Jaws is my second favorite movie of all time. Aside from being just a phenomenal film, its emphasis on unlikely camaraderie hits me square in the quirk. Then Universal goes and remasters the thing in glorious high definition for its 100th anniversary. That’s Universal’s 100th, not the movie’s, which is only around 36 years old. I guess that’s a little like throwing yourself a birthday party at someone else’s house but whatever. Never-before-seen featurettes and deleted scenes on top of a flawless new video transfer? HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME.
If you don’t know the story of Jaws we can’t be friends. Suffice to say if you haven’t seen it yet, now is the time. I never thought the DVD transfer of Jaws was all that bad – for a movie so old it looked remarkably decent – but this is something else entirely. The color clarity and the level of detail are really just marvelous. Seriously, I sat there and I marveled. I marveled so hard, I pulled my groin.
Along with the lovingly restored visuals, the BD comes with a haut new 7.1 audio track. Even if you don’t have an eight-speaker setup, the new mix adds depth and background dialogue you might have missed in the previous digital release. Speaking of digital releases: I don’t know when they started doing this but for 20 bucks you get not only the BD, but also a DVD copy of the original digital transfer (from whence all my screenshots come – sorry, no BD player on my laptop) and a free Ultraviolet digital video download. I don’t know why Universal is hyping some horrible Milla Jovovich sci-fi movie from 2006, but that sounds like a deal to me. Wait, that’s not what Ultraviolet is? Then I have no idea.
After seeing the definitive presentation I was prepared to say that, finally, after 40+ viewings, I’ve seen all there is to see in Jaws. I was fully prepared for this to be the last time I watched it for the foreseeable future. But the damn thing looks so good, I found myself picking up entirely new stuff in certain scenes. The 4th of July beach scene is a prime example. The lifeguard blows his whistle (“No whistles!”) and everyone races out of the water. There’s a moment when an adult couple plows into two kids on a raft amid the crush of fleeing bathers. In the older transfers, this scene is so busy and muddy I assumed they were the kids’ parents, pulling them off the raft to get them more quickly to safety. Turns out, not so much. Dude knocks junior off his floaty and jumps on it himself, paddling his own fat ass to safety. That combined with a few other shots I never noticed (yes, those nice people are trampling grandma into the surf) made that whole scene profoundly more cynical. But at the same time, it took the wind out of my own cynicism toward re-releases in general. Like how I turned that around there? I am a master of high school-level rhetorical tools.
If I had to point to a flaw – and I never thought I’d say this – it’s that they didn’t touch up the old optical effects. Hooper’s electric beacon and the shooting stars looked very obviously painted in. It’s just a bit distracting given how perfect everything else looks, but totally understandable since messing with effects decades later is such a slippery slope. And far from detracting from the overall experience, bits like that let you know you’re seeing Spielberg’s vision as it was originally intended, just exquisitely preserved and showcased in the best possible presentation. As the ridiculously long, spoilerific original theatrical trailer commands: see it before you go swimming.