|Jaws (25th Anniversary Edition)|
|Written by Bill Warren|
|Tuesday, 02 September 2003|
An excellent argument can be made for 'Jaws' still being Steven Spielberg's best movie. It's the greatest action/monster movie after 'King Kong,' works perfectly well today, has no dated elements, and is free of Spielberg's later tendency toward sentimentality. It's one of the few films he's made that can actually be described as perfect. This is not to say that it is one of the greatest films ever made, because it really is nothing more than what it seems to be -- but it does everything it sets out to do spectacularly well.
It's funny, well-observed, gripping, scary and exciting. What more could you ask of a movie with this premise? Certainly not one of the sequels to 'Jaws' even remotely approaches its level of sheer filmmaking ability. If you've never seen it -- which seems unlikely -- this is your opportunity to own it in a very fine edition.
Oddly enough, though, this is not the best version available on home video. Despite the increase in picture quality, the super-duper laserdisc edition still beats this one in terms of extras. The documentary on the making of the movie -- and it was famously hard to make -- is twice as long on the laserdisc, and there were more deleted scenes. If you're realio, trulio deeply wedded to 'Jaws,' you may already have the laserdisc; if so, there's no good reason to buy this DVD.
If you don't have the laserdisc, though, grab this disc. Even though the documentary has been cut from two hours to one, it's still reasonably thorough, and features interviews with Spielberg, Peter Benchley (who wrote the original novel), producers David Brown and Richard D. Zanuck, shark photographers Ron & Valerie Taylor, shark effects creator Joe Alves, cinematographer Bill Butler, screenwriter/costar Carl Gottlieb (all too briefly), and actors Lorraine Gary, Roy Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss, who's engagingly amused by it all, giggling and chuckling his way through his responses.
As almost always with deleted scenes, it's pretty obvious why they were cut. One of them introduced Quint (Robert Shaw) earlier and much less effectively than the fingernails-on-blackboard scene that introduced him in the final movie. There's also a handful of outtakes, which are a bit more interesting than the deleted sequences.
And, of course, the movie itself remains, presented in an excellent print in DTS 5.1 surround. Of course, fish are not notably noisy creatures, so this isn't the sort of film to use to blast friends through the back wall -- but it won the Oscar for sound recording, and fully deserved the award. The mix is superb. In terms of sound, the outstanding sequences include Chapter 2, in which the girl swimmer is grabbed by the shark, Chapter 5, in which the little boy on the raft is devoured, Chapter 13, when Police Chief Brody (Scheider) and ichthyologist Matt Hooper (Dreyfuss) set sail in the Orca with the sardonic Quint. From Chapter 16, when they first start seriously battling the shark, until the explosive climax, your sound system should get a satisfying workout, if only for the great, classic score by John Williams.
For those who came in late: when the body of a young swimmer is found devoured on the beach of vacationer paradise Amity Island (played by Martha's Vineyard), Police Chief Martin Brody realizes that his dream of escaping the violence of New York, where he'd been a cop, has come to an end. But he cannot convince Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) that a shark is in the waters off the island, posing a terrible threat to the hordes of vacationers due to arrive for the big Fourth of July weekend.
Even though shark expert Matt Hooper, who shows up to see what's going on, sides with Brody and urges Vaughn to close the beaches, he refuses -- until a little boy is eaten in full view of a beachload of vacationers and locals.
Salty, crusty local fisherman and shark killer Quint is hired to hunt down and kill the shark, identified by Hooper as a great white, and Brody and Hooper join him in the hunt, which makes up most of the second half of the movie.
'Jaws' was a world-wide smash hit, instantly establishing Spielberg (who'd made only one previous theatrical film) as a major director, creating a franchise, and helping turn Dreyfuss into a major star. Seen today, it's still tremendously exciting; it's hard to watch just one sequence from the film -- it draws you in. This is a classic, and this DVD is a fine way to own it for home viewing.