Jaws appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the widescreen image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Jaws offered a perfectly watchable transfer but not one that excelled.
Two significant problems presented themselves: softness and source defects. While much of the movie appeared adequately sharp and clear, a fair amount seemed rather fuzzy and indistinct. That didn't mean the DVD looked poor, as the majority of the movie offered accurate definition. However, noticeable softness occurred, particularly in wider shots that revealed some edge enhancement.
I saw no problems with jagged edges, but shimmering cropped up at times. This was most evident in clothes such as Mayor Vaughn’s sport jackets. A few other elements displayed this slight distraction as well, but usually it was complicated clothing that created the concern.
As for the source flaws, they weren’t a constant distraction, but they popped up more often than I’d expect. Mild grain showed up from time to time and various other flaws existed. I noticed nicks, white speckles, and black grit in the picture. The image seemed dirtier than I expected, especially given the film’s status. I thought the prevalence of defects decreased somewhat during the second half, but they still interfered at times.
Colors appeared strong and acted as the transfer’s strength. Much of the movie was shot outdoors in sunlight, a situation that greatly aided the resolution of the picture, and this factor helped create some nicely saturated and rich colors. They fell just a little short of the "eye-popping" level, as the hues seemed accurate and dynamic.
Black levels on the DVD were pretty tight and deep, and shadow detail was acceptable. Some segments looked overly thick and opaque, but those occurred due to the use of "day for night" photography. For instance, check out the opening scenes on the beach or the shots of the fishermen on the pier and you'll see pieces that were filmed this way. Day for night doesn't always look excessively dim, but it happens fairly frequently, especially in older films. Otherwise, the low-light shots came across with good definition.
I flip-flopped between a “B-“ and a “C+” for the visuals. I went with the higher grade because I thought too much of the movie looked good to merit the lower grade. The problems created definite distractions, especially because it wouldn’t take too much work to improve the movie. I’m sure it wouldn’t be terribly time-consuming or expensive to bring Jaws up to snuff. As it stands, the movie remains watchable and occasionally very attractive, but too many problems occur for it to earn anything above a “B-“.
Two controversies surround this DVD, the first of which concerns the film's soundtrack. When it appeared in 1975, Jaws featured only monaural audio, but prior to the creation of this DVD, the decision was made to remix the track for full-blown 5.1 sound. Many were not happy with this decision, as they prefer to have the original soundtrack. Had that mono mix also appeared on the DVD, few complaints would have greeted the 5.1 version, but since the original mono is nowhere to be found, the brickbats flew even before the DVD hit the shelves.
And the criticisms are appropriate. Few argued that the remix would definitely be inferior, but the comments never revolved around that aspect of the situation. Instead, the concern dealt with issues related to any modification made to a film. After all, the original soundtrack to Jaws won an Oscar for sound, so one can definitely see the reasoning behind the desire to maintain it.
All Universal needed to do was provide both the new 5.1 mix and the old mono track on the same DVD. Why didn't they do so? I have no idea. I suppose it may have been a space issue - that'll be the reasoning behind Controversy #2, which we'll confront in the supplemental section - but I seriously doubt the relatively few bytes needed for a simple mono track were unavailable.
As such, the omission of the original soundtrack remains a mystery, and an unfortunate one. That said, I found myself surprisingly pleased by the Dolby Digital 5.1 track.
The soundfield maintains an environment that favors the forward speakers but it displays very good range. Dialogue stuck to the center channel, as did many effects, although quite a lot of ambient noise spread to the front side speakers (primarily) and to the rears; the surrounds largely fired only during underwater scenes or other segments that used a gently-enveloping environment. The score also spread nicely to the front speakers, and to the rears as well. The DTS track seems a bit more active than did the DD one; I got a much better sense of the effects and music that came from the sides and the rears on it, and the entire mix seemed more enveloping and natural.
Any fears that the remixers would go nuts and create inappropriately discrete audio were unfounded. The track remains fairly modest and makes only minor changes to bolster the environment. In many ways, it seems comparable to the 5.1 tracks found on the Star Trek: The Original Series DVDs, although the Jaws track easily tops those for dimensionality and quality; the mix of Jaws really opens up the surround spectrum, especially in the way it uses the music.
Oh, that music! In my longer review, I stated my affection for John
Williams' work in the film, and I can't help but feel that some of my feelings stem from the positive sound quality of the score. Never before has this famous track packed quite such a wallop. Early on, I doubted the effectiveness of the remix; the music starts out isolated in the right speaker, and I initially found that disconcerting. However, once the score kicked in more fully and I could appreciate the clarity and depth of the music, I was completely happy with the remix. The high end seems a little thin and less than crystal-clear, and I also noted some mild tape hiss that appeared attached to the score, but the bass more than compensates for these minor deficits; the oomph resulting from Williams' famous music cues makes this track wonderfully and appropriately jarring. I read another review that stated the score has never sounded better "on video"; I'll go further, as I doubt it's ever sounded so good on any recorded medium.
Also strong are the effects. The audio controversy greatly involved these parts, as it was clear some of the effects would be re-recorded for the new mix. The purists cried foul, and I don't blame them, but when one considers the improvements that don't appear to have caused any compromises, I'll happily take the new recording. I only noticed a few effects that were clearly new; for example, gunshots are much too crisp to have come from the old track. However, I think the DVD displays relatively few re-recorded stems; I can't formally quantify my impression, but I believe most of the effects still come from the original. The whole thing sounds quite good, as the added bass kicks in nicely, and the entire package comes across well.
To the best of my knowledge, none of the dialogue has been re-recorded, so it's not surprising this area displays the most flaws. Speech seems generally flat and slightly dull, with a hard edge that makes it rarely sound natural. However, the dialogue seemed eminently intelligible, and the new mix actually lets you hear speech more distinctly than in the past; I picked up on lines that always were submerged in the original. The relatively-weak quality of the dialogue stands out a bit more strongly than it might just because of the improvements in the other areas, but it doesn't do too much to harm the track.
I've watched Jaws many, many times over the last 21 years, and I thought it lost the ability to jolt me years ago. However, the power of the new soundtrack brought the old beast back to life in ways I didn't anticipate. I still agree with the purists that the DVD should have included the original monaural mix, but as far as I'm concerned, it's been made obsolete by this terrific 5.1 remix.
One other comment about the playback of the film before I discuss the
supplemental features: Jaws includes English and French subtitles, but if you switch them on the fly, you'll see that both are listed as "Eng". The second option indeed offers French, but someone mislabeled it as English. Odd but inconsequential in the end.
Jaws DVD Controversy # 2 revolved around its supplemental features. The LD boxed set I previously mentioned included some nice extras, the most significant of which was a roughly two-hour long documentary called The Making of Jaws. That piece appears here as well, but in truncated form; what once lasted 123 minutes now only amounts to 59 minutes.
Why? Space issues, apparently. Although 2-DVD sets are growing in popularity, I guess Universal didn't think one was worth the cost or the trouble; they probably figured the extra expense involved wouldn't be justified by any possible additional sales. And they're probably right from that point of view; the number of extra people who would buy a 2-DVD Jaws but would skip the one with the abridged documentary probably is minor.
Nonetheless, it'd be nice to see a studio make a decision for semi-artistic reasons, not just due to the bottom line. I've read a few reviews that tried to put a positive spin on the edits and offer the impression that a) the shorter one is as good as the longer edition, or b) the cut version is actually superior to the original program.
To these people, I say this: please remove your lips from the collective buttocks of Universal Studios. While the hour-long documentary certainly is an enjoyable piece, there's no way it matches up with the longer program; too much valuable information fails to appear.
I set out to do a thorough documentation of the differences but gave up after about 20 minutes due to the nature of the edits. Few major sections get the heave-ho; instead, we find lots of minor cuts throughout the entirety of the piece. Minutes may go, but sometimes we lose only a few seconds. Trying to note the omissions from the LD and then synch up again with the DVD was tremendously frustrating so I simply bailed on that goal.
I did note a few significant deletions, however. Some examples: Spielberg went into detail about the frustrations he experienced as he made the film and he discusses his near-breakdown; none of this can be found on the DVD. We learn more about Robert Shaw, and Dreyfuss talks of Shaw's somewhat-nasty attitude, but not on the DVD. An entire story about an (unfortunately unnamed) prospective director who apparently lost the gig because he excitedly talked about how he wanted to make a film about a "whale" disappears. Spielberg thought about adding a cameo by some characters from his only prior theatrical film, The Sugarland Express, but DVD viewers won't learn of this. Spielberg also speaks of a "little person" who he cast as a stunt double to make the live action sharks seem larger, but only on the LD. Some unexplored possibilities are discussed as Spielberg relates ideas from his version of the script, but the DVD doesn't even acknowledge them.
And so on. If you don't know it's not there, you probably won't miss it, but that doesn't mean I won't still bemoan the omissions and take strong issue with anyone who argues that the shorter version is better. One can feel that the differences are ultimately minor; we lose some anecdotes but the overall information stays close. While that's true, the clear impression of the filming provided by the LD documentary seems lost on the DVD. Jaws was a very difficult film to shoot, and the shorter documentary makes it seem less harrowing and tiring; the additional details in the longer program show us more clearly how worn down the cast and crew became, and ultimately it conveys more fully how tough a gig it was.
For additional details about what parts of the LD documentary fail to make the DVD, check out this article at DVD File
; it notes some areas that I didn't list. However, note that the article contains at least one major error, though it's not the only source to make this mistake.
Lots of people are convinced that the original LD documentary included a discussion of how Susan Backlinie's nudity in the opening scene caused problems because the footage showed a lot more skin than they'd planned. These anecdotes fall under the affectionate heading of "The Beaver Story".
DVD File and many others claim the LD featured this tale. It didn't. At no point during the two-hour documentary do we hear this story. So why do so many people believe it's there? Because a companion piece in the October 1995 issue of "Premiere" magazine provided this anecdote from Carl Gottlieb:
"I remember when the dailies came back. In all of the shots from the shark's point of view - it was, like, beaver shots for twenty minutes! Everyone was kind of embarrassed, because Steven had talked [Susan] into doing it nude by saying it was going to be night shots, fast cuts - and it was. But in dailies everyone was saying, 'Steven, you know...'"
So if anyone tells you the DVD omits this story from the LD, slap them
silly! They're wrong, as no video appearance of the tale has been released.
The confusion obviously stems from the fact the interviews for "Premiere" are very similar to the ones filmed for the documentary. Actually, the article is maybe the single best source of stories about Jaws, though it and the two-hour program complement each other nicely. However, the text provides a bit more grit. I read the story before I saw the LD and found myself disappointed by and irritated at the omissions from text to video. For example, the article discusses more frankly how nasty Shaw could be; Dreyfuss skirts the issue slightly in the original LD documentary but is more open in the text.
Lest you think this entire "deletion" issue is a one-way street, I actually saw one part of the DVD documentary that didn't appear on the LD. We see some behind the scenes footage of extras on one of the beach pieces. I rewatched the LD program and couldn't find that part, so if I just missed it somewhere, I hope someone will tell me. However, I don't think it's there. How odd for the DVD to snip so much material but then to add some stuff that hadn't previously appeared. If I were a cynic, I'd claim this happened to entice Jaws die-hards who might otherwise skip the DVD to buy it, but I'm not, so I won't.
A few other differences exist between the LD and DVD documentaries. One mild positive about the DVD program is that it looks fresher and snazzier than the LD. The latter was very heavy in "talking head" shots; it included some outtakes and stills and other material, but it featured far more images of facial close-ups than we find on the DVD. The abbreviate piece spices up the mix with many more production stills, and though it does look better, the reason for the changes wasn't visual; the stills are there to hide the various cuts, which would be very obvious without them.
The frequent film clips serve a less-apparent purpose, however, which makes them more frustrating. Lots of snippets of the movie appear throughout the documentary, and it also starts with a montage that didn't appear on the LD. Every time I saw a scene from the movie, I wanted to smack the TV. All of that redundant footage could have been used to offer some of the deleted interview pieces; I'd guess at least five to ten minutes of time are lost to useless film segments.
One other disappointing alteration comes from the lack of chapter stops. The DVD documentary is a basic affair in that it features no time display or chapters, which makes it tough to quickly access favorite stories. The LD was split neatly into different subjects, all of which had their own title cards. The visual presentation seemed a little awkward, but it was more "user friendly".
"The Making of Jaws" isn't the only time that the DVD fails to
replicate material found on the LD. The Deleted Scenes area on the DVD presents 10 scenes and runs for 10 minutes and 15 seconds. Most of these pieces are trims from existing scenes, though two are alternate takes of included segments, and one which involves Quint has no corresponding portion in the film. All of the scenes are interesting and fun, but you can see why were omitted, as they generally slowed down the story. I don't want to ruin the sole true deleted scene by describing it in detail, but let's just say it involves Quint, a young musician, and "Beethoven's Ninth". It's a truly delightful piece, but it also deserved to be cut, as it introduced Quint too early; it would have made the existing scene when Quint scratches the blackboard less compelling.
The "Deleted Scenes" suffer their own deletions from the LD. A few seconds at the start of the Quint segment are cut; we no longer see him emerge from his truck. We also lose some shots of Quint's assistant which explain why he didn't make the boat trip, and there's another missing bit that shows the first identification of Chrissie's remains. Why are these gone? It's another mystery; all told, these only use maybe three more minutes of space, which shouldn't have been hard to find.
A few Outtakes show up on the DVD. We get one minute's worth, and they cover two different topics. We get to delight in Roy Scheider's pain as his gun jams endlessly, and we also see some extra shots of Shaw as he spits blood. It's not much, but it's a lot of fun.
DVD producers love their trivia games; they're all the rage on discs these days, and Jaws provides a 12-question trivia game. It's actually fairly tough, though the game is extremely forgiving; you'll get as many chances as you need, and will not be punished at all. The "reward" for passing the quiz isn't worth it, but at least the test will stimulate your memory.
When this DVD was first announced, the Shark World supplement took some flack largely because many believed it was another video piece. The reasoning against it felt that since the DVD loses lots of the original documentary, it seemed annoying that a different program took some of that place. The anger was misguided, however, as "Shark World" offers nothing more than a few screens of text information about sharks accompanied by some photos. It's a brief but mildly interesting piece.
A Storyboards domain offers some details on changes from the book. This area provides 195 screens, 30 of which are actually production drawings. The 165 storyboards detail seven different scenes, five of which are alternate versions of existing pieces; those stuck more closely to the original book. The other two storyboard scenes pretty much just equal what ended up in final cut. I'm not a huge fan of storyboards, but these are valuable since they cover material not found elsewhere.
Three trailers appear on the DVD. Two of these come from the original release, while the third was created for a reissue. By the way, if you want a small sampling of the infamous "beaver shots", check out the second trailer, which is a full-frame affair. It's much lighter than the other ads and the finished film, and although it won't replace "Playboy", it's a lot more revealing than the other sources. (Not that I'm endorsing this frame-by-frame examination of Backlinie's privates, of course - I would never be that sexist and crass - but it remains a free country.)
The Production Photos section provides a whopping 430 frames worth of material. These are mostly candid shots from the set, but we also find a lot of publicity material as well. As is often the case, the presentation isn't very friendly - God help you if you loved picture 420 and want to access it, since you'll have to skip through 419 frames to get there - but the material is strong.
Production Notes offers a few text pages worth of comments on the film's background. These are brief and pretty redundant; chances are good you've already heard this information on other parts of the DVD. More bare-bones info appears in the Cast and Crew section, which features listings for Scheider, Shaw, Dreyfuss and Spielberg; they give us basic descriptions of those folks but not much more. Finally, the DVD finishes with: "DVD Newsletter", which simply lists a web address to which you can go to sign up for mailings from Universal; "Screen Saver", a DVD-ROM feature; and "Recommendations", which indicates some other films the folks at Universal think we may enjoy. By some coincidence, all of them are distributed by Universal. What were the chances?
For all my griping about the DVD, I must relate this fact: the LD boxed set originally retailed for $150, while the DVD lists for only $27. That difference in price definitely buys some goodwill, so despite my disappointment at the alterations, I still have to give the Jaws DVD a very hearty recommendation. These facts remain: the movie itself is one of the all-time greats, and the DVD provides very solid picture, sound and extras. Is it perfect? No, but it's still a great little package.
To rate this film, visit the 30TH ANNIVERSARY EDITION review of JAWS