Jaws broke all box office records when it premiered in the Summer of 1975. It became the defining Summer blockbuster and propelled twenty-five year old Steven Spielberg to the forefront of Hollywood’s attention. Today it is arguably one of the most important movies in history, yet it is hard to believe that there is also a new generation who have not seen Jaws. For many the 2012 theatrical re-release will be an introduction to a Spielberg classic, whilst also providing a unique opportunity for all to experience Jaws as originally intended, on the big screen.
This theatrical re-release is by no means a standard reissue from the prints seen on DVD and television. In preparation for Blu-Ray debut in September 2013, Universal have meticulously revisited the camera negatives and reassembled the picture with a new soundtrack. Sympathetic to the original presentation of Jaws, Spielberg has been closely involved in the grading and remastering of the content to ensure that it is not only faithful to the original, but also surpasses the picture and sound quality that audiences would have experienced in 1975.
Much has been written about Jaws, with renewed appraisal following releases of the film on VHS, Laserdisc and latterly DVD. It is a film that embraces humour, horror, pathos and politics in equal measure and has become a benchmark to which many of Spielberg’s films are compared. Originally destined as a B-movie, the production was fortunate to consist of a dedicated and skilled crew who enriched the film with their aspirations and sheer determination. Jaws was also bettered by a happy mistake; the failure of the mechanical sharks to cooperate forced Spielberg to adopt a Hitchcockian approach, building up tension and suspense in the absence of a visual shark, creating an intense thriller classic in the process. Jaws is clearly a young director’s film, with ambitious camera angles, fast cutting and a relentless pace which escalates to an astonishingly action-packed climax. Bill Butler's cinematography is so beautifully framed that most shots could be frozen into impressive stills, whilst Verna Field’s editing has a modern freshness and rhythm which many present-day action films can only aspire to. In short, Jaws does not feel like a film of nearly forty years.
Universal's remastering is truly a presentation of Jaws for a modern audience. Picture quality is now pin-sharp with accurate and consistent colour grading. Weather conditions changed wildly during the long shoot on Martha’s Vineyard, with colour temperatures varying from shot to shot. These have now been subtly corrected, as have several other anachronisms which are purely technical, such as the tint in the Orca’s windows being of inconsistent shades during a night scene. These repairs, whilst small, merely assist in presenting Jaws in the best possible condition for the critical eyes of a new generation.
Perhaps the greatest achievement has been made in sound restoration. The original sound recording and musical scores won Oscars in 1975, and the achievement is impressively presented today in a new 7.1 mix of the original elements. John Williams’ famous score has a renewed clarity which is both shudderingly expansive whilst maintaining a beautifully serenity. Sound effects are equally immersive, extending the sensations of the ocean in surround sound. Of particular note is the excruciating effect of Quint drawing his fingernails down a blackboard, forcing many in the audience to plug their ears.
Performances have a renewed vigour thanks to the restoration, no doubt due to facial details becoming clearer with vocals now dynamically distinct. Scheider’s guilt-ridden Brody appears to carry a heavier burden in his exhaustive performance, whilst Dreyfuss’ eyes gleam with an eccentricity far brighter in this print than has been seen before. Even stubborn Mayor Vaughn, played by Murray Hamilton, has a richer, oily-eyed feel and Robert Shaw, particularly, benefits from the high-definition treatment in a performance which is consistantly mesmerizing, hilarious and terrifying in equal measure. Quite why Shaw was never considered for an Oscar for this, his finest screen performance, is a mystery. Even Bruce the Mechanical Shark excels visually, rightfully not tampered with during restoration. The reality of a 25 foot shark, mechanical or not, racing through the water still maintains a verisimilitude which no amount of computer generated imaging can hope to achieve.
The ultimate success of Jaws’ re-release proves that the film functions best as a shared experience, where audiences are free to scream in unison and laugh collectively. Tailored for the scope and scale of the cinema, Jaws has been lovingly restored so that it can once again be experienced in all its breadth and sensation with a 21st century clarity. For many it will be like watching Jaws anew, whilst for first-timers, a voyage of terrifying discovery never to be forgotten.
Theatre Manager, Writer, Film Photographer & Printer, Reviewer, Reader. Secular biped mammal with own views. © Samuel Payne 2016