The shark isn’t Jaws’ villain. An evil presence, certainly, but not a villain. Indirectly, that 25-foot great white exposes a system riddled with flaws – those systems are the villains.
There’s Mayor Vaughn, concerned with keeping the beaches open, and not for any economic reason, rather how closure might look come election time in November. So he spins. He lies. After authorities find multiple victims, Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) tells the press it, “supposedly injured some sunbathers.” At a nearby morgue, there’s a body in pieces; they never found the second victim, a kid. “Injured” and “supposedly” don’t fit.
For business owners, there is a fear of collapse. Summer is everything in Amity – tourists spend, spend, spend. It’s not an issue that people digest in a great white’s stomach. Rather, when Quint (Robert Shaw) notes, “You’ll be on welfare the whole winter,” that changes the conversation. A certain pride and cultural bias weighs more heavily than young lives cut short.
On the ocean, bouncing in the worn Orca, Quint, Brody (Roy Scheider), and Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) begin lashing out at one another. Quint’s working class, survivalist personality clashes with Hooper’s west coast, yuppie elitism. Brody isn’t one for confrontations and clearly, even as police chief, can’t gain control.
Enter Jaws, or Bruce, or whatever name it’s given. When it appears, funny how those biases disappear. Sitting in the cabin, waiting for the shark, the trio share drinks. Incidences in their past – Brody a near drowning, Hooper a close shark encounter, Quint an impossibly cruel wartime experience – bond them. Whatever differences their divergent lives created, suddenly that bumpy water and isolation prove them equal. They share scars, they share songs. And soon, they share a fight.
It’s one thing to note Jaws rarely shows the shark. True, of course, if missing the mastery of that choice. Where monster movies commonly base their stories around creatures, Jaws uses its own as an often unseen background catalyst that changes Amity as much as its people. Jaws 2 ruins it (Vaughn improbably reelected, a long way to go for satire), yet those who lived through this undoubtedly gained perspective – disasters do that.
Jaws excels in terror and horror and tension. John Williams’ score, Bill Butler’s mesmerizing cinematography, Steven Spielberg’s gusto to pull this off, plus a litany of performances all combine here to make Jaws work. Mechanical or not, this fake shark brought people together for a common goal. In that way, Jaws’ shark is a hero.
High standards for catalog releases certainly makes Jaws a challenge. It’s not a particularly contrast-y film. Exterior sunlight bathes Jaws, sapping dimension through an avoidance of shadows. When called upon – in the Orca’s belly during the Indianapolis story – depth is sensational. Brody’s black shirt isn’t even lost anymore to the darkness. The Dolby Vision pass is honed in on highlights first.
So no, Jaws does not have “pop.” Never has before either. Color doesn’t stand out, somewhat pale and washed out for much of the runtime. This new tech tweaks things slightly. Flesh tones carry elevated vibrancy. Some primaries when looking down Amity’s streets jump out with their enhanced quality. It’s marginal though.
What’s the benefit then? Resolution. While Jaws’ immaculate, distinctive cinematography doesn’t aim for precision at all times, sharpness astounds. Out on the water, the Orca’s wood grain is visible no matter the distance. Waves and skylines look incredible. In close, it’s better still thanks to facial definition en masse. Universal’s encode falters on occasion, turning grain digital, if to little or no impact on image integrity.
Here is where Jaws’ UHD release makes a stand for itself. Remixed into Atmos, the benefit isn’t the height channels. They’re used on occasion, from splashing water or when the Orca begins breaking. It’s enough to notice the presence. Surrounds naturally integrate into the soundstage, filling in around Amity’s beaches/streets or when waves pick up. LFE doesn’t impress either, indicative of something this aged and untouched. There’s little in the way of bass at all.
Remastering counts for everything here. Williams’ score never sounded so prominent. Its boldness and dynamic clarity brings even the smallest instrumental touches forward. When at the beach, ambient lines make themselves heard against action or panic. Fidelity doesn’t exhibit any age. It’s marvelous, just not in the usual bombastic home theater sense.
Nothing new other than a well put together book inside the slipcover. Bonuses appear on the UHD and Blu-ray.
The Shark is Still Working is feature length at 100-minutes, covering locations, effects, and the actors without skipping a detail. It’s been around for years, but if you haven’t caught it before now, this is the quintessential look at the film.
Ported from the Laserdisc is another great making-of, sans title beyond “making of.” This one is lengthy too, just over two hours, but dry by today’s standards. It’s a lot of talking heads, but the information is superb.
Deleted scenes and outtakes are certainly not restored, ported from the DVD. Jaws: The Restoration is actually available on YouTube if you’re curious. From the Set is a British piece that tracked the on-set activity. The archives section houses posters, marketing features, trailers, and photos
Jaws holds it status after 45 years not because its a memorable horror or monster movie, but for its ability to use the shark as a catalyst for change.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 43 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: