Thanks to a stunning Blu-ray restoration, Steven Spielberg's classic thriller looks as sharp as ever

By Chris Nashawaty
August 10, 2012 at 04:00 AM EDT

My parents took me to some pretty inappropriate movies when I was a kid: twisted tales about haunted houses and satanic rites, featuring unambiguous titles like Burnt Offerings, The Omen, and Race With the Devil. But the one that scarred me the deepest didn’t need any demons or curses to do it. I was 6 years old when I saw Jaws (1975, PG, 2 hrs., 4 mins.) in the summer of ’75, and I can still vividly recall watching Steven Spielberg’s maritime munchfest through my trembling fingers, corkscrewing myself deeper and deeper into my seat with each feeding frenzy. By the time Roy Scheider realized he was gonna need a bigger boat, it was clear that one day I would need a better shrink. John Williams’ harrowing duh-duh, duh-duh score became the soundtrack to my nightmares. And after seeing “the little Kintner boy” get turned into bloody chum, not only did I refuse to dip my pinkie toe in the ocean for the remainder of that summer, I was convinced that a great white was going to burst out of the drain of our bathtub or — against all the laws of physics — squeeze through the showerhead and attack me while I had shampoo in my eyes. Needless to say, I didn’t bathe much that year. Since then, I’ve seen Jaws dozens of times. You probably have too. But you’ve never seen it look as good as it does on Blu-ray. As part of Universal’s 100th anniversary, the studio had its crack team of preservation nerds go back into the vaults, dig out the original negative of the film, and remove all of the scratches and celluloid crow’s-feet. The digital makeover, which is detailed in one of the disc’s new EXTRAS, is nothing short of a miracle. This isn’t just another old film being slightly tarted up and slapped onto Blu-ray for the purpose of making a few extra bucks. This is a head-to-toe restoration — and it’s a revelation. From the famous opening scene, where a skinny-dipping girl becomes Amity Island’s first thrashing victim, you’ll see the film with a clarity and crispness it hasn’t had since the summer of ’75. Scenes that you thought you knew by heart feel like you’re watching them for the first time.

When Scheider’s phobic Chief Brody, Richard Dreyfuss’ four-eyed ichthyologist Hooper, and Robert Shaw’s barking old salt Quint head out to sea on the Orca to face the three-ton beast, you can actually see stars shoot across the moonlit sky. Who even knew they were there? The underwater sequences are now less muddy. And yes, even the blood looks redder. Over the past 37 years, Spielberg has taken a lot of heat for Jaws. High-brow cineasts like to bellyache that, as the first modern blockbuster, the film single-handedly killed off the thoughtful, noncommercial films of the early ’70s and ushered in the Age of the Tentpole. That’s half true and half baloney. After all, Jaws is a smarter, more complex film than its high-concept premise and gaudy box office receipts would have you believe. Just go back and watch Shaw’s powerhouse USS Indianapolis speech again. After swapping macho, top-this stories with Hooper about their scars, Quint explains the significance behind the faded tattoo on his arm — how the ship he was on during WWII was torpedoed and the crew was left adrift for days, fighting off man-eaters. It knocks the wind out of your gut. And his haunting delivery reveals everything you need to know about his Ahab-with-a-death-wish character. It’s one of the all-time great movie monologues. Problem is, if you’re used to seeing Jaws on TV, you’ve missed half of what makes it so chilling. Shown in wide-screen, as it is on this disc, the scene gets an emotional boost as Dreyfuss listens in awe next to Shaw instead of being cropped out of the frame entirely. It’s a small, subtle improvement, but it’s the kind of tiny detail that fans will eat up. It may only be August, but this is the Blu-ray to beat for the year’s best. A

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