“It was a fun movie to watch but not a fun movie to make,” notes director Steven Spielberg when asked about Jaws upon the occasion of its Blu-ray debut. “I think of a period in my life when I was much younger than I am, and I think because I was younger, I was more courageous — or more stupid; I'm not sure which. When I think of Jaws, I think about courage and stupidity, and about both of those existing underwater.”
In 1974, when Universal sent Spielberg and the production team to Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., to film writer Peter Benchley’s best seller about a seaside tourist community violently terrorized by a Great White shark, few could have foreseen the production problems or the ultimate success that awaited. Indeed, one of the most popular American films of the 1970s, one often credited with starting a trend of ubiquitous “summer blockbusters,” had a myriad of troubles once on location. Martha’s Vineyard was chosen primarily because it was one of the only locations that provided shallow waters of 30 to 40 feet several miles away from shore. These “shallows” allowed the production to make use of a mechanical shark that ran on tracks hidden beneath the water. Unfortunately, the salt-water elements were brutal on the special-effects department's shark, and it rarely worked, forcing the production to be months over schedule.
In addition to shark problems, shooting on open water added a host of other difficulties, including passing boats getting into the frames, seasickness, uncooperative tides and even sinking sets. Cinematographer Bill Butler, ASC (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest), who worked closely with Spielberg establishing a look for Jaws that simulated a person's point of view while swimming, spent most of his time on the picture in the water with the director. Butler created a special camera platform that worked with the water to accommodate both “below the water line” and “surface” shots quickly. To handle the longer surface shots the film required, Butler vigorously reconfigured the standard “water box” casing used to hold a camera in the water. He also is acknowledged for heroically saving footage from a camera that sank into the ocean, having claimed sea water is similar to saline-based developing solutions. “We got on an airplane with the film in a bucket of water, took it to New York and developed it. We didn't loose a foot,” the veteran cinematographer calmly states on one of the Blu-ray’s special features. Butler’s memorable and influential work on Jaws is one of the many reasons the ASC honored him with its Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.
As part of Universal Studios 100-Year Anniversary, Jaws has its debut on Blu-ray after a painstaking restoration of the original negative source materials. The high-definition image transfer here
is bound to please even the most critical viewers. While there is evidence of judicious use of DNR, the image is always crisp and vivid, with a light trace of film grain throughout. Colors appear properly saturated but not overripe. There are solid contrasts throughout and an overall intensity that seemed missing from previous standard-definition DVD versions. The Spielberg-approved image restoration is the definitive home-screen presentation of this popular title. Universal has also worked closely on restoring the film's creative, original monaural mix, which is clean and possesses surprising depth. The devised, slick, 7.1 surround remix is immersive when appropriate and never feels overproduced.
A plethora of special features that include an incredible amount of supplemental information make a big splash with this highly anticipated release. Surfacing again are segments produced for or found on the 1995 laserdisc release, including a selection of deleted scenes and outtakes, an eight-minute featurette from 1974, an archive of promotional materials and director Laurent Bouzereau’s excellent, 122-minute documentary, The Making of Jaws, which features cast and crew members. Also included is director Erik Hollander’s engaging 2007, 100-minute documentary, The Shark is Still Working, featuring more interviews with cast and crew.
The lone new supplement and featured in high definition is an eight-minute piece on the film's restoration. Previously available on the Universal Web site, it is an informative report on the way this neoclassic thriller has been rejuvenated featuring Spielberg and numerous technicians. It reminds us why the high-definition, Blu-ray platform is so exciting and important as a showcase for film history. This terrific new edition of this popular and expertly crafted thriller is sure to turn screens a lurid red as the infamous Great White swims home again, this time in razor-sharp high definition.