Reviewed by James A. Janisse
It’s been nearly four decades since Jaws was released in 1975. Time has solidified the film’s reputation as a seminal classic that upended the industry. Despite the fact that it was only Steven Spielberg’s second feature, Jaws became the first modern day blockbuster, as well as the first film to make over $100 million at the box office. The film easily holds up, in both special effects and story, for its premiere release on Blu-ray 37 years later.
From a modern perspective, Jaws doesn’t seem like a summer blockbuster at all. Unlike superhero movies or big disaster films, Jaws takes a much more reserved pace. Despite the fact that the film is forever associated with its maritime antagonist, it actually spends more time on its human characters. The three principals are mostly archetypal – Roy Schneider, as Chief of Police Martin Brody, is the everyman facing an extraordinary situation; Richard Dreyfuss’ Hooper is the snide but comical intellectual; and of course there’s Robert Shaw as Quint, who’s nothing more than a generic grizzled old seaman.
These archetypes work alongside the film’s universal and primal tone of dread. And though the writing is less concerned with shading the characters, all three actors deliver exceptional performances, with Shaw’s iconic performance standing out. Spielberg recognizes the talent in his cast and uses uncut long takes that give the actors room to embody their characters and interact with each other. His well-placed trust in them extended to allowing improvisation –Schneider ad-libbed the classic line “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
In terms of story, Spielberg astutely follows the principle “show, don’t tell.” He allows the beautiful cinematography to tell the story, trusting his audience to read speechless visual clues. These wordless instances are scored by John Williams’ singular theme and other compositions. Williams, like Spielberg, has an unmistakable knack for controlling tone, and his sinister shark theme has become synonymous with danger and terror.
Jaws changed the way movies were made and became the representative film for an entire species of animal. It has ingrained itself into popular culture and will forever cause people to be afraid of the water. Jaws is an unparalleled film, striking the perfect balance of popular appeal and artistic quality.
Video: Jaws received special attention during its restoration for Blu-ray and it shows immensely. The film has been cleaned of grains and errors frame-by-frame and looks immaculate. All scenes have had expert color correction applied, bringing out the orange sunrises on the beach and the dark underwater shark shots.
Audio: Audio channels have been mixed to 7.1 surround sound, bringing the suspenseful score and shrieks of terror to life in your living room. It’s fun to pick up on random crowd noises and talking – I’m pretty sure that one woman in the background cried that “24 hours is almost two weeks!” early on in the film.
Deleted Scenes and Outtakes: There are 12 minutes of deleted scenes and a single minute of outtakes. Most of the deleted scenes flesh out the characters, with more of Brody’s family life explored and an introductory scene for Quint. A lot of the deleted scenes are extensions of those already in the film, starting earlier or stopping later than what made the final cut. All of the deleted scenes were rightfully removed, as their inclusion would mess up the delicate pace that Jaws perfected. The outtakes aren’t anything special, consisting mostly of Roy Schneider swearing at a gun prop jam.
The Making of Jaws: A 2-hour “making of” is included, created in 1995 by Laurent Bouzereau. There are lots of interviews with Spielberg, producer David Brown, author Peter Benchley, actors Schneider and Dreyfuss, and plenty of others. They detail the creative process all the way from Benchley’s authoring of the novel to the disastrous production that went 100 days over schedule and plenty of money over budget. It’s painstakingly detailed and comprehensive, but this classic film has such an interesting story behind it that the details never feel unwarranted. A highlight of the documentary is the real shark footage shot in Australia, as well as learning about the tumultuous five months the cast and crew spent on an island. It really shows how Jaws is a “fun movie to watch, not a fun movie to make.”
The Shark Is Still Working: The Impact and Legacy of Jaws: A new documentary that builds on the Bouzereau one, this 100-minute feature is broken up into 10 chapters that look at various ways the film has affected our culture. The material is from various years, including updated interviews with many of the people featured in the “making of”. It includes interviews with, and dedicates itself to, cast and crew members who have since deceased, including Peter Benchley (2006), Roy Schneider (2008), and David Brown (2010). This updated look at the film is snappier and more efficient than the 1995 documentary while at the same time including more on-set footage. It also gives more credit to the lesser-known people behind the sensation, such as artist Tony Seiniger, who designed the iconic poster for the novel cover, and special effects artist Bob Mattey.
Jaws: The Restoration: A 9-minute featurette detailing the restoration process for the film’s Blu-ray release. Universal Studios has a strong commitment to preservation, allowing digital artists to work with raw footage that gives them the most amount of exposure and color information. Very interesting for anyone who wonders how they make older movies look so good.
From the Set: A 9-minute clip shot in 1974 with a reporter on the set of Jaws. It was shot on the second day of production, so it’s interesting to watch a very young-looking Steven Spielberg talk about his 50 days left on the island, underestimating the eventual figure by almost 100 days. Great to see an unfiltered look at people in the 1970s.
Theatrical Trailer: The 3:15 trailer is included, gravelly narrated by Percy Rodriguez and showing one of the many ways the film reached its massive audience during its release. The admonitory tone and gratuitous use of the third act’s action scenes create a compelling advertisement for a film that would change movie-going forever.
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