Stars: Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider
Director: Steven Spielberg
Released by Universal
Reviewed by Steven Ruskin
Let’s be clear from the start. The Blu-Ray of Jaws looks astounding with a treatment that is respectful of how 35mm film really looks. The sound is equally impressive and there is a raft of extras here.
In the summer of 1916 a shark attack occurred in the waters off the popular resort in Beach Haven on Long Beach Island in New Jersey. Four lives were claimed by what was thought to be the same great white shark. This idea bounced around inside the head of author Peter Benchley and collided with an account of a rather colorful character in Long Island New York who caught a 4,500-pound great white shark in 1964. Published in 1974 Jaws began to catch on in a big way told mostly from the shark’s eye view as it hunts for food. As the book got more and more popular it too became prey, for Hollywood. To say they made a meal out of it is to put it mildly.
The structure of the film is so classic. It opens with that first attack at night on the beach. Legend has it that because the mechanical shark would never work right they had to keep shooting around it, thus the shark was a largely unseen threat for the first half of the picture. We get a great sense of the Massachusetts beach resort town, Amity. Everything is bike rentals and flip-flops and smiles on the outside, yet the year round residents need to make all their money for the year in the short summer months. Not only is a shark attack unwelcome they can’t afford it. The film build slowly with each scene bringing us closer and closer to having to confront this shark. With each new chapter it becomes undeniable that the threat is real. It gets literally too close as Chief Brody’s son sees the creature swim past him after ripping a man in half. The building terror is carefully balanced with humor and strong characters. Each of the three main leads – Chief Brody, oceanographer Hooper and shark killer Quint are much more likeable than in the book.
Quint gets that great introduction scratching his fingernails down the chalkboard in the town meeting. It’s obnoxious though perfectly in keeping with Quint’s style of cutting right to the chase. It also reflects his distain for those who think they can do the kind of work he does. Robert Shaw is magnificent in this role. He is crusty, cantankerous and seems to totally inhabit the character. According to the many accounts of the shoot he drank as much as Quint would have on the set, too. You look at him and think is this the same guy who played Red Grant in from Russia With Love? His portrayal of Quint is fantastic here making the character one of the true immortals of the screen. Roy Scheider who was so effective as the urban street detective Cloudy in The French Connection and Buddy in The Seven Ups is a genuinely nice guy as Chief Brody. He’s afraid to go in the water. We’re all afraid of something. He has that great scene with his kid at the dinner table where the kid imitates him and they make monster faces at each other. He’s the everyman in the trio.
Richard Dreyfuss delivers a wonderful read of the young wise cracking Matt Hooper. He carries much of the film’s humor and endears himself to us by constantly making faces and gestures at Quint behind his back. There is that classic bit on the boat where Quint finishes a beer and crushes the metal can. Hooper replies by downing his drink and crushing his paper cup. Sure it’s childish but for him that’s the only way to deal with such a larger than life character.
Just a little past halfway we get what has to be one of the most interesting scenes in the film. The three of them are drinking after dinner. Okay a bonding scene, cool. They brag about their injuries with Quint and Hooper one–upping each other. It’s friendly and has some good jokes. Brody spots something on Quint’s arm. Quint tells him it was a tattoo for the USS Indianapolis and everyone gets quiet. Hooper seems to stop in mid gulp. John Milius the writer, director of films like Red Dawn is a big military buff. When you say shark he thinks the USS Indianapolis. The portion of this scene that he wrote gives a far more personal reason for Quint’s hatred of the shark than even captain Ahab’s quest for the white whale. Not only do we get an incredible back-story, drawn from real events but also we get an inspired bump to our primal fear of sharks. The uneasy camaraderie between these three is essential. It drives the second half of the narrative when they go after the shark. It’s just the three of them, the boat and the shark. What is brilliant here is that the whole film just stops to let us hear Robert Shaw’s absolutely killer telling of the story. It’s riveting. It serves to goose our fear factor up a good notch or two. And it ends with that line, “I’ll never wear a life jacket again.” That one scene puts us at a whole different level of storytelling. Writers refer to this as a private moment, a way to give more information on a character. To most of us, it’s just damn chilling.
Speilberg was among the first breed of film brats who went to college to study filmmaking. It is evident just by watching his use of foreground and background set ups that he knows the language of film. When confronted by the problems that beset the shark, his use of the barrels popping out of the water to let us know the monster is close by is just the kind of solution that the great directors whose films he clearly loved would have done. Writer Carl Gottlieb who was first brought on as an actor who could organize activity in the crowd scenes drew heavily upon his experience as a member of The Committee, an improvisational comedy troupe (many of whom appeared in Billy Jack). His ability to pull the good ideas, the best ones out of the mayhem around him served him very well as he was faced with having to write on the fly almost every night. Can you imagine Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfus or anyone of the great actors stranded on the island set bursting into your hotel room with an idea and watching them act it out for you? Carl Gottlieb’s humor and ability to separate the interesting from the essential is all over this script.
In the fall of 1972 The Exorcist laid the ground for the modern day blockbuster and in the summer of 1975 Jaws came along and danced on it. Both of these films had a huge impact on the audience. People screamed out loud. They jumped out of their seats. Movies goers came back bringing friends just to see them squirm. What a terrific communal experience. This was the dawn of the blockbuster. Once Star Wars came along the face of movies was forever changed. But in 1975 that face had a scream on it. That sensation never goes out of style. Jaws is essentially a horror movie, a roller coaster ride and it has lost none of its thrill. Is it safe to go back in the water? Hell no!
Jaws, The 100th Anniversary edition from Universal comes housed in a slipcase that opens to reveal a poster and stills dated from the original release on June 2, 1975. A Blu-Ray, DVD and Ultraviolet digital copy are enclosed.
2.35:1, Digitally Remastered & Fully Restored
This is a stunningly good transfer done with a respect for the way the film looks when blasted up on a screen in a dark room illuminated by the tremendous power of a 35mm film projector. Detail is very strong. There is grain. The murky depths of the waters contain things you can’t quite make out. That’s as it should be. There is fine detail in those ridiculously tacky jackets that Murray Hamilton wears, as it should be. The seascapes of the ocean both at day and night are as enchantingly beautiful as they were shot. Much of the film takes place outdoors in the bright sunshine and this transfer does more than justice to those scenes. They look so good you’ll reach for sunscreen. The night sequences, particularly the initial trip Hooper and Brody take out to sea where they find Ben Gardener’s boat looks great. The lights from Hooper’s boat cut the dark seas and pierce the darkness. You can see the lights so well but can’t quite make out what is out there. It looks very eerie indeed. There appears to be no over-cleaned or “DNR’d” instances to speak of. This is a very satisfying Blu-Ray that will easily meet and in some cases exceed expectations. The screencaps here were taken from the DVD.
Blu-Ray: DTS –HD Master 7.1 in English, DTS 2.0 Mono, Dolby 2.0. DTS 5.1 in Spanish and French. Subtitles are offered in English SDH, French and English. DVD: English Dolby 5.1 and Mono 2.0. Spanish and French 5.1. Subtitles offered in English SDH, French and Spanish
While John Williams’ score is given a gorgeous treatment that fully illuminates all the textures of his orchestrations from the infamous dum- dum dum-dum of the strings to the jaunty adventure theme that accompanies the Orca as she sets out to sea, that was expected and delivered. What really deserves due credit is the attention paid to the award winning soundscape. The barrels that pop out of the ocean are an ingenious way to announce that the shark is around with a visual cue. There is one cue that really stands that bristles on the back of your neck on end. The Orca has set out for the shark. Quint is seated in the fishing chair with this huge professional fishing rod. Hooper is driving the boat and Brody is still trying to get his sea legs. Quint looks out to the ocean. It gets quiet. He senses something. And then we hear those few distinct clicks that mean something is taking the line out. Quint is so taken by this that he begins to strap himself into the chair. We hear the metallic clicks as he fastens himself in. Those clicks and Robert Shaw’s acting make the anticipation of the shark in that scene almost unbearable. Much of it is down to how the sound is mixed and presented to us. Jaws won the Oscar for best sound and you can really hear why on this disc. Well done.
The Shark is Still Working and Jaws The Restoration are new and exclusive to the Blu-ray. Carried over from previous releases. The full length Making of Jaws, From The Set, Deleted Scenes, Jaws Archives, Trailer, The DVD contains a shorter highlights version of the Making Of Documentary.
When Blu-Ray made its debut we were told that you could put a movie with very high resolution and a cornucopia of extras on one disc. Mostly we still get these two disc presentations that are done to fluff up the marketing pitch. This one Blu-Ray disc has an incredible looking and wonderful sounding film and a boatload of extras. This is truly what the format is all about. The Making of Jaws at over two hours remains a terrific account of how the movie came to be, the legendary troubles on the film shoot and how that gave rise to the creative solutions that worked so well. The newly included documentary, The Shark is Still Working is more of a fan’s appreciation. This was quite the talk of many fan sites and its inclusion here is a welcome addition. It’s fun as it was intended.
Blu-Ray – Classic
Movie – Classic