When people watched "Saving Private Ryan" in theaters, many were shocked by the display of violence in the film, especially during the first 30 minutes, claiming that it was such an atypical attitude for director Steven Spielberg. Since it is practically impossible for any moviegoer not to have seen "Jaws" it appears that many of those people have forgotten that the film that first defined Steven Spielberg’s career was this horror monster shocker about a giant Great White shark. It has been 25 years since this shark first haunted the beaches of Amity, a small East Coast community, and the film has long broken countless records and written move history, going down in the annals of Hollywood as one of the most successful films ever made. To celebrate the movie’s 25th Anniversary this year, Universal Home Video is now bringing the most terrifying shark ever to swim onto your screen in a newly restored version on this DVD to make sure you will never forget what this phenomenon, and DVD is all about.
The story of "Jaws" is rather simple. Just before the summer season, Amity Island finds itself in the grip of a giant Great White shark that is prowling the ocean close to the beaches. Since these clean beaches are a tourist attraction, amity’s mayor has little interest in closing down the beaches and rob the small town off its vital income.
Hesitantly Chief Brody (Roy Sheider) complies and leaves the beaches open to the public, despite the warnings of oceanologist Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss). Soon the Great White chews up more innocent swimmers and Brody teams up with fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) and Hooper to take on this singularly big shark. Out in the ocean, far away from help, they finally manage to track down the shark, but instead of them hunting the beast, they find that the beast is actually hunting them.
A masterpiece of terror, suspense and minimalist storytelling, is not only beautiful film to behold, but also one that has viewers on the edge of their seats, no matter how many times you have seen the film. Forget all versions of "Jaws" you have seen before. Universal Home Video is presenting the movie here in a newly remastered, anamorphic widescreen transfer that restores the film’s original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The transfer is virtually free of any blemishes, scratches or dust marks, or any other defect that could potentially give away the film’s age. Without a hint of noise or grain, the DVD beautifully reproduces the original look of the film without the slightest distraction or deficiencies. The blacks in the transfer are absolutely perfect, never breaking up and without a hint of noise, always maintaining a good level of shadow detail. "Jaws" has a rather naturalistic look by design, as the daylight outdoor scenes as well as many of the interior shots reflect the common color schemes of 70s movies, which were mostly attributed to the film stock in use in those days. These scenes are perfectly rendered with fine color delineation and a very faithful reproduction that renders flesh tones absolutely naturally. Especially during the nighttime and underwater scenes however, you will be impressed with the image improvement DVD has to offer over any other home video format. These scenes are absolutely impressive in their depth, clarity and the level of detail you get to witness. Even upon magnification of the image, the image never breaks up and presents itself as magnificent as can be and reveals a very film-like look, which can also be attributed to the lack of edge-enhancement in the transfer. The compression is flawless without a sign of pixelation or other compression artifacts in sight. If I wouldn’t know better, I would never believe that this is a 25-year old movie!
Apart from the remastered video, the "Jaws" Collector’s Edition also contains a remastered 5.1 Dolby Digital mix. I had high hopes for this remix but I have to admit that I was surprised to find a very front-loaded track that hardly makes use of the discrete surround channels at all. At times I found myself checking up on the surround speakers, just to find out if they’re still working, only to find that they did not carry any signal. The touted 5.1 remix is mostly limited to the legendary music score John Williams has contributed to the film and some rare ambient effects, like during the underwater sequences. Other than that you won’t find much going on in the rears. However, the track makes good in the bass extensions. The signature theme that John Williams wrote for the movie, as well as the rest of the orchestral score is definitely benefiting form the newfound bass extension, as it adds clarity and punch to the music. Spiced up with selective reverb in the surrounds, the track also has gained new depth and scope that is beautiful, terrifying and haunting at the same time.
Dialogues are firmly centered in the mix and always clear and very understandable. However, the age of those elements is clearly evident, as the dialogues do not have the same wide frequency response as the music and the newly edited sound effects. As a result the dialogues still sound very harsh and without bottom end, which creates a noticeable contrast to the rest of the mix. It seems obvious that recording technologies for recording orchestral music scores were much more sophisticated in 1975 than the technology used to record dialogue on the set.
Nonetheless, I found the 5.1 mix very enjoyable and suitable throughout, although the addition of the original mono track would have been a great addition for film historic and purists’ sake.
This dual-layer disc also contains a large number of extras that will have "Jaws" fans salivating. The core of these supplements builds a one-hour documentary called "The Making Of Jaws." It is an edited-down version of Laurent Bouzereau’s 2-hour original documentary that could be found on the "Jaws" Laserdisc box set. However, I found this one-hour documentary to have just about the right balance overall. Although some of the interviews have been edited down, I found the effect to be that of a tightening, rather than actually losing information. Everything interesting and valuable that you found in the documentary before is still there, but the presentation has a much faster pace. In the end, you are left in wonderful amazement, wishing there were more - which in my point of view is the perfect balance for any documentary, as it proves that just about enough information has been relayed to create wonder without overloading the viewer.
A series of deleted scenes and outtakes are also on the disc, including some interesting and entertaining bloopers - I greatly enjoyed the one with Robert Shaw and the blood. Upon viewing the deleted scenes it is blatantly obvious why director Steven Spielberg decided to deleted them - they just don’t add anything to the film - and the legendary scene that was cut for it graphic content and was deemed too horrific by Spielberg, just isn’t that exciting, especially when compared to the Quint’s death scene on the boat, which is truly one of the most horrifying deaths in mainstream film history. (I remember seeing the image in front of my eyes for weeks after I had first seen the film during its theatrical run, and I can’t put into words how much I was affected by these teeth sinking into the soft flesh, with Quint struggling in agony, and no way to pry these massive jaws open.)
A trivia game can also be found on the disc, as well an extensive gallery of photos from the production. Nicely organized, the photo gallery contains some rare stills, as well as a series of highly publicized images from behind the scenes and is a great addition for all fans of the movie. Add to that the storyboards from selected scenes of the movie, which give you a good idea how the film has changed during production, as many of the shots that were planned to feature the shark had to be cut out due to malfunction of the mechanical prop. It also contains a number of scenes that were scrapped altogether during the film’s production for practical and dramatic reasons, like the original ending and Hooper’s demise. Watching these elements makes you wonder how that version of the movie would have felt like, as it would have featured so much more shark footage, but at the same time it may have watered down the effect, as much of the perceived threat of the shark lies within the fact that for most of the film we never get to see much of it.
"Shark World" is very interesting addition as well, especially given that the perception and understanding of sharks has changed significantly since the days when "Jaws" was made. It is a text-only segment that gives some additional information on sharks. An array of theatrical trailers, Production Notes and Cast & Crew Biographies round off this release and for DVD-ROM owners, Universal has also supplied a "Jaws" screen saver, just as a reminder over the summer, that it may not be safe to go into the water!
DVD fans have been waiting for a long time to finally get to see this film on DVD and I am glad to report that this release was definitely worth the wait. The film’s presentation on this DVD is better, cleaner and more detailed that you have ever seen. The 5.1 channel mix is significantly better than the original monaural track, although it is not as aggressive as you may expect, and gives the film a good aural make-over. The supplements are well picked and presented and offer the exact right balance, not too much, not too little, always exciting and informative at the same time. The only thing that could be considered missing from this DVD is an audio commentary. Since Steven Spielberg feels that dissecting a movie too much, especially in technical and artistic terms, takes away much of the magic it creates, this is a decision I duly respect. Other than that, this a picture-perfect release that deserves our "Gold Seal Of Excellence" and comes without highest recommendations. This is a DVD that is as good as they get!