Jaws (1975)
By: Devon B. on October 17, 2012 | Comments
Universal | All Regions | 2.35:1, 1080p | English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 | 124 minutes (Full Specs)
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gray, Murray Hamilton
Screenplay: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb
Country: USA
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My earliest memory of Jaws is not really connected with the film. When I was about three I was given what I thought was a shark toy. I have fond memories of this toy shark, and long after it had gone I spent some time trying to find a replacement. My searches were always fruitless, until I was watching the special features on an earlier release of Jaws and saw my toy. It was actually some sort of dumbass game, but clearly I'd been smart enough to ignore everything but the shark. So at a very young age I associated sharks and the film, which I knew the "toy" had come from, as something positive and fun. I did eventually develop a bit of a fear of sharks, but not so much about ending up in one's mouth. My father decided it would be a good idea to tell me that shark skin was incredibly rough, which I took to the extreme that if I ever accidentally touched a shark's skin I would scrape myself, bleed into the water and set the shark on a feeding frenzy. I guess in the end it was a fear of being eaten, but I remember being far more afraid of brushing up a shark than it attacking me.

My fear lead to a bit of shark obsession and that took me back to the film that probably, through roundabout merchandising means, had lead to my interest in sharks in the first place. I'm not quite sure how old I was when I first saw Jaws but I remember my love of the movie made me want to read the book, which I did at the age of six. I was too young to really process the book, but did pick up on a few key things that weren't in the movie. I re-read the book 12 years later and despite an almost complete lack of comprehension during my first read I still wasn't interested in reading the book again even though I could now understand what was happening in it, particularly in regards to the Ellen Brody and Matt Hooper characters. Jaws is the only novel I ever read twice, and it proved to me that I have no cause to ever re-read a book. Thanks, Peter Benchley!

A lot of people prefer the film adaptation's streamlined plot, but I think the novel's version adds a nice bit of ambiguity. Both versions have the same basic premise: A large white pointer has decided a good place to catch a few meals is Amity Island. This does not bode well for the island, as it's a summer holiday town and people won't want to come and summer holiday with a predator in the water. The island's police chief, along with a grizzled fisherman and a marine biologist, are the only thing that can stand in the shark's way. Actually, they're on a boat, so they're not really standing in its way, it's more like they're floating in its way. But I guess they do stand on the boat, so maybe they are standing in its way? Anyway, the film climaxes with such realistic shark behaviour it could probably be snuck into Shark Week as a clip from a documentary and no one would be the wiser.

A lot has been written about Jaws already, and indeed Digital Retribution's own illustrious icon of intolerance, Mr Intolerance, has done his usual bang up job of covering the details in his review, so I'm not going to prattle on too much about the film itself (no, I used up all my prattle in a self-indulgent intro). What I will say is that Jaws is unquestionably a classic of popcorn cinema, the definitive summer blockbuster. Heightened by several magnificent performances and scenes so tense that they still have impact dozens of viewings later, Jaws is that special sort of movie that can be watched over and over and always be entertaining. It has shown its age in terms of the shark FX, but the shark isn't really on screen that much so that isn't a huge flaw, and at this point the wonky shark is part of the film's charm. It seems like every moment in Jaws has rightfully been micro-analysed, but there are two things about the film that I don't think get mentioned very often.

The first thing is covered a bit in the extras on this Blu-ray, which is that the film and novel had an unfortunate side effect. I understand that the fear of being eaten by a large animal is a primal one and hard to overcome, but Jaws turned sharks into villains and people became quite callous about the treatment of these animals. Sharks are an essential part of the ocean, and while it's not the film's fault that people let their fears blindside them to the ecological risks of eliminating these animals at such an alarming rate, it is an unfortunate by-product of the movie's success.

The other thing is the film's rating. In Australia, this release has an understandable M rating, but how the fuck is this thing still rated PG in the States? This movie has, no exaggeration, probably launched millions of nightmares, and yet it has the same rating as The Muppets? I grew up watching a censored TV print (for years I thought Roy Scheider actually said "bitch" at the end but the TV station had just removed it), and I still get surprised by the amount of nudity, swears and graphic bloodshed in this PG film. At first it seems ridiculous that Tobe Hooper thought he'd get a PG for The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, but given Jaws earned that rating around the same time, clearly Hooper wasn't crazy. I know there wasn't a PG-13 rating at the time of Jaws' release, but I'm still amazed that this didn't get an R rating even back in the clearly much more liberal 70s.

Although the beginning is based on real events, Jaws gets a bit silly in its finale (and by "a bit" I mean very), but that doesn't detract from the film. It's a great example of a filmmaker getting the audience to the point of just going with the movie by the time it gets outlandish, so Steven Spielberg probably does deserve some credit of his skills. I know a lot of people say it's Schindler's List, but people with taste have always known that Jaws was his masterpiece.
Jaws is an easy film to do the video scoring for because it has a clear guide as to what makes for a good transfer: How much of Chrissie can you see? The answer this time is thankfully, "More than ever!" In fact, I'm pretty sure if someone boosted the brightness on the television pubic hair would be clearly visible. Pretty sure in that I tried it and it worked. Speilberg says this is the best the film's ever looked, including its original theatrical presentation, and I believe it because it looks amazing. Colours are more vibrant than ever before, detail is strong (especially in a key underwater sequence) and the print is remarkably clean. I've seen this movie at least 40 times, and I kept noticing all sorts of stuff that I'd never seen before. I did spot a hint of macroblocking, but this is thankfully mostly confined to one scene, and otherwise this transfer is flawless.
The audio track has been beefed up to a 7.1 mix, and the mix tries to enhance the film while being respectful to the original audio. The track is clear and pristine, with some great moments of sonic immersion. The score also sounds great, but I want to point out that maybe John Williams isn't the composing God that many think he is. My father, of abrasive shark skin fame, had a classical CD with Dvorák's "Symphony No. 9" on it, and that piece is now better known as "Theme from Jaws." Williams didn't so much as write a score as find some music that was obscure enough he could take credit for it. For purists, the original Mono mix is also provided in a lossy DTS track. I'm not sure how much better the track would've sounded lossless, but I'm just glad Universal were smart enough to include the original audio in a DTS mix as opposed to so many other releases where the original mix is DVD quality or, worse, not even present. There's also a French DTS High Resolution 7.1 dub, Italian and Spanish 5.1 DTS dubs, and DTS dubs of the original Mono in Spanish, French and Italian. The 5.1 DTS tracks seemed similar in quality to each other, and the various Mono mixes seemed similar in quality to each other as well, however the French DTS High Resolution track is no comparison to the English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 mix.
Extra Features
The Blu-ray has quite a few extras, some of them carryovers that thankfully eliminate the need to hang on to old DVD copies. An ad for Universal plays on start up, which I wouldn't consider an extra, but I guess a lot of idiots do. The lengthy making of that first appeared on the Laserdisc release is included in its two-hour plus entirety. The last local DVD release of Jaws trimmed a few minutes off this doco to make room for shark facts or something, so this is the first time the full doco would be available in Australia, assuming the UK release is identical to the Australian one which I do because the disc has the OFLC rating on it. There're a few deleted scenes and outtakes, the former containing some nice little bits with Robert Shaw and the latter mostly being Scheider repeatedly being unable to fire a gun. There's also a featurette on the restoration of the film, and a vintage spot that focuses on Spielberg on the set. The trailer is included, as are four extensive galleries of storyboards, which give an idea of what changes were made because the shark wasn't working; heaps of production photos; marketing materials, which shows that game I had; and worldwide promotional items, Oscar campaign stuff, the ad series of the shark eating previous high grossing films and some other fun bits like Mad Magazine covers. The big new extra for this release is The Shark is Still Working, a documentary about the impact of Jaws that has been unreleased for far too long. This doco was made after the other making of, and in fact even references the other one, so it tries to cover new ground, but with two in depth docos some info naturally repeats. This is another great doco on the film, and it features a moment about life bizarrely imitating art that shows humanity has finally made some progress in shark conservation ideals. The only drawback to The Shark is Still Working, and indeed this Blu-ray in general, is the doco looks like it was downloaded from the internet at a low resolution. It's still watchable, but it would've been nice if it looked better. There is a standard edition of this release, but I bought the steelbook edition so I can run around the house singing "Duh duh! Duh duh!" and snapping the case closed like a shark's mouth, which is way more of an extra than some dumb Universal Studios fluff ad on start up. Lastly, there's an Ultraviolet edition available with this release in case someone wants to watch the movie on a little screen.
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
I've bought Jaws five times now, and for awhile I had multiple copies simply because they contained different sections of the original making of. I'm glad this Blu-ray consolidates everything for me, and while there is a bit of room for improvement in regards to the presentation of The Shark is Still Working, I'm just glad I didn't have to pay for it as a standalone release.

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