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Jaws (45th Anniversary Limited Edition) (4K Ultra HD)
There is little I can say about the first summer blockbuster, Jaws, that you do not already know. Newly released on 4K Ultra HD, this seminal thriller from Director Steven Spielberg continues to thrill 45 years after its initial release in June 1975. The film forever changed Hollywood, and studios from that summer forward began making high-concept, easily marketable thrillers and action pictures with mass appeal. This movie also blew the training wheels off of Spielberg's film career, which had up to that point included made-for-TV thriller Duel and The Sugarland Express with Goldie Hawn. Spielberg became a household name, and John Williams' memorable score will forever be chanted on beaches and at pool parties. It is bittersweet watching Jaws amid this COVID-19 pandemic; this is the kind of movie that begs to be seen in a packed theater with an enthusiastic audience. Worldwide cinephiles cannot replicate that communal experience right now, but I trust better days are ahead.
The film was shot in the spring and summer of 1974 on Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts, and was the first major movie shot on the open ocean. The film's budget nearly doubled during the production, the shoot dragged on well past its intended end date, and several of the film's mechanical sharks fell victim to technical difficulties exasperated by pounding waves and salt air. It has been confirmed by numerous production sources and actors that these delays greatly benefitted the final product in several ways: The script was tightened and improved, and Spielberg ultimately chose to give the shark little screen time, instead suggesting its presence with creative angles, fleeting glimpses and audible stingers. I cannot imagine what kind of film Jaws would have been if everything worked perfectly for Spielberg and company from the get-go, but I suspect we would not be talking about it 45 years later.
The film's opening is nearly perfect: Two teenagers leave a beach party and run toward the picturesque, moonlit waves. The girl (Susan Backlinie) strips off her clothing and dives in, only to be violently pulled underwater and killed by an unseen predator. The scene is lean and surprisingly brutal, and the 4K transfer gives startlingly clear glances beneath the surface that the filmmakers likely never imagined would be visible during the shoot. Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) is the new police chief of the nearby resort town, although he refuses to go into the water due to past traumas. He fights the local bigwigs and business owners to close the beaches when it becomes apparent that a shark is killing local swimmers. Oceanographer Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) supports his decision, and the pair enlists salty fisherman Quint (Robert Shaw) to help kill the man-eater. The film builds to an intense climax in which the shark attacks the trio on a sinking boat, and viewers are barely able to take a breath during the film's two hours of excitement and suspense.
Most everything works here. Spielberg's direction is skillful and sure-handed; Bill Butler's cinematography places viewers directly into the jaws of terror; and Williams' aforementioned score is one of the best suspense scores of all time. Spielberg uses the camera to his benefit, and his pans, zooms and tilt shifts create tension without becoming gimmicky. The acting is strong across the board, particularly from the leads, and the script gives welcome detail to the Brody, Hooper and Quint characters. The technical merits of Jaws cannot be overstated; this is simply a masterful suspense film that loses none of its merit nearly a half-century after it was shot. Fans of the summer blockbuster season have Jaws to thank for tentpole releases, television marketing and wide-release schedules. Jaws does for the ocean what Psycho did for showers and what Alien did for space. "Here's to swimming with bow-legged women."
THE 4K ULTRA HD:
Universal continues to church out catalogue releases on the 4K format, and Jaws arrives with a 2.35:1/2160p/HEVC/H.265, native 4K transfer with Dolby Vision and HDR10+. Simply, the image looks as incredible as a full restoration for such an important film should. I thought the previous Blu-ray edition was excellent, but this 4K release bests it with improved textures, fine-object details, skin tones, contrast and depth. From the opening, dimly lit scene it is apparent how skillfully this image handles low-light sequences. The grain is fine and beautifully filmic throughout. Fine-object details are abundant, and the period-appropriate costumes and set dressings are beautifully crisp and clear. Skin tones are nicely balanced, even in contrast-heavy, sunbaked scenes, and black levels are inky. Shadow detail is impressive, and the image handles challenging elements like fog and water spray with ease. The image is free of compression artifacts and edge haloes, and wide shots are impressively deep. The HDR pass does not alter the film's intended appearance, but instead gives it a more realistic, lifelike appearance. This is a very nice upgrade, and fans will want this 4K version on their shelves.
This package includes a new Dolby Atmos soundtrack, which, like the HDR pass, does not attempt to manufacture a new experience and instead simply supports the soundtrack in a nuanced manner. Dialogue is crisp and natural-sounding throughout, and the track does an excellent job handling ambient effects like crowd noise and rolling waves. Williams' score is given the respect it is due, and the LFE does respond when appropriate. Effects panning is not up to modern blockbuster standards but is still impressive. All elements are balanced skillfully, and there are no issues with crowding or distortion. A 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mono mix should satisfy fans looking for the original soundtrack experience. The disc also includes a Spanish 5.1 DTS mix, a French 7.1 DTS-HD High-Res mix, and English SDH, French and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
The two-disc set includes the 4K disc, a Blu-ray and a Movies Anywhere digital copy code. The discs are packed in a black 4K case that fits inside an outer slipbox with lenticular cover. A 44-page booklet with pictures, liner notes and production information is included. There are no new extras, but excellent supplements from previous releases are included that include interviews, behind-the-scenes footage and much discussion about the production: The Making of Jaws (2:02:48/HD); The Shark is Still Working: The Impact and Legacy of Jaws (1:41:06/HD); Deleted Scenes and Outtakes (8:29/HD); From the Set (8:46/HD); and a Theatrical Trailer (3:15/HD). All of those supplements appear on both discs; the Blu-ray also includes archival bonuses, including storyboards, production photos, and marketing materials.
The original summer blockbuster, Steven Spielberg's Jaws is one of the greatest thrillers of all time. This new 4K Ultra HD release offers viewers a chance to replicate the theatrical experience at home with excellent picture and sound, and previously available extras provide insight into the production. DVD Talk Collector Series.
William lives in Burlington, North Carolina, and looks forward to a Friday-afternoon matinee.