Directed by Steven Spielberg.
Starring Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfus, Lorraine Gary, and Murray Hamilton.
Jaws arrives on 4K disc looking and sounding as close to its theatrical glory as you can get on home video these days. The sound and picture are top-notch, and while Universal didn’t include anything new in the bonus features department, they did commission a nice booklet with some essays about the movie.
I recently learned of the passing of Mr. Truitt, my high school English teacher who also taught a class called Great Films, which I took twice. He was one of those hard-scrabble guys who was a boxer at one time and who took the same pugnacious approach to film and literature. If you voiced an opinion in one of his classes, you needed to be able to back it up.
I bring him up because I remember him predicting in the mid-80s that the then-burgeoning home video market would be the death of movie theaters as we knew them. He thought everyone would rather sit at home with a TV and a VHS player, and movie theaters would dwindle in number until they became places only frequented by true film aficionados.
That didn’t come to pass, of course, but it’s not hard to see that event looming on the horizon today, especially with most movie theaters shut down because of the pandemic and modern technology getting closer to replicating a theatrical experience at home. In fact, plenty of folks are arguing that the holy grail of home video is finally here, thanks to 4K.
And that brings me to Universal’s new 4K release of Jaws, a classic film that’s probably been issued on every home video format that’s ever existed. I remember seeing it at a drive-in as a five-year-old and later, like so many other 70s kids, going out into the ocean just far enough that the water turned dark, which freaked me out. Even swimming pools could be scary.
For me, the story is one of the perfect ones in the “man vs. nature” category. It’s always reminded me a bit of William Faulkner’s classic story “The Bear,” which we read in Mr. Truitt’s English class. In both Jaws and “The Bear,” men go up against a creature that’s not just any ordinary shark, nor any ordinary bear – they’re preternatural animals that seem to want to test their mettle against specific men.
Quint, of course, is like those hunters in “The Bear,” a tough-as-nails guy who’s going to use the methods that have existed for decades, or even centuries, to defeat the shark. He fails. (Do I really need a spoiler warning here?) Next up is Hooper, who embodies the new ways with his fancy cage and a dose of poison. He fails, but survives. The old ways are dead, but the new ones have a fighting chance in the modern world.
Finally, Brody faces the shark, a figurative fish out of water who engineers his own plan out of the hints that have been dropped along the way. If you think the ending of Jaws is a deus ex machina, pay closer attention the next time you watch it. In particular, look at one of the photos in the books that Brody rifles through, and notice Hooper’s admonition that the air tanks could explode when the police chief knocks one over. Brody has clearly formulated a way to destroy the shark that is a combination of the old ways and the new, and it’s appropriate that he should succeed.
Jaws was restored in 2012, and that’s the version presented here. Before you cry foul, note that it was upgraded in 4K at that time and released on Blu-ray at the best resolution the format could provide back then. Now that we have discs that can offer 4K resolution, that eight-year-old restoration has its chance to shine, and it does. If you’re one of those folks hunting for home video’s holy grail, you have arguably found it here, from the sound to the picture.
To be fair, you’ll want one of the larger 4K TVs, with all the bells and whistles, and a high-end audio setup to really appreciate this 4K disc. If you have that, turn off the lights and be prepared to get about as close to a theatrical experience as you can get these days. And you don’t have to deal with anyone kicking your seat or yammering about why we haven’t seen the shark yet.
In the bonus features department, this is the same thing that was released in 2012. The same Blu-ray is included here, along with a code for a digital copy. There’s still no commentary track, but the bonus content adds up to one of the most comprehensive sets of materials that’s ever been found on home video. Universal also included a booklet with a series of essays about the movie – it’s different from the printed photo journal included in the 30th anniversary DVD release in 2005, so you could consider it the lone new piece of extra material.
The main bonus feature is Laurent Bouzereau’s classic two-hour The Making of Jaws documentary, which was originally created for a 1995 laserdisc release. While that documentary is 25 years old now, it’s still worth watching, especially if you’re a fan of the movie and have never seen it before. It’s one of those “leave no stone unturned” docs that examines the making of a classic from beginning to end. Like George Lucas with Star Wars, Spielberg had to run his own gauntlet of studio interference and on-set difficulties (they were much worse in his case, of course), but he persevered and created a movie that has stood the test of time.
Also included is the 100-minute The Shark is Still Working: The Impact and Legacy of Jaws, which debuted on the 2012 Blu-ray. As the name implies, it’s a comprehensive look at the legacy of a movie that’s been spoofed and referenced in many ways over the past 45 years, from the name of Bryan Singer’s production company to a couple scenes in some of Kevin Smith’s early movies. In fact, Singer and Smith both appear in this one, along with other notable Jaws fans and various members of the cast and crew. Peter Benchley, who wrote the novel that the film is based on, did his final on-camera interview for this documentary, and Roy Scheider narrated it.
Those are the two big supplements included in this edition. Rounding out this release are an eight-minute piece on the 2012 restoration of the film, 13 minutes of deleted scenes and outtakes, nine minutes of vintage on-set footage, the original trailer (a classic in its own right), and a big batch of archives, including storyboards, production photos, and more. As I mentioned, this has all been ported over from previous releases.
Finally, the cover is one of those lenticular ones with a 3D effect. It’s nice to see that the major studios are still interested in at least giving their major classic movies their due on home video. Universal definitely didn’t skimp on this one.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★