Steven Spielberg’s Jaws has become a cultural icon in the years since its release in the summer of 1975. The film has been considered many things, including the godfather of the summer blockbuster, and the film that propelled Steven Spielberg’s career as a first-rate director of action/adventure movies. Jaws may well be all of those things, but in the end it’s also just a great movie. It’s easy to talk about its importance in Spielberg’s career, its influence on movie merchandising, or its effect on the movie business in general, but at the center of it all is a movie that did everything right. Great storytelling, great characters, great acting, and the greatest villain of all time—a giant, man-eating shark.
At the time the film went into production in 1974, Spielberg was only 26 years old. He was becoming a rising star amongst Hollywood insiders, but he was virtually unknown to the public. He had only directed one feature film prior to Jaws. That film, Sugarland Express, had been enough of a hit to help pave the way for Spielberg to take on bigger projects. Still, handing the reigns of a huge project like Jaws to a virtually unproven director had to have been a giant leap of faith for the studio. As documented in the special features included on the new Blu-ray release, the film was fraught with production problems, the biggest of which being a mechanical shark that didn’t always work on cue. Shooting on the ocean, near Martha’s Vineyard, rather than a huge tank also proved to be no small feat.
The end result however was a near perfect combination of drama, adventure, and horror. The shark may have been mechanical, but its presence was very real. John Williams’ masterful score and iconic theme song evoked terror without even a glimpse of the shark itself. At the heart of the movie are the characters. Sheriff Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), and the salty sea captain Quint (Robert Shaw) make up an unlikely, but perfect, trio of shark hunters. Hooper is the intellectual, Quint is the realist, and Brody is the everyman. Hooper is convinced his education and expertise in shark behavior is the answer to Amityville’s shark problem, while Quint knows his real life shark-hunting experience is what’s needed. Brody just wants to solve the problem so that life goes back to normal.
What draws the viewer in is the ordinariness of the setting. The town looks lived-in, like a place any viewer may have lived in or visited at some point in our lives. The townspeople are familiar like aunts and uncles or neighbors we once knew. Their way of life is threatened in a very real way by the shark, but also figuratively by a force that is beyond their control. The story is cleverly crafted, primarily through foreshadowing and character reaction. The story builds with increasing intensity that grips the viewer in just the right places. Jaws is not a film filled with gruesome shark attacks. The shark makes is appearance at key moments, but in the case of this film, less is definitely more. Jaws is about people first and shark attacks second. That’s what makes it great and timeless. The performances of Scheider, Dreyfuss, and the scene-steling Shaw are not to be missed.
The meticulous restoration process used for this release has resulted in a spectacular looking Blu-ray. The picture is presented in 1080p AVC-encoded transfer in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. According to one of the special features on the restoration process, the original negative was repaired and scanned frame-by-frame. Spielberg himself says in the featurette that the resulting image looks better than when it was projected in theaters. I can’t personally attest to that, but the image does look startlingly sharp. The ocean water sparkles in the bright sunlight, the sandy beaches are warm and inviting, and skin tones look natural. The details are sharp, and the overall picture is vibrant.