Jaws: 30th Anniversary Special Edition (1975)
By: Mr Intolerance on January 13, 2009  | 
DVD
Universal (Australia). Regions 2,4 & 5, PAL. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DTS 5.1, Czech DD 5.1, Hungarian DD 5.1. English (FHI), Arabic, Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Greek, Hebrew, Icelandic, Hungarian, Dutch, Norwegian, Romanian, Finnish, Swedish, Turkish, Czech Subtitles. 118 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Credits
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw, Lorraine Gray, Murray Hamilton, Carl Gottlieb, Jeffrey C. Kramer, Susan Backlinie
Screenplay: Peter Benchley, Carl Gottlieb
Country: Australia
External Links
Purchase IMDB YouTube
On its release in 1975, Jaws, based on Peter Benchley's best-selling novel of the same name, became a phenomenon. I don't mean to say by any stretch of the imagination that it's the greatest movie of all time, but it captured the imagination of people on a world wide basis and entered the general public consciousness. Let's face it – sharks are scary. And a three ton, 26 foot long appetite with fins is very scary indeed. You might not like horror films that feature zombies, vampires, werewolves or ghosts because you don't believe in them, but you could not dispute the existence of sharks, and even the most hard-headed of viewers couldn't help but find the situation Jaws posits a scary one, because like many of the best horror films, it's one that could actually happen.

There were immediately films made to capitalise on its success - *cough*rip-offs*cough* - such as Orca, Pirahna, The Deep and even, if you stretch a point, Alligator – and it has been lovingly parodied in sit-coms, sketch shows and films as disparate as Saturday Night Live, The Goodies (remember the "Killer Cod" episode?), The Simpsons ("Arrrgh! Shark-boy!") and Flying High. John Williams' score defines the word tension, and has also been used as shorthand for such over the 33 years since the film was made. It then went on to become a franchise of films with an ever lessening quality threshold, and believe it or not, in recent years became the basis for a PlayStation 2 game, where, weirdly enough, you play the shark and swim about destroying things and eating people (there's something deeply wrong there).

Amity Island is a quiet little summer vacation place off the coast of the US North East – up-state New York/New England, and it has just developed a rather large problem, in the form of a bad-tempered, hungry and territorial shark. And this shark is no ordinary Great White (one of the more fearsome genus' of the species), this thyroidal nightmare is one of those freak giants Nature occasionally throws up just to remind us that we aren't as invincible as we think we are – and off dry land, we are instead as vulnerable as all hell.

A bunch of late teens/early twenties folks are having a beach party one night, and a couple of the more amorous attendees decide that a bit of midnight skinny-dipping would be a good idea (because, pot, booze and deep water are such a simpatico mix…). Now, as horror fans, we all know that at least one of these people is doomed to die – sexuality/nudity being a deathmark in Hollywood horror films. Spielberg does not disappoint us here. From the first kill onwards, the shark is shown to us to be as Captain McAllister once described Homer Simpson, "A remorseless eating machine." It is entirely inimical, and if it gets you in its excessively large clutches, you are fucked – it is NOT going to let you go. You can't reason with a shark. It's one of mankind's primordial fears, being eaten, and Spielberg makes it very bloody scary indeed.

Police Chief Martin Brody (played by the always excellent Roy Scheider, R.I.P) is an outsider to the island and its inhabitants, a native New Yorker who's moved there in the past year and is still a figure of ridicule to the more aquatically-minded islanders. Brody finds some of the shark's leftovers on the beach – not exactly de rigeur for the sleepy little community. As a matter of fact, the level of crime in Amity is usually of such a low rent kind that people such as you or I might laugh at it (people breaking fences, or outsiders parking in spots that "belong" to long time island residents), but it's important to the folks who live such practically cloistered lives. Brody rather practically, given the cause of death he's just looked at was a shark attack, decides to close the beaches – there's a slight moment of concern in that the island doesn't possess any "Beach Closed" signs, but Brody, ever the pragmatist, gets one of his deputies to paint some up. This does not please the city fathers one iota, as it's the beaches that bring money into the town (this is riffed on again in the Spielberg/Hooper collaboration Poltergeist – financial expediency is all, and damn the well-being of the populace), and immediately we start to distrust the authority figures as weaselly, dollar hungry bastards.

Part of the tension that this film builds masterfully is that anytime you see anyone enter the water, you almost immediately assume they are going to end up dead, regardless of age, gender or race – a shark is quite egalitarian in that way. It makes the horror more pronounced; generally when you're watching a Hollywood horror film, children are off the menu for the bad guy – think again here. A shark has no such scruples – lunch is lunch. And when you hear that music, you know it's badness on the way for someone – the score recognises no red herrings – it's when the shark strikes with an absence of score that really starts to fuck with the audience. We see a child on an air mattress taken into a death roll by the shark, and the pre-teen swimmers in the water near him are suddenly flailing in brine and blood – this is not like the mawkishly sentimental slop Spielberg has thrown at us later in his career – this is visceral, knife-edge tension and terror, and its effects on the Amity community are pretty profound – and yet, the dollar-centric Mayor and his cronies won't close the beaches, worried more about the competition they'll face from neighbouring communities for the up-coming Fourth of July celebrations, and the visitors who'll be taking their tourist cash else-where. It's clever, if a little heavy-handed on the part of the writers to juxtapose the "Me-generation" values and self-centredness of the people and their ruling "elite" (emblematic of the US society of the 70s generally) with that of the notions of America's National Day – you know, all those notions of "liberty and justice for all…in the land of the free and the home of the brave."

Mrs Kintner, mother of the slaughtered child has offered a $3000 bounty for the shark (before you start scoffing at the price, that was a lot of cash in 1975), throwing the town into an uproar. Unbelievably, given a child has just been brutally slain, the people who have a vested interest in getting those summer dollars flowing in don't want Brody closing the beaches, hardly a sympathetic view of contemporary US society, despite the fact that they are effectively asking people to risk their lives by dipping a toe in the ocean with statistically a great chance of some of them ending up as tomorrow's shark-shit.

Enter Quint (Robert Shaw, in one of his very best roles), an opportunistic shark-hunter, who offers to catch and kill the shark for $10,000. Being the cheapskates they are the townsfolk decide to try and catch the shark themselves, with quite disastrous results. Every silly prick except Chief Brody is sadly underestimating the power of this fish. A lot of equally opportunistic out-of-town deep sea fishermen turn up, too, trying to make a name for themselves in the shark-hunting stakes (as well as wanting all of that long green), to no avail – they end up making themselves look like bozos instead.

Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss in that rarest of roles – the one where I don't want to kill him instantly) is from the Oceanographic Institute, and has turned up, to Brody's great pleasure, to help with locating and neutralising the shark. A shark is caught, but Hooper is not convinced it's the one causing all the mayhem – the bite radius being too small, but the townspeople, poor schmoes that they are, are satisfied, and despite Hooper and Brody finding evidence that the shark is still out there, the Fourth of July goes ahead as planned, and it's not good (oh, and keep an eye out for author Peter Benchley in a cameo as the TV newsie on the beach in this scene).

And so Quint is hired to slay the shark, and Hooper and Brody have chartered his boat, the Orca, to do so. This is where this film really ups the ante and has the audience gradually, but with growing speed, moving to the edge of their collective seat. The series of near misses and the shark's appearances make for pretty harrowing viewing. When you actually see the size of the thing it's frankly terrifying,

And this is where the synopsis leaves you. Once you get onto the Orca, all bets are off. It's the shark hunters versus the shark, and given the size of the shark, it's a pretty uneven battle. That said, it's a highly entertaining one, and worth watching for Robert Shaw's monologue about being a survivor of the wreck of USS Indianapolis – that's where you get to see what real acting is. If you aren't biting your nails back to the elbow as the final reel of this film comes to a close, and Hooper, Brody and Quint are going mano-a-sharko with the big fish, you are probably in a coma.
Video
The picture quality is amazing – a crystal clear pristine print presented in the original aspect ratio, anamorphically enhanced. Jaws looks as good as you could hope for. This is a restoration job to die for.
Audio
Also good, available in stereo, 5.1 and DTS, in English. This soundtrack is frankly amazing. In the climactic moments of the film, you'll believe you're in the Orca with Brody, Hooper and Quint – it definitely adds to the tension.
Extra Features
Spielberg still isn't willing to sit down for an audio commentary, not even for the 30th Anniversary edition. There is, however, a rather detailed 110 minute featurette called "A Look Inside Jaws", which tells you about the making of the film, and I guess that given Spielberg's involvement in this, we could understand why there isn't a commentary track. There is one telling moment when one of the scriptwriters claims that the point of Jaws was to make a movie that would do for the ocean what Psycho did for showers. In that case, mission accomplished. We also learn that for the live shark footage, the assistance of Australian couple Ron and Valerie Taylor was used, having made the documentary Blue Water, White Death, off the coast of Australia, and that in lieu of having 26 foot long Great Whites available, in Hooper's cage scene, they were using 16 foot long sharks and a midget, to scale the scene accurately. I had wondered (it actually becomes apparent later that there are 3 sequences intercut, the midget and the regular shark, a stuntman and "Bruce", the mechanical shark, and reaction shots with another actor). Basically, there's a great deal of detail about all aspects of the production, from how the novel was adapted to script, to the casting, to the location, to making the shark (which was, in Spielberg's words, "frustrating" – it didn't often work), to the scoring, to post-production, to any element of making the film you could think of. It was not an easy shoot by anyone's account.

There's also a gallery slideshow – normally these things bore the shit out of me, but this one isn't just a rag-tag collection of a dozen or so promo shots, this has pre-production conceptual drawings, unused storyboards (in terms of original ideas for the script, these are quite interesting indeed), behind the scenes, production photos, comparisons between the live and mechanical sharks, publicity shots and marketing and merchandise stills. A pretty rich bag of goodness.

There's some informative "Shark Facts", giving a factual background to the fictional shark. Being a sucker for wildlife documentaries about things that kill other things, I found this pretty interesting. It also tells you why these bad boys should be feared – the Great White shark is presented to you in a scientific way as one of the most fearsome predators alive – and it gives you good reason why.

Then we get an extremely comprehensive collection of deleted scenes, some of which (most, in fact,) have been restored to the picture quality of the rest of the film. It all adds to the quality of this release – some of these really should have been left in the film, adding little bits and pieces to the characterisation of the major players, Brody, Quint and Hooper.

The Outtakes reel is surprisingly brief, given the extensive nature of the rest of the extras on offer here – three or four scenes tops, and nothing much happening in any of them.

There's an English on-the-set doco from 1974 during the filming of the movie. This has some interesting archival footage/interviews with Spielberg – now, whatever you may think of him as a director, just remember this: he made Jaws when he was 26 years old. That's pretty fucking impressive right there, when you consider that on its release, it was the biggest film of all time, and the first to break the $100,000,000 mark at the box office, ahead of Gone With The Wind, The Sound of Music and The Godfather. What did you do by the time you were 26?

The story-board-to-film comparisons are particularly interesting to film nerds such as myself who may have at certain points of our lives written screenplays and drawn up storyboards – ahhh, but to see it realised… One thing that is apparent is that the intended version of the film had a much higher body count than what we actually see. The on-screen shark obviously had less of an appetite…
The Verdict
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score
Look, despite whatever cinematic monstrosities Spielberg may have flung at us since, Jaws is a movie any film-maker would be proud to have made. Taut, tense and suspenseful, this is horror film-making at its best. This release of the film is definitely the one to get. With its comprehensive package of extras (almost 3 hours worth), you aren't going to find anything to top it. This is the business.

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