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Jaws | Blu-ray Review

Jaws Blu-ray coverJaws. The first summer blockbuster. The first film to reap the benefits of a massive 400 theater opening weekend release. The first film to really set television into action as a home invading movie advertisement machine. The film that proved Steven Spielberg to be a true craftsmen at the helm of a major studio funded motion feature. The film that inadvertently closed the curtain on an era of unfathomable creative freedom by proving you could make insane amounts of money if a film can be marketed to every living person on the planet. And though in its wake major studio film culture has become synonymous with cheap popcorn thrills and overblown studio expenditures, Jaws remains a classic not just for how it changed the film industry, but because it is an exquisitely made monster movie that tapped into universal human fears and did so with iconic style.

The story is simple (and you’ve probably seen it a million times). Amity Island relies on the beach bathing summer season for most of its annual income, and when a young woman is thought to have been eaten by a stray shark by the newly hired police chief, Brody (Roy Scheider), the mayor (Murray Hamilton) refuses to cry ‘shark’, despite the professional recommendation of a visiting marine biologist named Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), resulting in another, much more public shark attack. After much public debate and false hope, a local fishing legend is hired. Like Ahab and his crew, Captain Quint, Brody and Hooper set off on the fishing liner Orca with one mission – kill the white ocean monster. As you’d guess, things don’t go as planned, and these men who at one point seemed social opposites come together with hopes of surviving.

Widely known to have been a tortuously troubled production, Spielberg and friends fought with their mechanical shark, lovingly called Bruce, adrift the Atlantic Ocean for months on end, something no other major feature ever attempted prior, and with good reason as it turns out. Because of the constantly broken down monster and partially due to environmental factors out of their control, the film, which was supposed to be a 55 day shoot, ended up taking 159 days, costing over twice its proposed 4 million dollar budget. Luckily, as we all know, the film became an unprecedented smash, making almost all of its money back in the first weekend alone.

While at its core, the film is basically a classic monster flick, but what makes it special is how this mess of a production could coalesce into something so massively successful. Thanks to the always broken shark, the production crew was forced to find ways to shoot sequences without it. This resulted in some of the most brilliant sequences in the film such at the iconic opening sequence in which the lone swimmer is taken by the unseen creature from the depths, and the barrel chasing scenes that bring so much excitement without even seeing the shark. Though the film is filled with thrilling maritime action, the central performances of Brody, Hooper and Quint can not be forgotten. Quint’s intense climatic monologue about his time on the USS Indianapolis is wholly enveloping to this day. And let’s not forget John Williams’s visceral score that will forever be repeated by children in backyard pools. It was the perfect storm that no one could have predicted.

The Disc:

Celebrating their 100th anniversary, Universal has done a full restoration of 13 of its flagship titles, and not surprisingly, Jaws is one of the few picked. Thanks to an extensive restoration that is detailed as an included extra, the film looks better than ever before. Looking extremely crisp, with that classic 70s film grain still intact, everything from beach laden crowd scenes to facial close-ups look absolutely incredible. Small amounts of color correction was done to correct small details like mismatched cloud color and such, making the film more seamless than it was originally. Somewhat controversially, Universal decided to up-mix the original mono audio to a DTS-HD 7.1 audio track, but with tasteful and discreet intuition, it sounds very warm and alive, cautiously filling out the extra channels for added engrossment. The iconic Williams score especially benefits from the lossless audio format, its low tones a big and bold through all the channels. Along with its glorious transfer and audio track, the disc contains tons of substantial extras and even sports D-Box motion encoding for extra home bound immersion. This Blu-ray/DVD/Digital combo pack comes with two discs packaged in a standard Blu-ray case nestled elegantly in a silvery slipcover that opens like a book with info on Universal’s 100th Anniversary and the film itself.

Deleted Scenes and Outtakes
A variety of scenes, running over 13 minutes all told, nearly all of them featuring Roy Scheider playing his in over his head cop. The footage is unfortunately presented window-boxed, and obviously didn’t get the same restoration that the film itself received.

The Making of Jaws
Two hours long and in it’s original 4:3 aspect ratio, this lengthy retrospective documentary on the film’s origins and its troubled production is built on wonderfully colorful interviews with all of the heads responsible for film, including Spielberg, producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck, author of the book and screenwriter Peter Benchley, as well as most of the principle cast. Everyone involved has vivid memories of their long months working on the picture, making this doc a must watch for fans of the feature. Made as an extra to be included on the original Jaws laser disc back in the day, was a touchstone for those that wanted to know more about their favorite film.

The Shark Is Still Working: The Impact & Legacy of Jaws
Produced in 2007, this hour and forty minute doc recaps many of the same points of the vintage ‘Making Of’, but this focuses is more on the lasting effect that Jaws left on the film industry and pop culture as a whole.

Jaws: The Restoration
Going through the entire tedious restoration process in 8 minutes, this featurette starts in the Universal vaults with the original Jaws negative through each step that is taken to bring the film to the gorgeous transfer found on the Blu-ray. This includes scratch removal, color correction, and the audio up-mix, and the process, while not necessarily new at this point, is still fascinating.

From the Set
Produced during the making of the film back in 1974, this brief 8 minute featurette contains some excellent footage of Steven Spielberg as a very young man speaking about his newest project and The Sugarland Express.

Jaws Archives
Within there is a wealth of storyboards, production photos, vintage Jaws marketing, including foreign film posters and lobby cards in other languages, all of which is organized by category and can be played as a slide show.

Theatrical Trailer
This is the classic Percy Rodriguez voiced full length trailer, but unfortunately, it is presented window-boxed.

Final Thoughts:

Thirty-seven years after its initial release, Jaws is still the iconic monster movie and is still a profit turning, merchandising monster. With this new Blu-ray release, Universal has put forth exceptional effort, restoring the film past its original visual glory while including an excellent selection of in depth behind-the-scenes goodies and retrospectives. Whether you’ve seen the film countless times or are an Orca bound first timer, watching this on a top notch home setup will be shark attack bliss.


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