Release Date(s)1975 (June 2, 2020)
Studio(s)The Zanuck/Brown Company/Universal Pictures (Universal Pictures Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: A
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: A-
Former New York City police officer Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) had hoped for less stress when he took a job as the chief of police on the tiny New England island of Amity. But when a local girl disappears while swimming in the ocean one evening—and turns up in pieces the next morning—Brody realizes he might have a shark problem on his hands. Unable to convince Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) to close the island’s beaches, upon which local businesses depend for tourist dollars, Brody is helpless to prevent a second fatal attack, and then a third. So with the July 4th weekend fast approaching, Brody consults oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), who confirms that they’re dealing with a rogue shark, one of the biggest great whites that Hooper has ever seen. After a fourth fatal attack, Brody finally convinces Vaughn to hire a local fisherman named Quint (Robert Shaw) to hunt and kill the creature. But when Brody, Hooper, and Quint head out to sea to do so, the trio gets way more than they bargained for.
Directed by Steven Spielberg based on Peter Benchley’s novel of the same name, Jaws is remarkable for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s widely considered to be Hollywood’s first modern summer “blockbuster,” a film that—along with George Lucas’ Star Wars two years later—fundamentally changed the business of filmed entertainment. It also marked Spielberg’s second collaboration with composer John Williams (their first was The Sugarland Express), whose iconic score and theme not only won him an Academy Award, it set a new standard in the use of music to create cinematic suspense. Jaws also tapped into the cultural zeitgeist of the day in much the same way that Hitchcock’s Psycho did a decade earlier—it scared the hell out of its audience and inspired a generational fear of sharks. At the time, Jaws’ well-crafted shocks were considered thrilling, even sensational. Today, the film remains potent but is more notable for the fact that it takes its time telling its story and building suspense. The acting is naturalistic, with ad-libbed lines and crowd scenes involving numerous people talking over each other. And while the mechanical shark effects are mostly still effective, it’s the characters that really shine here, with Scheider, Dreyfuss, and Shaw playing off one another perfectly. Four and a half decades after its theatrical debut, Jaws remains an era-defining piece of cinema.
Jaws was shot photochemically on 35 mm film using Arriflex 35-III and Panavision Panaflex cameras with anamorphic lenses and was finished on film in the 2.35:1 “scope” ratio for its theatrical exhibition. As part of Universal’s 100th anniversary in 2012, a decision was made to restore and preserve Jaws for the future. The film’s original camera negative was wet gate scanned in native 4K. The image was then digitally cleaned to remove scratches, dirt, and other age-related artifacts. A new 4K DI was created along with a new film-out negative. For its release on Ultra HD, a new HDR color grade was completed too (and fans will be glad to know that HDR10, HDR10+, and Dolby Vision options are all included). Despite the fact that this restoration was done 8 years ago, the result is gorgeous. Save for titles and transitions done optically (which means you’re looking at internegative rather than the camera neg), and a few shots in which the focus is a little soft, the improvement in fine detailing is very pleasing. Grain is intact, at a light-moderate level, allowing the image to retain all of its original photochemical character. The HDR grade has been done with a light hand, adding just a little pop to the image. Shadows are a bit deeper, highlights are more naturally luminous but never blown out. Only a couple of image tweaks have been done (notably an adjustment to ensure that the brightness levels of the night sky, as seen through the windows of the Orca’s cabin, match at all times) but these were visible in the 2012 Blu-ray as well (reviewed here at The Bits). The film’s colors benefit the most on Ultra HD, exhibiting a richer luster and more nuanced shadings. Yet remarkably, this film still looks like a production of its day—it retains that familiar Eastman color look. This is a very pleasing 4K presentation of a 1970s vintage film.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is offered in a new English Dolby Atmos mix that’s basically an object-based expansion of the already excellent 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track found on the Universal 100th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray from 2012 (now allowing height channels). The front soundstage is wider, with constant and highly atmospheric use of the surround channels to create a smoother and more complete “hemispheric” immersion in the film’s sonic environment. This isn’t flashy surround mixing—it’s very naturalistic. But it works beautifully, while preserving something of the original mono tonal quality. Bass is firm when needed, the dialogue is clean and clear at all times, and Williams’ score benefits well from the added space and lossless fidelity. Best of all, you’ll be pleased to know that the English 2.0 Mono DTS track found on the previous Blu-ray has carried over to the 4K disc, preserving the original theatrical sound experience. You also get Spanish 5.1 DTS and French 7.1 DTS-HD MA tracks. Likewise, optional subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
Universal’s new 4K package includes the film on Ultra HD, along with the 2012 Blu-ray (which, it’s important to remember, was mastered from the same 4K restoration). Both discs offer the following extras:
- The Making of Jaws (SD – 4x3 – 122:48)
- The Shark is Still Working: The Impact & Legacy of Jaws (SD – 16x9 – 101:06)
- Jaws: The Restoration (HD – 16x9 – 8:29)
- Deleted Scenes and Outtakes (SD – 16x9 – 13:33)
- From the Set (SD – 4x3 – 8:46)
- Theatrical Trailer (SD – 16x9 – 3:15)
To this, the Blu-ray adds:
- Jaws Archives: Storyboards (SD – 16x9 – 29:45)
- Jaws Archives: Production Photos (SD – 16x9 – 48:34)
- Jaws Archives: Marketing Jaws (SD – 16x9 – 9:20)
- Jaws Archives: Jaws Phenomenon (SD – 16x9 – 10:08)
- D-Box Motion Code (for those who may still have D-Box motion control systems)
All of these extras are carried over from previous editions. The Making of Jaws is, of course, Laurent Bouzereau’s tremendous feature-length documentary created in 1995 for the film’s Laserdisc release (and included in a shortened version on the film’s DVD release back in 2000). The Shark is Still Working was directed by Erik Hollander and was featured on the 2012 Blu-ray. Building on Bouzereau’s work, it includes additional stories and behind-the-scenes material (it’s also narrated by Scheider). Most of you will have seen both of these documentaries by now, but—if you’re new to them—the less said the better. Both are worth your time. The sole HD feature, Jaws: The Restoration, was produced for the 2012 Blu-ray and is self-explanatory. From the Set is a vintage featurette produced in 1975; it was included on the Blu-ray too, as were the Deleted Scenes and Outtakes and the theatrical trailer, all carried over from the original DVD release. Note that the Blu-ray also includes a set of video-based image galleries. The original DVD had additional trailers not available here and there were TV spots on the Laserdisc release, but that’s about all you’re missing.
As good as these extras are (and they’re pretty great, especially for their day), one could still wish for something new. Even a few interviews, a new retrospective—something. But as cinephiles know, Spielberg doesn’t do commentaries. So what we have here is likely the best we’re going to get. There is at least a Movies Anywhere Digital code on a paper insert. You also get a nifty 44-page softcover book of liner notes, rare photographs, and production artwork. And all of this comes packed in a cardboard slipcase, with a lenticular hologram on the front.
For fans of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, this long-awaited 4K Ultra HD release has been well worth the wait. Not only does the film and sound look better even that it did even during its initial theatrical release, it’s hard to imagine that it could ever look better. Universal’s technical team is doing some marvelous 4K catalog restorations right now—here’s hoping we get to see lots more of them on physical Ultra HD going forward. This one is not to be missed.
- Bill Hunt