The Film That Made People Afraid of the Water Turns 45
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb. Based on the novel by Peter Benchley
Starring: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
On June 2, 2020, Universal Pictures Home Entertainment unleashed Jaws – 45th Anniversary Limited Edition, a two-disc set which presents Steven Spielberg’s first blockbuster film in two Blu-ray formats: 4K Ultra High Definition (UHD) and High Definition (HD), along with the Movies Anywhere code for a digital copy.
Packaged in a striking lenticular slipcover and accompanied by a 44-page collectible booklet, this marks the UHD debut of the classic adventure movie about a small New England town police chief’s efforts to deal with a rogue great white shark that has attacked several swimmers at the start of the busy summer tourist season. Jaws – 45th Anniversary Limited Edition was also released 18 days before the 45th Anniversary of the film’s premiere date – June 20, 1975.
“You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat…”
Adapted from Peter Benchley’s 1974 best-selling novel by Benchley and actor-writer Carl Gottlieb, Jaws takes place in mid-1970s Amity, a small Cape Cod-like community that is largely dependent on tourism for its subsistence. Its economic survival is jeopardized when a young woman named Chrissie Watkins (Susan Blacklinie) goes for a moonlight skinny-dip in the waters off Amity Beach – and is promptly killed by a shark.
In the morning, the town’s relatively new Chief of Police, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), gets a missing person report from the young man who was the last person to see Chrissie alive. But when Deputy Hendricks (Jeffrey Kramer) discovers the young woman’s remains on the beach, and the town coroner determines she died as a result of a shark attack, Brody realizes that he and his community have a serious problem in their hands.
Mayor Vaughn: Martin, it’s all psychological. You yell ‘barracuda,’ everybody says, ‘Huh? What?’ You yell ‘shark,’ we’ve got a panic on our hands on the Fourth of July.
At first, the town’s elected officials, led by Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) try to cover up the first shark attack. As he explains to Brody in an effort to justify the decision to keep the beaches open, Amity is a small “summer town” that depends on “summer dollars.”
Mayor Vaughn insists that the “accident” that killed Chrissie is an isolated affair and orders the beaches to remain open. But the shark has claimed the waters offshore as its new feeding ground and kills a boy named Alex Kintner (Jeffrey Voorhees) only a few yards away from the beach.
This incident forces the reluctant Mayor Vaughn and his town council cronies to act. After Mrs. Kintner (Lee Fierro) places a $25,000 bounty on the shark, Vaughn and the town elders make a compromise that pleases no one: the beaches will be closed, but not on the all-important Fourth of July weekend.
Brody is a paradox – he’s a former New York City police officer with a phobia about being in the water yet accepted a job as police chief in a small island town – but he takes his oath to protect and serve his community seriously. Come hell or high water, he’s going to save Amity, not only from the shark he is convinced is stalking the waters offshore, but from short-sighted and narrow-minded politicians like Larry Vaughn.
Forced to confront his deepest fears and those of his wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary), Brody joins forces with shark expert Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) and a crusty local captain named Quint (Robert Shaw) to find and kill the deadly aquatic predator – a 30-foot-long great white shark.
Quint: [seeing Hooper’s equipment] What are you? Some kind of half-assed astronaut?
Quint (Cont’d): Jesus H Christ, when I was a boy, every little squirt wanted to be a harpooner or a sword fisherman. What d’ya have there – a portable shower or a monkey cage?
Hooper: Anti-shark cage.
Quint: Anti-shark cage. You go inside the cage?
Quint: Cage goes in the water; you go in the water. Shark’s in the water. Our shark.
Quint (sings): Farewell and adieu to you, fair Spanish ladies. Farewell and adieu, you ladies of Spain. For we’ve received orders for to sail back to Boston. And so nevermore shall we see you again.
The stage is set for one of the most thrilling – and nerve-racking – confrontation between men and nature. And when Brody, Hooper, and Quint go out to sea aboard Quint’s Orca, there’s no guarantee that they will return to Amity alive.
Steven Spielberg’s Jaws is a rarity among movie adaptations of such literary works as short stories, novellas, or novels; as written by Peter Benchley and Carl Gottlieb (with uncredited assists from Howard Sackler, John Milius, and actor-writer Robert Shaw), Jaws is better than the best-selling novel that inspired producers David Brown and Richard Zanuck to adapt it in the first place.
The novel is good, don’t get me wrong. I read the Reader’s Digest Condensed Books edition countless times during the Summer of Jaws – my mother didn’t let me go see the movie in theaters, but paradoxically she let me read the abridged version of the book. I read the unabridged novel when I was a student at South Miami High, along with ‘Salem’s Lot and Carrie by Stephen King. It’s the perfect “beach read,” really; Benchley was a good storyteller, with a good sense of pacing and a lot of information about sharks, their physiology, and other traits, mixed in with suspense and elements of horror.
Nevertheless, when producers Brown and Zanuck hired Benchley to do the first draft of the screenplay, they told him the movie was going to be a straightforward adventure and that many of the novel’s subplots had to go, including an extramarital affair between Ellen Brody and Matt Hooper, and Mayor Vaughn’s business dealings with local Mafiosos. Brown, Zanuck, and – eventually – director Steven Spielberg believed those subplots were not important to the story, so out they went.
Spielberg also believed that Jaws needed humor to lighten the movie’s tone, otherwise Jaws would just be a dark horror story. To spice the film with the necessary amount of levity, Spielberg asked actor-writer Carl Gottlieb to come up with additional material for supporting characters, including lines that could be improvised in front of the camera – either on the set or on location.
Hooper: Boys, oh boys… I think he’s come back for his noon feeding.
Spielberg made a risky choice and shot Jaws at sea instead of the controlled environment of a water tank at Universal Studios in Culver City (CA). At first, Spielberg’s decision proved disastrous. Bad weather caused costly delays in principal photography; the cast and crew members became seasick; and Spielberg’s judgment was put in question. And if that wasn’t bad enough, the film’s three animatronic sharks, all named Bruce, did not work as well as the director hoped. As a result, Spielberg had to keep his great white shark out of sight for much of the film.
However, the hassles with the balky Bruces proved to be providential and contributed to Jaws’ success. Accidentally, Spielberg managed to make the lethal great white’s non-appearance seem more menacing and frightening.
Serendipitously, Spielberg takes a cinematic trick from Alfred Hitchcock’s playbook of suspenseful filmmaking. By not showing us the shark until late in the movie, Spielberg creates a sense of growing tension and unease.
We usually fear what we can’t see, especially when we are swimming in the ocean. In Jaws, we only know that danger approaches when John Williams’ two-note shark motif plays in the background and Spielberg’s camera shows a vulnerable potential victim in the dark blue waters of the North Atlantic.
Jaws is a character-driven picture, which is rare in the action-horror genre. Screenwriters Gottlieb and Benchley focus more on the human players of the story rather than on Jaws’ “creature feature” elements. Their script gives the shark hunters – Brody Brody, Hooper, and Quint – well-drawn and relatable personalities that allow audiences to identify with and root for them as they go off on their quest to catch and kill the deadly white shark.
45 years after its release, Jaws is still one of the greatest adventures ever made. It’s also one of the most successful films in history. In 1975, its domestic box office gross of $260 million set a record that lasted until Star Wars’ theatrical run in 1977. Per Box Office Mojo, Jaws is the seventh top-grossing film of all time when the effects of inflation are factored in.
Along with Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and Superman, Jaws ushered in the era of the Big Tentpole Movie. Crowd-pleasing wide-release films such as Die Hard, Indiana Jones, and the various Marvel Cinematic Universe films probably would not exist if any of those three filmshad flopped.
Jaws also catapulted the then-27-year-old Steven Spielberg into a long and wildly successful career as one of the world’s eminent filmmakers. This was only his second feature film; his first theatrically released effort, The Sugarland Express, earned good reviews but was not a box office hit. That movie’s producers – David Brown and Richard Zanuck – nevertheless saw that the young director of TV series episodes and the TV movie Duel had talent. And by assigning Spielberg to direct Jaws, they laid the foundation for a brilliant career that includes such films as E.T., The Color Purple, Schindler’s List, Jurassic Park, Amistad, Saving Private Ryan, Lincoln, Bridge of Spies, and The Post.
The 45th Anniversary Limited Edition Set
Universal Pictures Home Entertainment released the Jaws: 45th Limited Edition multi-format two-disc set on June 2. It consists of a lenticular slipcover case with an updated riff on Roger Kastel’s original poster art from 1975. This slipcover contains:
- Jaws in a 4K Ultra High Definition Blu-ray Disc
- Jaws in a 1080p High Definition Blu-ray Disc
- Insert with Movies Anywhere Digital Copy Code
- 44-page Collector’s Booklet
Although I own a Samsung 4K UHD TV and a compatible Blu-ray player with the proper cables and a Samsung sound bar, those items have not been fully set up, so I can’t comment on the UHD elements of this release. But according to Martin Liebman’s review on Blu-ray.com, here’s a little taste of what you can expect from the native 4K (2160p) disc’s video:
For its 45th anniversary, Universal brings Jaws to the UHD format with a practically impeccable 2160p/Dolby Vision UHD presentation. In the early minutes beyond the campfire scene the picture demonstrates superb command of its elements, the first of many notable scenes of practically reference quality. Grain is fine, accentuating the native filmic roots and bolstering the sense of cinematic texturing that sweeps through the shots with resplendent accuracy. Throughout, the picture proves to be very dynamic. There are many examples of notable, superb textures that stand apart at this resolution, notably period attire: light jackets, heavier sports coats, even a thin veil worn by a grieving mother. There’s a tangible increase in sharpness and clarity across the board when comparing to the previously issued, and still perfectly workable, Blu-ray, but the UHD brings out the absolute best the original elements have to offer. Many of the weathered accents around the beaches and piers are tack-sharp and tactile and details both interior and exterior around town gain appreciable boosts to sharpness and clarity, even at distance, obvious in comparison but even plain to see when simply watching the UHD straight through. Skin textures and hairs are unsurprisingly some of the most obvious beneficiaries of the resolution increase and clarity gains. What a vivid, flowing, and fine film-like experience. – Martin Liebman, May 23, 2020 review.
As for the 1080p “regular” Blu-ray, it’s the same disc that Universal released eight years ago as part of its Centennial Anniversary series. As Liebman says in his review of the 45th Anniversary Limited Edition Jaws set, this Blu-ray is “still perfectly workable.” It contains the film itself, as well as the following extra features (* indicates availability on both UHD and BD discs)
- The Making of Jaws*
- The Shark is Still Working: The Impact and Legacy of Jaws*
- Jaws: The Restoration*
- Deleted Scenes and Outtakes*
- From the Set *
- Theatrical Trailer*
- Jaws Archives (1080p BD only)
Overall, I like the 45th Anniversary Limited Edition release of this classic film. The new cover art does take some getting used to, but on the whole, it’s not a bad set to get, especially if you are building a UHD collection for a 4K TV with the proper player connected. (4K UHD discs will not play on a regular 1080p BD player.) The packaging is nice – especially the lenticular art on the slipcover.
The 44-page booklet, too, is a nice bonus that includes stills and publicity photos of the main cast members, short bios, a short history of how Jaws was made, and other cool information about this 1975 classic.
I’m looking forward to watching Jaws in its 4K version! It will take a while, but I’ll see it in its fully restored UHD glory.
 Named after Spielberg’s lawyer, Bruce Ramer