As kids get out of school, and the beach calls to eager vacationers everywhere, it’s good to get a reminder of why it’s not safe to go into the water. Having been around for thirty years, Jaws can now officially be considered a classic. As such, there’s really not much to say about the movie that hasn’t already been said. Still, for the half dozen people out there who haven’t seen this thriller, here goes.
Jaws tells the story of a series of shark attacks around the town of Amity, a hot summer tourist beach town. As the shark attacks increase, local police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) looks for help in dealing with the problem from scientist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and an old seaman named Quint (Robert Shaw).
Now I’ll admit, that’s a pretty lackluster description of the movie, and had it been told as straightforward as that it might not be as incredible a movie, even thirty years later. Instead the movie excels by not showing the whole picture, heightening the audience’s anticipation so that when the shark does reveal itself, BAM - it’s scream time. Whether the choice to show less of the killer shark was due to choice or technical malfunction is irrelevant. What counts is that the technique works, thrilling audiences regardless of how many times they’ve seen the movie.
The film also works because of it’s excellent characters and performances. Each of the three main characters are solid portrayals, well written and well acted. The chemistry between these three very different people is what really makes the movie work. As formulaic thrillers have proven time and time again, if you’re not vested in the characters in some way, shape, or form, all you have is a few cheap jumps for entertainment. However, if you can get into the characters in such a way that you’re entertained by them, and can completely believe three men with such different motivations can go out to sea and join together in a drunken rendition of “Show Me The Way Home”, then you have something that lasts and remains a favorite over the years, even if the hairdos and fashions don’t. Steven Spielberg knew this early in his career, as did Sheider, Shaw, and Dreyfuss. Jaws is a constant reminder of the talent of everyone involved.
Over the years Jaws has infiltrated our American culture. The theme music is instantly recognizable as a sign of danger. What movie buff hasn’t found themselves at some stressful time stating, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” The movie has inspired constant references from Kevin Smith in his movies, as well as three less-than-inspiring sequels that didn’t seem to learn what made Jaws truly special. While almost all the sequels went after the less-is-more approach of the first film, none of them were able to recreate the significance and sympathy of the characters. At first glance this thirtieth anniversary edition looks like it’s just a repackaged version of the twenty-fifth anniversary edition. Heck, Universal is even using the website address for the twenty-fifth anniversary edition to promote this version (www.jaws25.com). However a closer inspection reveals that most of the extras from the previous version have been abandoned to make way for new material for this edition.
The first disc of this two-disc set contains the movie, presented in anamorphic widescreen and with all the sound options you’d want, from DTS 5.1 Surround, to the movie’s native mono sound. I didn’t pick up the 25th Anniversary of the movie, so I can’t say the movie’s never looked or sounded this good before, but I can say it looks and sounds great. The lack of a director’s commentary track is disappointing, but hey - it’s Spielberg, who has yet to agree to one of those, so why should I expect he’d start now. A joint commentary between Scheider and Dreyfuss might have been neat though.
Also included on the first disc is the featurette “From the Set”, a British news piece on the making of Jaws featuring an interview with the young auteur himself. It’s interesting to see Spielberg back at the young age of 27 making his second major motion picture, and his first blockbuster. He honestly was such a geek back then. Watching Spielberg in this interview is akin to watching Shyamalan’s kid movies on his DVD releases - it’s a much younger, almost embarrassingly young, part of the director that makes him a bit more tangible by seeing.
There are also about fifteen minutes worth of deleted and extended scenes, as well as a few outtakes included on the first disc. None of them are incredibly special and in fact some of them are downright difficult to hear due to poor sound quality. Most likely these scenes were cut early on, before they were looped in a sound studio. The outtakes are a bit humorous, if only to see how well (or how poorly) Scheider handled a malfunctioning prop time after time.
The second disc holds the two hour documentary “The Making of Jaws”, which is less of a documentary and more along the lines of two hours of stories about making the movie as told by Spielberg, Scheider, and Dreyfuss, as well as the movie’s producers, writers, and even a few of the behind the scenes men. There are some really great anecdotes here, but the problem is that’s all they are. There’s no real flow to the documentary. Sure the stories are structured to follow the making of the film from the producers securing the rights and hiring Spielberg until finally wrapping the movie after a horrific extended shooting schedule. Other than that though, the documentary is just a bunch of stories stuck together, told by different people. It’s entertaining, but it’s not going to win any awards in my book.
Also included on the second disc are the “Jaws Archives”, a collection of production photos, storyboards, posters, and more. This is probably the lowest quality extra in the set. The pictures looked hazy to me, which wasn’t helped by whoever came up with the idea to put a glowing faded border around each image. Also, just putting storyboards in is a good argument for all of those sets that give you the opportunity to compare storyboards with the final scene. Standing on their own, the storyboards just aren’t all that interesting.
As if all of that isn’t enough, the two-disc set is accompanied by a 60 page commemorative photo journal which contains a lot of the pictures found in the Jaws Archives, only clearer. It’s a neat little book to accompany the film, and although most of the quotes and pictures are on the DVDs, it’s nice not to have to find them on the disc to enjoy them.
Spielberg says in “The Making of Jaws” that, as he was much younger when he made the movie, he was much more confident, or much more foolish. Which ever trait it was that led to the genius of Jaws is one more filmmakers could stand to learn from these days. The Thirtieth Anniversary Edition is a great way to sit back, remember this classic thriller, and see a reminder of why, even so early in his career, Spielberg is a legendary director.
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