'Jaws' Blu-ray Review: One of the Most Impressive HD Restorations We've Seen

'Jaws' Blu-ray Review: One of the Most Impressive HD Restorations We've Seen

Aug 14, 2012

Welcome to Jaws Week! When it was announced that Steven Spielberg's Jaws was arriving on Blu-ray, we thought it'd be perfect to dedicate an entire week to the movie that created the summer blockbuster. Every day this week we'll be posting an assortment of really fun features tied to the film, its production, its legacy, its fans, its merchandise and so much more.

How's the movie?

Jaws is a masterpiece, plain and simple. There's nothing new to say about the film 37 years after its release except that it is still a masterpiece. It's a gripping horror movie, an inventive spectacle film, and a brilliant character study of three very different men who really aren't all that different once you strip away their day-to-day routines. Even after nearly four decades of imitators, homages and flat-out rip-offs, it remains a king of creature features, be they maritime or land-bound. It'll make you laugh, it'll make you squirm, it'll make you cheer, and it might even make you shed a few tears. 

Steven Spielberg's breakout blockbuster has reached such legendary status that its numbers, as impressive as they are, no longer do its influence justice. But here they are for those who are curious:

IMDB: 8.2 (#136 on its Top 250)
Rotten Tomatoes: 100% Fresh with Critics, 81% Liked by Audiences
Box Office: $260 million domestic, $210 million foreign


What are the vitals on the disc?

Studio: Universal Studios
Release Date: August 14, 2012
Edition: Universal 100th Anniversary
Number of Discs: 2 (1 x BD, 1 x DVD)
Digital Copy: Yes, Ultraviolet

Runtime: 124 minutes
Video: 1080p, 2.36:1 Aspect Ratio
Audio: English DTS-HD MA 7.1, English DTS Mono, French DTS 5.1, Spanish DTS 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish


How does it look and sound?

Jaws has one of the most impressive Blu-ray transfers I've ever seen. Don't confuse that with me claiming it to be of utter HD perfection, as you're bound to already have a few other Blus in your collection with even finer picture quality, rather that the actual work that went into giving this 37-year-old film is frankly miraculous. We're talking about a movie that went through production hell and was turned over to an unprecedented marketing machine that made it the world's first modern blockbuster. Yes, it's a fantastic film, but by the time Universal got around to preserving its original elements, many of its reference materials had been badly damaged. It's mind-boggling how timeless the film looks given all this, and there's a featurette on the disc that shows just how hard of a job it was.

Difficulty of an HD transfer aside, the actual video quality here is stunning and vibrant, as if not a single frame of the film aged a day. At first I grew a little concerned at some rather unnatural blues and reds early on (particularly the cloudless sky when Brody is at home and the bloodied mouth of the shark strung up on the dock), but later realized that was my own error and had accidentally switched to a non-calibrated AV mode on my plasma. Once I switched back, however, the color temperatures settled into a natural and graceful state. If anything, there are a few elements that are almost too crisp in HD. The fine-lined fabric on the Mayor's suits, for example, may cause noticeable wavy distortion on 720p sets. Surprisingly, though, the unprecedented attention to detail hasn't taken away any of the shark's power. If anything, new scars and wounds on his skin make him look even more realistic (though there's nothing to be done about some of his stiff movements a few times he comes out of the water).

There was only one moment in the film where the clarity of the picture quality seemed to do the film a disservice. It's at a moment that comes not long after the trio set out to sea. As the Orca is turning in the water there's a second or two where its front windows have been rotoscoped over. This was no doubt done to remove an unwanted reflection the glass caught during production, but after seeing the film on VHS, TV, DVD and even on 35mm earlier this year, it was the first time I caught this regrettably poor cover-up job. I then popped in the DVD for reference, and sure enough the windows had been replaced in post there as well. Presumably it's been like this since 1975 -- surely a Jaws expert can confirm that -- this just happened to be the first time I ever noticed.

As equally impressive as the HD video upgrade is the 7.1 DTS Master Audio conversion. The original film was only intended for a mono soundtrack, and the 5.1 track created for the last DVD issue of the film was problematic and too artificially modern in parts. The DTS MA track here, however, is a benchmark for how studios should create surround sound where there was none prior. Everything from objects sliding around Quint's boat to the report of gunshots from Brody's revolver sound organic and not overly-designed. The expanded soundscape here is simply remarkable. 


What about special features?

The feature set on Jaws' first trip to Blu-ray is... satisfactory. That seems like such mediocre praise considering there are over three hours of extras here, and they're all quite well put together, but unfortunately the disc is sorely lacking in HD extras. The centerpiece is the fan-made documentary The Shark Is Still Working, which has been previously unavailable since its run on the film festival circuit over five years ago, but no care has been given to upgrading it for the disc. It's offered in its non-anamorphic aspect ratio, which means that if you have a widescreen TV (and you probably do if you're a Blu-ray watcher), most of the footage will appear as a box within the box. It's a constraint of how the documentary was made and not the fault of Universal's, but its presentation is regrettable given the quality of the rest of the disc.

The Shark Is Still Working (SD, 101 minutes) - Aforementioned SD, 4:3 presentation aside, the actual content of The Shark Is Still Working is pretty fantastic. Any Jaws fanatic will no doubt have gained most of the production info on display here from past specials like The Making of Jaws, but this better reflects the entire legacy of Jaws. It's absolutely worth watching, even if you think you already know everything there is to about Jaws.

The Making of Jaws (SD, 122 minutes ) - This is the central repository for all that is Jaws production info. This two-hour documentary was ported over as-is from the last DVD set, but if you've never seen it, it's the definitive account of what a freak of nature this film is.

Jaws: The Restoration (HD, eight minutes) - This is the only new, HD special feature on the disc, and it's a must-watch. If you have no idea how the film restoration process works, or what old movies go through on their way to Blu-ray, this might just blow your mind. Watch it before or after you check out the feature film; either way it'll make you want to give the wizards behind this transfer a standing ovation.

Deleted Scenes and Outtakes (SD, 14 minutes) - Nothing new here, just a handful of extra scenes that will certainly be of interest to fans, but whose demotion to the cutting-room floor is understandable.


From the Set (SD, nine minutes) - This might actually be my favorite extra here. This is just raw footage of an impossibly young Steven Spielberg directing on set. It's magical stuff to watch and see glimpses of the blockbuster filmmaker that emerged from it all.


Final thoughts?

There is no reason this Jaws Blu-ray doesn't belong on every fan's shelf. From a film perspective, it remains to this day as powerful and impressive a work as it was in 1975. From a technical perspective, the HD transfer here sets the benchmark for how to pull off seemingly impossible HD upgrades. If you already own Jaws on DVD, the difference in quality between that disc and this one is staggering. It's stacked with quality special features (even if the presentation quality on them isn't ideal), further making this without hesitation a must-own disc.

Follow along on Twitter: @PeterSHall and @Moviesdotcom.

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