DVD & Blu-ray Reviews

JAWS, Blu-ray Combo Pack (Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy/Ultra-Violet) (1975/2012)

1975 box-office juggernaut is spectacular in hi-definition.

Published on August 6, 2012

JAWS, Blu-ray Combo Pack (Blu-ray/DVD/Digital Copy/Ultra-Violet) (1975/2012) 

Studio: Universal Studios [8/14/2012]
Director: Steven Spielberg
Producer: Richard D. Zanuck, David Brown
Cast: Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, Robert Shaw
Music: John Williams
Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9 1080p HD and also Standard Definition DVD
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, DTS Digital Surround 2.0 mono and Dolby Digital 2.0,
Spanish and French DTS Digital Surround 5.1
Subtitles: English, SDH, French, Spanish
Extras (Blu-ray): The Shark Is Still Working: The Impact & Legacy Of JAWS, JAWSThe Restoration; The Making Of JAWS, From The Set, Deleted Scenes And Outtakes, JAWS Archives, Original Theatrical Trailer, Ultraviolet Digital Copy, Pocket BLU- App, BD-LIVE: (DVD Extras): Spotlight On Location: The Making Of JAWS
Length: 124 minutes
Rating: Audio: *****     Video: *****     Extras: **** 

When Jaws exploded onto the American culture in 1975, it had a tri-fold effect. First, the concept of “summer blockbuster” (especially the ‘go big or go home’ mentality) became the mantra of the studios. Next, it firmly established the career of Hollywood’s most successful director ever, Steven Spielberg. Finally the connection between box office and merchandising was forever entwined. As a pure movie phenomenon, Jaws was spectacular. The adaptation of Peter Benchley’s oceanic thriller was a reminder of life imitating art. After seeing the movie, people were literally scared to go into the water.

Like Coppola’s The Godfather, much has been written about the tribulations associated with the making of this film. But it is memorable, none the less. After a shark invades the waters off Amity, New York, the vital summer commercial season is in peril. Sherriff Brody (Roy Scheider), a transplanted urbanite who is scared of the water, has to find a way to keep the beaches safe and open at the same time. With the help of smart aleck oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfess) and a slightly deranged Ahab-like fisherman named Quint (Robert Shaw), the trio sets out to conquer the great predator.

Spielberg’s gift as a filmmaker exists on many levels. He is a gifted storyteller. The precarious relationship of the shore community to seasonal business is always in the forefront. His narrative style is unique. He utilizes moments of levity to divert suspense (including a well-timed fakeout), and moments of horror to interrupt halcyon time passages. There are visceral thrills. In the opening sequence, images of the young female swimmer being terrorized by an unknown creature are chilling. Later on there is a similar incident with a young boy. The acting is excellent. Scheider is steady and is the perfect foil for Dreyfuss and Shaw who chew up the scenery. This was a breakthrough roll for Dreyfuss. Shaw (who was so memorable as the assassin In From Russia With Love, and the gangster in The Sting) is unforgettable as the taciturn shark hunter. The uncomfortable tension between the three leads is natural and works to the enhancement of the narrative. The smaller details of the plot are as important as the cinematic adventure. As the movie surges to its conclusion, the viewer is deeply vested in the story and its characters. John Williams’ unforgettable musical score rivals Psycho for its ability to merge tuneful notation into an emotional correlation.

The transfer to Blu-ray that has often been affected by grainy 35mm film originals is not an issue. The images are sharp and possess a high degree of detail, with excellent color contrast. The sense of open space (in open water scenes) or intimacy (in particular, the below deck drinking scene) is equally flawless. The infamous shark “Bruce” (perhaps the director should have designated a more ferocious moniker) seems a bit sleeker in appearance, but the motorized appearance still exists. Overall, compared to many digitally-restored classics, this one is superior (Spielberg also concurs). The sound is equally brilliant (DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1, DTS Surround or DDS 2.0). Explosive action sequences are powerful, but not ear-blasting. Crowd panic scenes are not disorienting. When there is a transition to a hushed sequence, sound and dialogue are both pristine. Williams’ score is exhilarating. There is a staggering amount (four hours!) of bonus material. One of the more compelling pieces is the Blu-ray “mini-documentary” The Shark Is Still Working: The Impact And Legacy Of JAWS. It chronicles the artistic and commercial influence of this landmark achievement. Included are interview segments with directors like Kevin Smith and M. Night Shyamalan.

The release of JAWS: Blu-ray Combo Pak celebrates the 100th anniversary of Universal, one of thirteen films to be digitally restored from 35mm. This is a very auspicious beginning.

—Robbie Gerson

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