A twenty-five foot, three ton Great White Shark takes up residence off Amity Island in New England just in time for the peak of the tourist season, the Fourth of July. Three men (Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss) head out in an aged fishing boat to kill the predator - only to find that the shark seems to be distressingly intelligent, and the distinction between hunter and hunted becomes increasingly blurred.
As one of the biggest-grossing movies in the history of film, Jaws spawned waves of merchandising and swarms of imitators, all of which seemed to miss the central point that ensured their progenitor's success: Jaws is one of the best monster movies ever made simply because it takes time to explore the human side of its story. Even the irascible, obsessed fisherman Quint (the Shaw character) is tremendously likable, and by the time we reach the man vs. shark portion of the movie, we are in that boat with the three men, sharing their fears, elations and confusion.
Pure, marvelous entertainment. Spielberg's direction is a perfect blend of self-assurance and desperate improvisation (see the making-of featurette in Extras), making this the shortest two hours you'll ever spend looking at a TV screen.
First I should make mention of the fact that Universal has done marvelous work in an area that seems largely ignored by other DVD producers: they make outstanding intro sequences which segue into the interactive menus. I first saw this in the less-than-exceptional End of Days, a creepy beginning that easily outdid the movie it preceded; the Jaws disc opens with a similarly outstanding sequence quoting the opening moments of the film and finishing with that lonesome buoy bobbing in an empty oceanscape, the background for the interactive menu.
Picture-wise, the transfer is outstanding, the image looking as fresh and clean as the day it was minted, an amazing feat on a movie a quarter of a century old. While the 5.1 remix might not give your system the workout you'd hoped for, it is similarly clean and crisp, with every incidental sound effect, each creak of the fishing boat Orca sharp and clear.
While there is no commentary track, "The Making of Jaws" is an outstanding substitute, combining interviews with just about everybody involved in the production with behind-the-scenes photos and footage. It is a chronicle of a movie that must have seemed doomed on a daily basis, plagued with mishaps, uncooperative weather and a mechanical shark that would not function - a circumstance that Spielberg managed to make work for the final product, rather than against. Of particular interest to this writer is the genealogy of two of the film's most memorable moments - "You're going to need a bigger boat," improvised by Scheider, and Quint's U.S.S. Indianapolis speech, which went from a slight mention in Howard Sackler's draft, to a multi-page speech by John Milius, to its final form, re-written by Shaw himself.
After such a satisfying extra, the disc's other treats seem less substantial, though a series of production photos and storyboard sequences are certainly worth examining. Less worthwhile are a silly and pointless trivia game and six pages of shark facts. There are brief bios for the three stars and Spielberg, Production Notes that repeat, in a less interesting fashion, tidbits about the filming already covered in the 'making of' featurette, and a page urging you to buy the other Universal discs Spielberg has directed.
Time is better spent on the theatrical trailers, showing the different approaches to the original release and re-release (ah, back before the days of video, when you had to go to a theater to see a movie again), and TV ads - these are showing their age but are still nice to have. There are several deleted scenes, and each and every one deserved their fate. "Outtakes" is a rather silly section to even have, as only two scenes are referenced: one, where Scheider's gun repeatedly refuses to fire, and Quint's death scene, when Shaw accidentally spits stage blood into his eyes. Hardly the hilarity- or variety - one hopes for from outtakes.
Overall, however, an outstanding package for an outstanding film - my venerable old laserdisc pressing can now be safely retired.
Dr. Freex, 7/28/00