AUGUST 14, 2012
I already reviewed Jaws a while back, and gushed about it at length in this week's Collins Crypt for Badass Digest, so I'll skip what you already know: the movie is damn near perfect, it runs over 2 hours and yet seems like it's over before you know it thanks to Spielberg's already expert skill, and your life isn't really complete until you've seen it, preferably in glorious 35mm.
But not everyone is blessed with local repertory houses, so what's the next best thing? The answer is the stunning new Blu-ray, released to coincide not with any particular anniversary of the film (though I'm sure Kevin Smith - who references the film in nearly all of his own - is thrilled that it's the film's 37th birthday), but Universal's own 100th year of operations. As part of the festivities, they have chosen 14 of their most beloved titles and given them deluxe new transfers. Jaws is one of three from Steven Spielberg (the others are ET and Schindler's List), and as it is his oldest film to be released on the format, many have been curious how it would fare in high def.
Well, fear not - this transfer is immaculate. I watched it a few days after seeing a pristine 35mm print and I was still blown away by how gorgeous it looked, with the detail in things like the Mayor's hideous July 4th suit popping in ways never before dreamed. And the color is magnificent; I never appreciated how vibrant the beach scenes were until now. My sound system isn't advanced enough to take full advantage of the new 7.1 sound mix, but from what I could tell they did a damn good job of separating the tracks without disrupting the way it originally sounded. I remember for Halloween's remaster they added some thunder during the drive to Smith's Grove early on, and it drove me completely bonkers - there was none of that nonsense here (though it would have been funny if they added some shark roars to keep it in line with Jaws: The Revenge).
In addition to the beautiful transfer (seriously, I can't stress enough how good it is - on par with Alien for library titles that I've seen), the Blu comes with all of the extras from the previous DVD release in 2005, including the full version of the retrospective documentary by Laurent Bouzereau that was inexplicably cut in half for its first DVD release. It's a fine doc, if a bit talking head heavy. Every now and then they show behind the scenes footage or some of production designer Joe Alves' concept art, plus appropriate clips, but I'd say 90% of the time you're just looking at standard interview shots of Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss, Roy Scheider and the rest, which grew a touch tiresome after two hours. But the stories they tell are terrific, including one about a tension-relieving food fight that broke out after months of the legendarily grueling shoot. Spielberg also tells us of his original casting choices for every role (seems NO ONE was his first pick except for Murray Hamilton), and how he imagined the score before Williams surprised him with his iconic, rather simple cue that has been parodied and ripped off more than probably any other piece of score in movie history.
In fact, for all the time we've been waiting for this movie to hit the format, there are really only two new bonus features besides the transfer. One is a brief look at the restoration process, where we see the original negative dug out and the dustbusting process that removes any flecks or scratches from it (we're told that a single frame can take hours to clean up - for a movie with around 173,000 frames, that's a pretty hefty job), as well as some before and after shots for the color timing that has fixed a few "off" shots in the original version (mismatched sky coloring, primarily). It's only of use to people who care about the work that goes into remastering, obviously, but as one of those folks I was thankful to have it.
The real "get" here is the new documentary The Shark Is Still Working, though when I say new I mean "new to home video", as various cuts of the doc have been screening at festivals for years now. At one point running over three hours, it clocks in at around 100 minutes for this presumably final cut, and thankfully doesn't cover too much of the same ground as the other doc on the disc. While some set stories are repeated (Dreyfuss, now 10 years older, tells the story that gives the doc its name practically word for word the same as he did in the making of), most of Working focuses on the film's legacy - the merchandising, the festivals, (briefly) the sequels, etc. We even talk to the people who own editor Verna Fields' old home, where she apparently left some of the film cans and her Moviola. But while the theme is pretty consistent (essentially "Jaws has a life beyond the movie"), it doesn't flow from topic to topic as well as I'd like. And apparently Uni or someone agreed, as they broke it up into segments where you can pick a topic you like or just "Play All" (it's worth noting that they did NOT do this for the other doc). It's all interesting, and it contains the last on camera interview with Peter Benchley (not to mention narration from the late Roy Scheider), but after years of hearing about it, I think I was hoping for something a little more cohesive. And now I can't help but wonder if the constant re-editing robbed it of some of its power, or if it was even more scattershot in previous incarnations.
Then we get the other stuff that's always been there - the deleted scenes (Quint in the music store is something that I'd think you were making up if I hadn't seen it myself), the trailer, the extensive collection of promotional material, and the brief promo clip from the time of the film's 1974 production, and thus it's important to note that nothing has been lost, as far as I can tell. I can't tell you how many movies I "had" to keep my DVD after upgrading to Blu-ray because they didn't port over a commentary or some of the other supplements (hurrah for OCD!), so I'm happy to report that someone at my next screening (this Saturday, in fact!) might walk home with my 2005 DVD. And really, even if there was nothing new on the disc, it'd be worth the upgrade for the transfer alone - a perfect movie deserves a perfect presentation.