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Jaws: 100th Anniversary Series
Release Date(s)1975 (August 14, 2012)
If there's one constant in this universe it's that Jaws is one of the greatest movies ever made. It was also one of the biggest money makers of its time. Whether you saw Jaws on the big screen or discovered it on cable for the first time, one thing's for sure: something as powerful as Jaws sinks its teeth into you and never lets you go, even on into your adulthood.
We've all heard the same stories over and over again about how seeing Jaws scared people so much that they refused to go swimming ever again. I've heard stories of people who were afraid to take baths or even go to the toilet because of Jaws. Much like The Exorcist, it scared the hell out of the generation that saw it, and the repercussions can still be felt to this day. However to a great number of us, Jaws isn't just merely a monster movie. It's one of the most well-edited and well-written films ever to hit the screen. Its surprisingly B movie-like material could easily have been laughed out of theaters in 1975 had it been made by another group of filmmakers. It also draws a nice contrast to today's generic summer blockbusters, showing how they're mostly nonsensical in both storytelling and aesthetic and, as a consequence, unmemorable. No one forgets the moment when we see the shark pop up out of the water for the first time and Chief Brody utters his famous line to Quint: "You're going to need a bigger boat." It's not the disposable commodity moviemaking mentality of today that makes you instantly forget what you just saw. Jaws sticks with you, long after you've walked out of the theater.
Possibly the most-publicized aspect about the film is the fact that the mechanical shark didn't work most of the time, forcing the filmmakers to not show the shark all that often. That not only helped to create more suspense, but it also set a precedent in how to make a successful suspense film. While the actors' performances and strong direction had much to do with it, it's John Williams' score that really gives the movie its teeth. Much like Bernard Herrmann's score to Psycho, the score for Jaws is riveting and scary. As stated numerous times in some of the interviews included on the disc, as long as kids still sing that music when attacking other kids in a pool, Jaws will live forever. It also launched Steven Spielberg's career and generated one of the largest profits in cinematic history.
Anyway, that's enough grandstanding about the movie itself. How does it shape up in high definition? I think it would be an understatement to say that this a superlative presentation inside and out. Great care seems to have gone into not just improving the look and sound of Jaws, but also restoring and preserving it. Some folks have complained about Universal's previous Blu-ray transfers being a bit too slick with too much clean-up, but you won't find that here. The grain level is absolutely perfect and pleasantly film-like. It basically looks like a brand new print of the film, which for all intents and purposes, it is. Images are crisper and more vibrant than ever before. Skin tones look nice and natural, particularly during beach scenes. The color palette of the film is composed mostly of blues, greens and tans, while red is designated to blood only, and they're all stronger here than they've ever been before. Contrast looks about the same to me as previous releases, but why fix what's not broken?
Speaking of which, a minor point worth bringing up is that there's been a very minor amount of tinkering with the film's color timing. Some of it so subtle that you might not even notice it, such as latter scenes in the film with Quint, Hooper and Brody singing and showing off each other's body scars. The continuity of the light levels in the windows of the boat have been altered to match from shot to shot, where they didn't originally. I'm normally one to criticize changes like this, but to me it doesn't affect the overall aesthetic or storyline. In fact, one might go so far as to say that it improves it in a small way. It's not something that most viewers notice anyway. We're all too focused on Robert Shaw's jaw-dropping performance in the scene to care. Something like this is a tiny change that I can live with and not get upset about, and I hope you feel the same way.
As far as the audio is concerned, Universal has made me happy in that they've included the original DTS Digital Surround 2.0 Mono soundtrack. Additionally there's a brand new English DTS-HD 7.1 Master Audio track as well Spanish and French DTS Digital 5.1 Surround tracks. I'm very thankful to have the original theatrical soundtrack and I prefer it much more over the new 7.1 mix, as nice at is. Like most films given the surround sound upgrade, the track derives mostly from the original mono track for material so there's not a whole lot you can do with it without changing it completely. There hasn't been much of that done here, but I think the score benefits the most from it. It certainly creates some nice surround & LFE moments, but not enough to make me want to continue viewing it with that track. I guess I'm just an old school sort of fellow in that regard. The 7.1 track is okay and should keep enthusiasts and newcomers happy, but if you're like me and you prefer to see the film in its purest form, then go with the mono track. There are also subtitles options for those who might need them in English, Spanish and French.
To match the fantastic A/V presentation there's an impressive set of extras (reason enough to pick this release up). The new Blu-ray exclusive extras include the die-hard fan favorite documentary The Shark is Still Working: The Impact & Legacy of Jaws, a Pocket Blu App and a connection to BD-Live. Also included is the Jaws: The Restoration featurette, which is also included on the separate DVD release. Carried over from the previous DVD releases (as well Laserdisc) are the fantastic documentary The Making of Jaws (one of my very favorite making-ofs); deleted scenes and outtakes; the From the Set featurette from 1975; four sets of photo galleries including the Jaws Phenomenon, Storyboards, Production Photos and Marketing Jaws; and finally the theatrical trailer. On the DVD included in this set, you have four audio options (English, Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 and English Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono) and three subtitle options (English SDH, Spanish, French). This DVD carries no extras other than the Spotlight on Location: The Making of Jaws featurette, which is more or less reworked version of The Making of Jaws on the Blu-ray. There's also a paper insert, which includes instructions and codes for Ultraviolet and Digital Copy options. All in all, you simply couldn't ask for more with the extras.
I guess it goes without saying at this point, but I'll say it anyway: This is one of the finest Blu-ray releases of the year and is among Universal's best ever. You'd be negligent not to pick it up. It's also one the best overall catalogue releases to come along in a while, carrying a very impressive video and audio presentation. Fans old and new should be left with absolutely nothing to complain about when it comes to Jaws on Blu-ray. It's highly recommended from all of us here at The Digital Bits!
- Tim Salmons