Every reviewer, film fanatic, or even general movie watcher has one: the holy grail of movies; that flick that just thrilled you beyond words and never lost its impact, no matter how often you see it. The film that put Steven Spielberg on the world’s radar is mine.
There are reams of articles, libraries of books, documentaries, anecdotes and all manner of fan clubs that have covered what has to be every millisecond of the production of Jaws. As a product of 1975, the year of the world’s first blockbuster summer release, it is truly a daunting task to sit down and figure out what to say about it 37 years after it took the world by storm.
For those rare few who’ve not seen Jaws, or that new generation of movie lovers becoming old enough to watch it, a quick recap of the story: Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) discovers the grisly remains of a swimmer on Amity’s coast. As the investigation leads the chief to believe a shark may be stalking the island, certain local politics and greed hinder his progress in solving the problem. When the beaches are reopened and more deaths occur, the chief enlists an oceanographic expert (Richard Dreyfuss) and an eccentric fisherman (Robert Shaw) to hunt for the killer shark. Out in the middle of the ocean, with no land in sight, the three men fall victim to a siege on a sinking boat with a 3 tonne/25 foot great white shark.
The wannabe blockbusters of today should examine this film very closely. The technical problems of this production are as legendary as its box office. Because the shark rarely worked, Spielberg had to get real inventive. This movie is better because of its technical limitations. You don’t see the shark until the third act; its presence is represented by clever POV photography, John Williams’ masterful theme, and inspired set pieces like the edge of a pier and some yellow barrels. Their effect is the best kind of tension and suspense money can buy, because they’re allowing the viewer’s imagination to fill in the blanks—they become immersed completely in the situation and feel what the characters are feeling for that reason. Had CGI been there at the time this would be a very different movie (as Spielberg himself attests to in the blu ray documentaries). Even for the masters it is so easy to fall back on a stunning computer generated image, so we are fortunate the film came along when it did.
Spielberg still has nightmares about the production to this day. It went over its projected shoot time by 200%, and had everyone, including the mighty beard himself, thinking that the film was going to be a disaster. There isn’t a single person involved in this movie that doesn’t deserve major applause for their efforts, but two people in particular (apart from Spielberg of course) made this film what it became: the late Verna ‘Mother Cutter’ Fields and John Williams. Her dynamic editing and his iconic music seeped into people’s psyche so much that few would venture into the water in the summer of ’75. This film is as tightly crafted as they come, and should be watched by many trying to emulate a fraction of its artistic success (and many claim to have tried.)
Two of the three film leads sadly have left us now, but their characters will see them front and centre in our peoples’ memories long after we follow them. Robert Shaw, Roy Scheider, and Richard Dreyfuss’s combined efforts and flawless performances hold our eyes and emotions to the screen unfailingly to the final frame.
A next generation film lover, my niece, someone who has had Pixar and flawless CGI movies her whole life, sat enthralled with her uncle as Brody and Hooper came ashore as the short credits rolled. I had wondered, with Bruce the shark hardly the state of the art in effects any longer, whether she would get through it: she didn’t bat an eyelid.
Perhaps then, there is some indefinable magic that simply cannot be reproduce, the right elements, time, problems, and people on the day that make an unrepeatable brilliant recipe? What is undeniable is that no one has come close, and I doubt they will. This film made Spielberg a household name and ushered in a new era for the movie business, it shook Hollywood out of its complacency (something I suggest is needed again in this era), and showed the world that, out of insurmountable hurdles, something truly remarkable can rise above them and inspire for generations to come.
For this film nut: greatest movie ever made.
The Blu-ray Details:
This is really why we’re here, isn’t it? I can tell you even the most discerning videophiles are proclaiming this one of the best restorations to date. The MPEG-4 AVC transfer is nothing short of breathtaking; this is the holy grail of movies for a lot of high definition junkies, and Universal have not disappointed. There is fine grain in the picture, colour timing and contrast is beyond anything we have ever seen on any format before, and the detail is spectacular.
The sound is a meaty reworking of the original soundtrack to a 7.1 DTS-HD audio mix. Nothing feels overworked; crowd scenes are more immersive, there is more fine delineation for some sound effects, and William’s score has never sounded better.
Extras are copious, most copied and pasted over from previous DVD versions. One extra, a fan-made documentary that’s been ‘coming to DVD’ since Jesus was a baby, The Shark Is Still Working, is on here. It’s a lovingly crafted and topically diverse feature length doco that’s worth a look, but I must say, after years of delays, WHY we don’t have an upscaled or high definition rendering of this feature is beyond me. Hardly a complaint; I would just like to see it at its best, is all.
Packaging varies from country to country, but by the sounds of it, the digibook version is everywhere as an exclusive for a particular retailer in your neck of the woods. It’s worth getting, with a chunky number of pages with additional info and glossy photography. This reviewer got himself the UK steelbook, which is a thing of beauty, and NOTE TO STUDIOS: It is a rare of welcome treat to see the actual film poster artwork being used for the cover, instead of some shithouse photo-shopped cover.
Buy now. Don’t wait!