Steven Spielberg’s always been a bit of a pisser when it comes to new home video technology. It took forever to get Indiana Jones on DVD, and it’s taken forever to get many of his classics on Blu-ray. But I’ll say this for the guy, it was worth the wait: Jaws is here in high-definition and to say “it looks better than ever” is a massive understatement.
Jaws, to those of you who don’t know, is…
Wait, really? You don’t know Jaws? You’ve never even heard of Jaws? Why would you even click on this review, damn it? You shouldn’t need me to tell you that Jaws is the 1975 motion picture that put Steven Spielberg on the map, that ushered in a new age of releasing movies in hundreds of theaters at once, that practically invented the summer blockbuster, that pit Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and Robert Shaw against a giant man-eating Carcharodon carcharias that threatens the sleepy summer town of Amity Island, forcing its inhabitants to risk their own lives just to keep the tourist trade going, and that it’s considered one of the best thrillers – nay, one of the best movies – ever made. So I’m not going to. Oh no. You’re going to have to read a Blu-ray review without a freakin’ primer this time. I am not your butt monkey, and I…
The film does play as well as it ever did. Jaws is more than just a thriller, or even a thrill ride. It’s an honest, likable drama that just happens to have a great white shark in it. The pace is deliberate but never leisurely, with even the quietest moments feeling necessary for the characters, or the mood, or just to contrast with the carefully timed freak outs when little kids get gobbled up by an underwater sea beast with no respect for tourist season.
Most importantly, the real crux of the movie feels just as relevant today. The film isn’t about the kills, it’s about the assessment of risk: is it worth ruining the whole town just because a killer shark might be in the water? Is it worth a single life just to find out? The suspense doesn’t just stem from who might die next, the suspense derives from that very familiar frustration of having to kowtow to someone in a position of authority who doesn’t see things your way. Like all the best parables, the hero is someone we don’t just relate with but also fantasize about being ourselves. He’s right about everything, and despite the horror necessary to prove it, the ultimate catharsis is just as powerful today as it was decades ago. And to top it all off, it ends with a rousing adventure on the high seas, as satisfying as any action sequence ever devised.
Universal has released Jaws on Blu-ray with a truly stellar restoration. I daresay one of the best I’ve seen. Comparing this transfer to the already strong DVD is like night and day. The detail is fine, the water ripples like it’s right in front of you, and the colors now seem truly vibrant, but not the point of artificiality or distraction. The shootings stars behind Roy Scheider near the climax are as clear as can be (hell, I never even noticed them before), and the sound mix is remarkably immersive throughout all the channels.
Special features, on the other hand, are plentiful but not quite groundbreaking. The Jaws Blu-ray imports many – although apparently not all – of the bonus material from the previous DVD special editions, including some fascinating deleted scenes and outtakes, a vintage EPK (without the “E” part, I suppose) and a feature-length documentary from the original Laser Disc release. As usual, Spielberg opted not to include a commentary track for his films, which is still a little disappointing but we’re getting used to that disappointment by now.
Also included on the Blu-ray edition are a short but involving feature on the film’s restoration as well as the long-unavailable documentary The Shark is Still Working, which details not just the making of Jaws but also its lasting legacy, including interviews with diehard fans and filmmakers (Kevin Smith and M. Night Shyamalan among them) who were inspired by the film. The pacing drags towards the end if you watch this as a feature, particularly if you watch it after the other bonus content (since some of the same material can be found elsewhere on the disc), but it can also be viewed in bite-sized chunks based on your field of interest. It’s a comprehensive documentary and definitely worth watching at some point.
Jaws is one of the finest films in Universal’s catalogue, which is obviously saying something, but while we can still choose to get snarky about how long it took to transfer the film to high definition, we can’t really complain about the finished product. The restoration of Jaws is impressive enough to warrant a purchase on its own. The special features are just the tickly froth on the water. Shark’s in the water. Our shark.