JAWS - Blu-ray review

You're gonna need a bigger TV, if you want to enjoy "Jaws" in all its glory.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
William D. Lee's picture

Note: In the following joint review, John provides his thoughts about the film with Will providing comments on the video, audio, extras, and final thoughts.

Based on the best-selling novel by Peter Benchley, "Jaws" is a classic, action-adventure monster movie, maybe the best ever made. The keys to the film's success are its building of suspense, its colorful cast of characters, its humor, its music, and, of course, its thrills. Spielberg's use of tension and release are well documented, but certainly his not revealing the actual appearance of the shark until well after the midway point in the movie was brilliant. Whether this was by design or by accident is beside the point. It's true the mechanical shark was not working properly and could only be used in certain key scenes; nevertheless, the gimmick works. When the giant, twenty-six foot creature rears its head out of the water and we get a good look at it for the first time, the occasion is all the more terrifying for its surprise.

The earliest person we meet in the story is Chief Brody, played by Roy Scheider. He is the Chief of Police of Amity, a small, tranquil island village off the coast of New England. Brody moved to Amity from New York City to get away from the hustle and bustle of big-city life. He doesn't know one end of a boat from the other and hates the water. When a shark starts feeding on the tourists, he calls in a specialist, Matt Hooper, played by Richard Dreyfuss.

Hooper is a rich young fellow using the latest electronic equipment to study marine life, and sharks in particular. He's a far cry from the crusty old shark hunter, Quint, played by Robert Shaw. Quint is clearly patterned after Melville's Captain Ahab in "Moby Dick," a macho seafarer obsessed with killing the shark single-handedly. He volunteers to do the job for $10,000 but at first gets no takers. When he is finally called upon, he is reluctant to take aboard his little craft the water-shy chief and the kid he considers a mere dilettante, Hooper. Quint is also the hardest character to figure out. At times he seems considerate and pleasant enough; at other times he seems a madman, bent on destroying them all for the sake of proving his manliness.

However, the fellow most responsible for causing mischief in the story is the mayor of Amity, Larry Vaughn, played by Murray Hamilton. His greed blinds him to the dangers of the shark. He wants only to keep his little island open to tourists and the money flowing in. Finally, there's Ellen Brody, the chief's wife, played by Lorraine Gary. She brings a sense of reality to the proceedings with her sincere, straightforward performance.

Every good horror film needs a touch a humor, and "Jaws" provides lightweight comedy relief in spades. The rivalry among the three men on the boat as they chase after the monster is preeminent in this regard. When Quint crushes a beer can in his hand, Hooper crushes a Styrofoam cup. When Quint shows off his scars, so does Hooper, one-upping Quint by pointing at his chest and declaring a broken heart. But Brody probably has the best and most memorable line in the movie. After seeing the immense size of the shark close up for the first time, he remarks, "You're going to need a bigger boat." Interestingly, this line has been remembered incorrectly even by the filmmakers, mistakenly repeated as "WE'RE going to need a bigger boat." It's this latter, erroneous phrase that has become a part of the language anytime we feel we need to take more desperate measures in a desperate situation.

John Williams has been a part of virtually every Spielberg film since "The Sugarland Express," and for "Jaws" he provides a simple, direct, and terse score that flawlessly underlines the story's action. His relentless ostinato signature tune, heard every time we see the shark, has become as famous as Bernard Herrmann's music for the shower scene in "Psycho." One can hardly think of "Jaws" without hearing the music, too, and it's been parodied enough times now to make it a legitimate part of our cultural heritage.

But the film would be nothing without its requisite thrills, and this is where a credible monster is so important. Most horror flicks depend on a fantasy creature, a space invader, or a man in a rubber suit and makeup to scare us. "Jaws" relies on a real-life monster whose only purpose in life is to kill and eat and make new little sharks. The fact that this is a shark of gigantic proportions and dogged determination is not inconsistent with our rational expectations. The thrills department is also where Spielberg's knack for timing is essential. A dead man's head suddenly appearing through the shattered hole in a boat's hull is still good enough to send a viewer jumping backwards, even when the viewer knows it's coming.

Spielberg says his favorite scene in the film is when the three men are alone on the ocean and Quint is telling of his experiences as one of the few survivors of a horrendous shark attack. The tale is based on a true event, the sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis in World War II. Eleven hundred men went into the water and only 316 came out alive. Shortly after Quint tells his story, the giant shark attacks the boat, and we are all the more frightened for the mood that's been created beforehand. Further hair-raising episodes occur when the shark attacks Hooper in a diving cage, when the shark begins eating its way through the boat, and when the shark begins devouring the megalomaniacal skipper. Farewell and adieu to ye, poor Captain Quint. The movie's climax may be its least believable moment, but it brings the proceedings to a slam-bang conclusion.

The video is presented in 1080p with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The new transfer by Universal is remarkable. The studio hasn't digitally scrubbed away all the texture from the film nor and the actors aren't possessed of waxy skin. The picture quality is stunning and reveals new details you may not have noticed in previous versions. You'll notice every little wrinkle on Brody's brow and every whisker on Hooper's beard. When blood hits the water, the mix of red and blue is really striking. You're gonna need a bigger TV, if you want to enjoy "Jaws" in all its glory.

The audio is presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1. The restoration team has done an equally amazing job on the aural presentation. The beach sequences come alive with the hustle and bustle of the crowds. You'll feel as if you were right on board the Orca during the third act. Most importantly, John Williams' score comes off dynamically. For those who don't go for all the bells and whistles, Universal has also provided the mono track in DTS Digital Surround 2.0.

New to the Blu-ray is The Shark Is Still Working: The Impact & Legacy of Jaws (1:41:21), a feature-length retrospective that was produced in 2007. We get interviews with the cast and crew as they look back on their experiences and how the film affects them decades later. It's certainly great to hear from the late, great Roy Scheider. There are also comments from directors like Eli Roth, Kevin Smith, and Bryan Singer (who named his production company, "Bad Hat Harry") who rank "Jaws" as a heavy influence.

Jaws: The Restoration (8:28) is a featurette about the digitizing and restoration process.

Both of these extras are presented in HD, while the rest are in standard definition.

The Making of Jaws (2:02:48) is the documentary made by Laurent Bouzereau that was originally included on the laserdisc, and then ported over from the 25th and 30th anniversary DVDs. This is a must-see for any serious movie buff with in-depth interviews by most of the major players.

From the Set (8:56) is a vintage promotional piece with behind-the-scenes footage and a very young Steven Spielberg.

Jaws Archive is a collection of storyboards, production photos, and poster art.

Also included are about fourteen minutes worth of deleted scenes and outtakes and the theatrical trailer. Universal has released "Jaws" as a combo pack so it includes a DVD and Digital Copy versions.

Film Value:
"This shark, swallow you whole."

The words 'classic' and 'iconic' tend to be bandied around a lot. In the case of "Jaws," there are no better words to describe the film then as a classic littered with some of the most iconic scenes in cinema history. There are indelible performances from Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss, and Robert Shaw and an unforgettable score by John Williams. Spielberg frightened generations of movie goers in the opening sequence without ever showing the shark or a single drop of blood. "Jaws," along with "The Godfather" and "Star Wars," revolutionized the industry, creating the summer blockbuster and transforming a movie's release into a potential pop culture event. Universal's new Blu-ray is a must-have for any collection.


Film Value