Jaws still has teeth 

Spielberg’s proto-blockbuster spins with new luster on Blu-ray.

I could never pick a favorite movie, but Spielberg’s Jaws is certainly in the mix. I’ve seen “the original summer blockbuster” dozens of time in multiple formats (VHS, Betamax, Laserdisc, DVD — even film), but the new Blu-ray release blows them all away. Featuring a glorious transfer sampled from a newly restored original negative and pumped up with a Dolby 7.1 sound mix, Jaws has lunged into the 21st century — and that is sure to piss some people off.

You see, Jaws looks different now, and any changes to classic movies will be met with a skeptical eye. The differences here have nothing to do with digital alterations to the original film, à la the Star Wars and E.T. re-releases, which Spielberg has been smart in swearing off recently. Instead, it’s the new technology and the way we experience films that have changed. I watched the Blu-ray on a 55-inch LCD TV hooked up to a PS3 via HDMI cord — a vastly different setup than the 1970s movie houses Jaws was created for, or the crap-vision VHS copies I grew up on.

I was nervous before I hit play. Other classics of the era (Patton, The French Connection) have looked awful on Blu-ray. Would Jaws survive the bridging of the digital divide? Everyone can relax, as the picture and sound are simply stunning — true to the original film you remember, just fresher somehow — and Jaws is now the benchmark for all future transfers of film (especially the classics) to digital formats. Even Spielberg admits that his movie has never looked better — and he’s right.

Jaws is also still a brutally effective action movie, crammed with colorful characters, memorable scenes, great performances and breathtaking ocean photography. In case you’re new here: Roy Scheider stars as everyman Chief Brody, a New York cop who’s moved his family to tiny Amity Island (really Martha’s Vineyard) to get away from the dangers of the big city. Shortly after Brody arrives, a great white shark swims up on Amity and turns it into his own aquatic Golden Corral. After the local bureaucracy bumbles its way to more deaths, Brody is forced to join forces with an ocean scientist (Richard Dreyfuss) and a craggy shark fisherman (Robert Shaw) to hunt and kill the shark before it can feast on more islanders.

A sensation upon its release, Jaws became the template for all the summer blockbusters that followed. The film also became a leader in the burgeoning home video market, starting with a 1978 Laserdisc release (the first one ever produced). Of all the incarnations, my favorites have been the 1995 Laserdisc box set (which included the first appearance of the fantastic two-hour making-of documentary by Laurent Bouzereau that is still one of the better documentaries detailing the production of a film I’ve ever seen) and the 30th Anniversary Edition DVD which included the full Bouzereau doc and a bevy of other extras (deleted scenes, production notes, etc.). The Blu-ray release contains everything those earlier sets had plus some new extras, the most notable being a two-plus-hour doc entitled The Shark is Still Working that examines the impact and legacy of Jaws. The only thing missing is a commentary track by Spielberg himself, but since the director never does them, this was to be expected.

Simply put, the Jaws Blu-ray is a must-have for fans — fans of Jaws and fans of movies in general.

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