Just in time for the dog days of summer, when it's so hot outside the only place you can imagine going is the beach, here comes the long-awaited Blu-ray release of Jaws, the 1974 classic that still has the power to make you afraid to go in the water. Do the scares hold up? Do Quint and Hooper's scars look even better in HD? With a Blu-Ray set for Indiana Jones and a transfer of E.T.Jaws do as a kick-off to this high-def Spielberg retrospective?
It's hard to even know what else to say about Jaws at this point. The movie that started off as an expensive lark, giving newbie director Steven Spielberg the budget to shoot a film almost entirely at sea, has become a landmark classic of not just thrillers, or summer movies, but movies in general. It set the standard for the summer blockbuster as we know it, quickly becoming the best-selling movie of all time when it opened in 1974, and establishing the summer as time for bigger, splashier, more expensive movies, a tradition that's only gotten stronger as the years have passed.
But what's easy to forget about Jaws, given its dead-simple premise and giant reputation, is what a phenomenally good movie it is. And sitting down with this new, exquisite Blu-Ray transfer, you can't help but marvel at all the good choices Spielberg makes, all the ways he takes a dumb story about a killer shark and shapes it as a drama about families, about men and their haunted pasts, about unlikely friendships and a duty to serve and protect a city-- all while scaring the hell out of you using a mechanical shark that wouldn't work half the time. Jaws takes its time to set up the story-- Brody, Hooper and Quint don't take off on the Orca until more than an hour in-- but it makes every scene count, drawing you into its world and its characters in a way few summer blockbusters would bother with today.
This new Blu-Ray release, from a newly restored print overseen by Spielberg himself, is so beautiful it made me realize for the first time just how gorgeously shot this movie is. I'd always remembered the famous opening skinny-dipping scene happening at night, but here you can see the dusky clouds in the sky, and the vivid distant sunset behind Susan Backlinie just before she becomes the shark's first victim. The colors are all sharp and vivid, so much that it almost looks like a modern movie made with perfect period style. You'll notice details in the background you never saw before, or be struck by the compositional beauty of a shot that just wouldn't grab you by the throat in the same way. Unless you caught Jaws in the big-screen restored release earlier this year, you've really never seen it like this.
I put this disc in one morning just before my boyfriend was about to head to his office to work, and he swore he would only stick around for an hour; of course, he wound up watching the whole thing. Even when you know the ending of Jaws and anxiously await the U.S.S. Indianapolis story or "Smile, you son of a bitch," the movie still has the power to suck you in, and this sparkling Blu-Ray release only doubles that effect. It's the best summer movie ever made, and it looks better than ever. What's not to love?
As one of the most famously nightmarish productions in Hollywood history, the behind-the-scenes stories from Jaws are almost as great as the movie itself-- and there are plenty of them to dig up in the bonus features on this Blu-Ray. The highlight is probably the feature-length documentary The Shark Is Still Working, which started as a labor of love from Jaws fan J. Michael Roddy as he set out to interview Martha's Vineyard residents who participated in the film's production. He eventually built up enough connections among veterans of the production to get Roy Scheider himself to narrate it (months before his death in 2008) and interviews with Spielberg, Jaws novelist Peter Benchley, and other heavyweights. The film premiered at a festival in Los Angeles in 2009 but is officially released here for the first time, and it's a tightly produced, engaging documentary that makes a perfect follow-up to a viewing of the film.
The second documentary on the disc, The Making Of Jaws, came along with the 1999 DVD release, and is much more bare-bones in its production, but just as detailed, containing interviews with many of the major players and looks at some of the less notorious elements of the production, like the team of Australian filmmakers who captured real-life shark footage and used a little person in a wetsuit to make the sharks seem as big as the larger-than-life Jaws. It's less glossy than The Shark Is Still Working, and less fun to watch, but Jaws diehards will probably be able to pick up a few details that make it worth the effort.
Other highlights on the disc included deleted scenes-- largely filler except for a hilarious outtake of Quint (Robert Shaw) tormenting a kid playing the clarinet-- and outtakes that hint at the miserable experience everyone was having on the set, like Scheider repeatedly trying to fire a gun that just won't work. You can also watch a brief extra documentary about the restoration of the very movie you've been watching, which might further blow your mind about the stunning quality of the Blu-Ray-- especially when you realize the awful condition of the original Jaws negative. And in the section titled "From The Set" you can see footage from a British TV crew's visit to the set, including an interview with Spielberg that reveals just how incredibly young he was at the time.
There's also a gallery of various storyboards and promotional images from the film, which help hammer home just what a giant phenomenon this was. And you can also see the original theatrical trailer, a pretty standard feature for most Blu-Ray releases. The Blu-Ray disc comes along with a DVD and digital copy for portability, as well.
This release isn't the lavish box set you sometimes get for the Blu-Ray debut of classic films, but it's not bare bones either, and the Shark Is Still Working documentary alone is more than enough to make the bonus features worth a look. The selling point of the Jaws Blu-Ray, though, is easily the movie itself, which looks so spectacular you might find yourself appreciating it in a whole new way.
Reviewed By: Katey Rich