted effort in reviewing the unreviewable. After all, everyone knows Jaws, even if they haven’t seen it, just a few bars of John Williams’ score will evoke that sense of maritime dread that kept millions away from the beaches following this film. There is little point in me proselytising about the film. There is more point in lauding this disc though, as Universal’s Blu-ray release of Jaws is impeccable. The image quality is fantastic, the audio just as splendid, it’s laden with extra features, including two feature length documentaries, and above all, it offers the original theatrical mono audio as well. This is the Blu-ray to have in your collection.