Jaws (US - BD)
Dahh Dunn...Dahh Dunn...Dahh Dunn, Dahh Dunn, Dahh Dunn Blu-ray review...
Jaws is among the most popular motion pictures of all time. It arguably started the trend of the blockbuster summer release, constantly appears among both critical and personal top ten lists, and, when ticket price inflation is taken into account, it is still the seventh highest grossing film of all time ( Avatar is #14, The Avengers is #27, and The Dark Knight is #29). It’s also arguable that no film, outside of maybe The Godfather or The Exorcist, has a more well-known story of behind the scenes strife. Following decades of monumental reputation, books, and documentaries, nothing I say about Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is going to be particularly innovative or even interesting. Instead, I’m going to write a bit about the film’s impact on exploitation genre cinema.
Besides marking the beginning of the end to a second renaissance in independent American cinema, Jaws was the first of three films that, for better or worse (the cynic in me wants to say worse), took high concept exploitation away from B-movies. Following Jaws’ big-budget creature feature trappings, George Lucas released the ultimate sci-fi pulp picture, Star Wars, and Ridley Scott blended the simplicities of raw horror and camp sci-fi into Alien (which was, by the way, at one time pitched as ‘ Jaws in Space’to studio executives). All three films took the world by storm and their popularity saw the barons of exploitation scrambling to catch up. Being the first in line, Jaws saw the most imitation, eventually leading an entire subgenre of nature-run-amuck and monster movies. Jaws itself has all the high concept ingredients, but, like Star Wars and Alien, it stands apart from basic B-movie release with ace production values, a solid script, and more than mere exploitation thrills on its mind. It’s always curious when it is counted among the greatest horror films, because, outside of a handful of frightening sequences, it is every inch a character study masquerading as an adventure story. The films born of the Jaws tradition tend to take liberties with the formula and skew more towards straight horror, or at least what passed for straight horror, on minuscule budgets.
The two best of the Jaws-chic movement weren’t really rip-offs, but slightly veiled spoofs. The first and most wel- known of these is Joe Dante’s Piranha (1978), which was produced for Roger Corman’s company. Piranha was followed by a sequel of its own directed by none other than James Cameron (not to be confused with Antonio Margheriti’s heist movie Killer Fish, which was marketed as Piranha II in some territories), remade for TV in 1995, also produced by Corman, and then remade again, this time in 3D, by Frenchman Alexandre Aja in 2010.The other pseudo-spoof, and possibly the best of all of the most obvious Jaws frauds, is Lewis Teague’s Alligator (1980), which itself was followed by an official sequel, Alligator II: The Mutation (1991), and a series of calamitous Crocodylia imitations, including Sompote Sands’ Crocodile (1981), Fabrizio De Angelis’ Killer Crocodile (1989), Steve Miner’s equally humouriously-slanted Lake Placid (1999), and Michael Katleman’s ill-advised Primeval (2007). Arch Nicholson’ equally Jaws-inspired Dark Age (1987) is likely the standout of these films, while Sergio Martino’s truly awful The Great Alligator (1979) actually predates Alligator. Tobe Hooper’s bizarre and colourful Texas Chainsaw Massacre follow-up, Eaten Alive (1977), follows parts of Jaws’ basic ‘tourists eaten by an aquatic critter’ tropes, but otherwise doesn’t really fit this mould, and wasn’t successful enough to warrant much in the way of mimicry. Both Piranha and Alligator were written by celebrated writer and director John Sayles, which likely explains their general quality. The other particularly distinguished pseudo-spoof of the formula is Ron Underwood’s Tremors (1990), which, like both of the Sayles-penned films and the original Jaws, leans heavily on its characters to sell its thrills and laughs.
Italian filmmakers expectedly excelled in terms of sheer number of Jaws rip-offs. Spaghetti-shark entries are also among the most notorious in terms of their habit of directly aping Spielberg’s original. These include Inglorious Bastards director Enzo G. Castellari’s Great White (1981), Lamberto Bava’s Devil Fish (aka: Monster Shark, 1984), Raffaele Donato and Joe D'Amato’s Deep Blood (1989), and schlock-meister Bruno Mattei’s Cruel Jaws (1995), which used footage from the official Jaws series and was marketed as Jaws 5: Cruel Jaws. Though distributed by American International Pictures, and starring classic American actors like John Huston, Shelley Winters and Henry Fonda, Oliver Hellman’s octopus-flavoured take on the material, Tentacles (1977) was an Italian co-production. Michael Anderson’s killer-whale-flavoured Orca (1977), was another Italian/American co-production (Paramount Pictures and The Dino De Laurentiis Company), and is another personal favourite due to strong performances, a fantastic Ennio Morricone score, and gob-smacking leaps in narrative logic. Not to even mention that scene where a killer whale aborts her baby on the deck of Richard Harris’ boat, leading her mate to swear blood for blood vengeance via slow motion whale scream. Other foreign market releases include two René Cardona Jr. features – Tintorera (1977) and Cyclone (1978) – both of which were shot in Mexico with international casts – and William Grefe’s Filipino-lensed Mako: Jaws of Death (1976).
Other filmmakers discovered that they didn’t need to utilize only water-dwelling creatures to recycle the formula and, soon, plenty of land-based predators. In fact, just about every monster movie of any note released after Jaws owes something to the film. These non-aquatic entries include a pile of surprisingly entertaining films like William Girdler’s Grizzly (1976), Jeff Lieberman’s worm-infested Squirm (1979), John Frankenheimer’s killer-mutant-environmentalist-bear movie, Prophecy (1979), Russell Mulcahy impeccably shot Razorback (1984), and Juan Piquer Simón’s goopy Slugs (1988). There is even a series of films where nature itself, not one specific creature or set of creatures, sets out to kill mankind, including Girdler’s Grizzly follow-up, Day of the Animals (1977) and Colin Eggleston’s fantastically unsettling Long Weekend (1978). Jaws’ basic storyline was eventually borrowed by less likely sources, including Thomas R. Rondinella’s killer lawnmower movie, Blades (1989), Roger Donaldson’s evil volcano movie, Dante’s Peak (1997) and Christophe Gans’ action-movie-cum-historical-melodrama, Brotherhood of the Wolf (2001). The plot structures and similarities of these films are often so striking that it’s almost as if the screenwriters filled in a Jaws-themed Mad-Lib.
Jaws’ exploitation legacy also extends to its three official sequels. Jeannot Szwarc’s Jaws 2 (1978) is a modest little action/adventure film that might’ve been better received had it not been a sequel. It has an important place in the legacy of never end ‘more = better’ cinematic sequels that chug by almost entirely on special effects and pyrotechnics, but not a particularly important place in the pantheon of Jaws rip-offs. Joe Alves’ Jaws 3D (1983) is the most amusing and messiest of the sequels. Alves and company pull inspiration from all of the wrong corners and crafts them into the ultimate bad killer shark movie. At the very least it has the ultimate high concept in setting the film at Sea World. The fact that Sea World was willing to lend their likeness to a movie where the company’s bad management causes massive shark-related death and destruction is one of the most overlooked, delectably wrongheaded stories in the history of bad movies. Joseph Sargent’s Jaws: The Revenge (1987), on the other hand, is joyless and only notable for being one of the worst movie a major studio has ever produced.
The trend never really stopped, but there was a sort of ‘second wave’ of seafaring thrillers, which started when George Pan Cosmatos’ Leviathan, Sean S. Cunningham’s Deep Star Six, and James Cameron’s The Abyss (which is just barely Jaws-inspired) were all released in a row in 1989. The subgenre failed a third resurfacing when Steven Sommers’ Deep Rising (1998) and Renny Harlan’s Deep Blue Sea (1999) both failed to find their audiences (despite being generally entertaining and subversive films). But this subgenre shows no real signs of fading with the twentieth century, as apparent in a never-ending series of made for Sci-Fi/Syfy Channel, Asylum and, sadly, Roger Corman productions like Shark Attack parts one through three, Mega Shark vs Giant Octopus (2009), Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus (2010), and 2-Headed Shark Attack (2012).
For more information about these and other Jaws rip-offs I haven’t seen myself (or even heard of in some cases) check out the Jaws Rip-Off Library.
Everytime a new home video format arrives, people start hankering for Star Wars, The Godfather series (well, really, just the first two), the Indiana Jones series (not the last one), and, time willing, Jaws. Universal took some time on this release, presumably so they could roll it out this year as part of their 100th anniversary celebration. The studio has put plenty of effort into this release, but, following previous prestige releases like, Spartacus, Universal’s efforts have been approached with a particularly critical eye. The DVD release was pretty well cleaned, but a good stare will notice plenty of film artefacts on the release that are not present here. This, along with all the restoration-based extras on this disc, would suggest that the original 35mm material got a good scrubbing. But you knew that already. You want to know about digital cleaning and corrections, specifically DNR enhancement. If you’re looking for them, you will notice some signs of noise reduction work and such things do see slight increases and decreases from sequence to sequence. However, there is still plenty of fine, natural grain on this transfer, along with all the old wet lens artefacts and the film never appears waxy or plastic, aside from (arguably) a handful of sweaty faces. I’m sure there will still be detractors calling foul, but in this case, I’m content with Universal’s efforts.
The increase in fine detail and texture is surprisingly more substantial than anticipated, revealing teeny-tiny additions no one could’ve possibly noticed outside of a cinematic release. Most of these are trivial, of course, like pinstripes and stitching, but they work in tandem to create a more authentic experience. Backgrounds see the most valuable boost in clarity and the lack of banding effects ensure plenty of lifelike backdrops. The colour quality is quite vivid and vibrant throughout as well. The DVD release never appeared particularly washed-out before, but, now that we have something more definitively brilliant to compare it to, it’s a bit surprising. This Blu-ray features much warmer and more pure yellows and oranges (the DVD features noticeable green infiltration within the warmer hues). The richer red levels feature the same fine grain as the rest of the film, but, basically, nothing in the way of the minor blocking effects that surround the DVD release. Skin tones appear natural as well, though the summer sun has still clearly ‘pinked’ up most of the flesh. Blue hues are boosted to richer levels, but don’t overtake nighttime or sea-bound sequences (I’m looking at you, William Friedkin). There are still plenty of pink highlights in the twilight sky and the beaches are still brown enough to count as sandy. The purposefully darkened scenes, such as the ill-fated opening morning swim, remain plenty dark, but the detail increase helps ensure the fine highlights are still discernable. The dark bits are deep and sharp without a lot of additional crushed quality to the black levels.
One of the most interesting things I notice in directly comparing this Blu-ray to the DVD is that the DVD appears to have been vertically stretched. The Blu-ray clearly corrects this distortion, but also features measurably less information on both the right and left sides of the screen during throughout the film. On the other hand, there’s more information than found on the DVD in other shots, so I guess Spielberg’s supposed involvement with this transfer marks the Blu-ray as the proper framing.
Jaws has always been treated well in terms of sound quality on DVD. The original release came in both a separate Dolby Digital and a DTS version in order to save space and prevent compression. This Blu-ray ups the ante with an uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 track and it does not disappoint. The original sound design has always been impressive, but was mono in source and mono sources don’t make for the best 5.1 or 7.1 remixes. In fact, they tend to make for the worst. Occasionally, this remix leads to some jarring increases in stereo and surround spread, but there’s nothing approaching the level of awkward additions found in older DVD remixes of mono tracks, where additional effects were added from digital sources to ‘modern-up’ the sound. There’s nothing here that sounds particularly ‘canned’; rather, the source stereo tracks have just been restructured a bit to fill out the extra channels. The sharpness and loudness of some elements versus others (often effects vs. vocals) creates some uncomfortable balance, but nothing the average viewer won’t happily ignore in favour of effective ambience and the occasional directional movement. The majority of minor aural artefacts found here (mostly vocal reverb effects) have been present on every home video release I’ve ever seen, so I’m inclined to assume they are just part of the source recordings (except, of course, the source’s occasional canned effects, of which there are plenty). John Williams’ seminal score is given a nice overhaul, featuring much richer fidelity and bass tone in those classic low strings. The more noisy flourishes, like scare cues and bells, stand out more than those of the DVD release (at least the Dolby Digital copy I own), but not in the same occasionally awkward fashion as some of the effects. These highlights are a genuine improvement to my ears. The purists should be happy to know that the original mono track is also on this disc, presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 sound.
Aside from the obvious values of HD video and audio, many fans are looking forward to this Blu-ray release for one very specific special feature – Erik Hollander’s 2007 documentary The Shark is Still Working: The Impact and Legacy of Jaws (1:41:20, SD, non-anamorphic). I know what you, the more passive fan, is thinking – ‘Why do we need another feature length documentary on Jaws? Wasn’t the two-plus-hour long making-of documentary on the Laserdisc and DVD releases enough for you?’ That’s a good question. The short answer is ‘Because we need it, duh!,’ but the longer answer has something to do with the precise qualities of this documentary versus those of Laurent Bouzereau’s more behind-the-scenes driven The Making of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. This doc is split into ten parts. ‘Martha’s Vineyard, 1974’ sets the stage with the basics of Peter Benchley’s book and the process of pre-production. Effectively, it’s a compacted version of Bouzereau’s doc. ‘This is a Great White…A Big One!’ follows the film’s release, advertising blitz, and massively popular reception, including its never-ending line of merchandising (my favourite bit concerns the history of the iconic poster art). ‘The Theme’ covers the simplistic beauty of John Williams’ score and its lasting impact. ‘The Shark is Not Working’ takes another step back to Bouzereau’s doc and covers the film’s blessing in disguise – failed shark special effects. ‘Call Me Ishmael’ is all about the book and screenplay’s simple, engaging themes and the production’s use of locals as extras. ‘I Love Sharks…I Love Them’ explores the film’s real shark footage and ‘The USS Indianapolis’ covers the history behind the famous speech, both of which are also covered in Bouzereau’s doc. ‘JAWSFEST’ takes a visit to the 2005 celebration of the film in Amityville, complete with footage of wacky fans. ‘Life Imitates Jaws’ briefly covers the true story of a great white that actually appeared in Amityville in 2004, along with public opinion of sharks since the film. ‘The Shark is Still Working’ wraps things up in a nostalgic little bow.
Interview subjects throughout the doc include Spielberg, author Peter Benchley, actors Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Jay Mellow, Jeffery Kramer, Susan Backlinie, Lee Fierro, Jeffery Voorhees, Jonathan Filley, Roy Pluger, Hershel West, and Roy Scheider (who also acts as narrator), co-writer Carl Gottlieb, director of photography Bill Butler, production designer Joe Alves, special effects designers Roy Aborgast and Kevin Pike, producers David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck, production assistant William S. Gilmore, CEO Sid Sheinberg, trailer narrator Percy Rodrigues, documentary director Bouzereau himself, poster artist Roger Kastal, composer John Williams, shark cinematographers Ron and Valerie Tayler, B-movie historian Bob Burns, author/critics Brian Godwa, John Forham and Steve Awalt, and filmmaker fans Kevin Smith, M. Night Shyamalan, Robert Rodriguez, Patrick Read Johnson, Bryan Singer, Eli Roth, Edward Sanchez, Tom Savini, Greg Nicotero, and a litany of Jaws fans.
The other new extra is Jaws: The Restoration (8:30, HD). This exploration of the arduous restoration process covers each step, from choosing the original negative elements, to chemical processes, digital scanning, digital manipulation, colour correction, and original soundtrack restructuring. It features comparison footage along with interviews with VP of content management and technical services Peter Schade, Sr. VP of technical operations Michael Daruty, VP of image assets and preservation Bob O’Neil, project manager Seanine Bird, sr. colorist Daniel DeVincent, ‘Inferno’ artist Eric Bauer, mastering supervisor Phil Defibaugh, colorist Leo Dion, Universal Studios BluWave Audio executive Director Richard LeGrand, supervising sound editor John Edell, and Spielberg. The featurette ends with an assurance that a new negative has been struck, ensuring that the digital footage isn’t the only thing that has been archived.
This Blu-ray also features all of the extras found on the previous 30th anniversary release, including Bouzereau’s uncut The Making of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws (2:20:50, SD, non-anamorphic), a deleted scenes/outtake reel (13:30, SD, non-anamorphic), a vintage EPK reel of on-set footage (9:00, SD), a storyboard archive, production photos, a marketing gallery, a merchandise gallery, and the original theatrical trailer (3:20, SD, non-anamorphic).
Jaws hasn’t lost any of its bite, if you’ll excuse the terrible pun, and most fans are probably going to have no problem updating their old DVDs in favour of this new Blu-ray release. The remastered HD video is pretty great, minus what might be some minor framing issues (not a lot really shows up on these screen shots, the new 7.1 audio remix utilizes the mono tracks without too many distracting surround embellishments, and the extras are quite extensive (if not disappointingly not HD or anamorphically enhanced).
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and DVD releases and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 14th August 2012
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 and 2.0 Mono English, DTS 5.1 French and Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: The Shark is Still Working, The Making of Jaws, Jaws: The Restoration, Deleted Scenes and Outtakes, From the Set, Storyboards, Production Photos, Marketing Jaws, Jaws Phenomenon, Trailer, Pocket Blu App, BD-Live, DVD Copy, Digital Copy, UltraViolet Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Drama, Horror and Thriller
Length: 124 minutes
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