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07 August, 2010

DVD Review: JAWS 25th Anniversary Edition

Title:  JAWS 25th Anniversary Edition

Year of Release—Film:  1975

Year of Release—DVD:  2000

DVD Label:  Universal Studios Home Entertainment

For a reviewer, deciding whether any film is a quality production, even a Horror Film, is by its nature an objective process; you view it and, if it’s well photographed, written, directed, and performed then it follows that it’s a well-made film.  Deciding whether or not that film “worked” on an individual basis with you, the viewer, is entirely subjective, however.  That’s something that can’t be measured quantitatively—it’s a question that is answered differently by each viewer.  Speaking for myself, no film has ever worked as well for me as Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic, JAWS.

To mark the film’s twenty-fifth anniversary in 2000, Universal Studios Home Entertainment released this superb DVD, one that is a fitting tribute to the movie that still reigns as the single most terrifying film that the Unimonster has ever seen—and that’s saying quite a lot.

It’s the start of the summer tourist season on Amity Island.  The town’s year-round residents, dependent upon tourism to fuel the island’s economy, are readying for the big Fourth of July celebration. The Chief of Police, a transplanted NYPD detective named Martin Brody, (played with Oscar®-caliber style by Roy Scheider) receives a call that a girl has disappeared during a late-night swim, and is presumed drowned.  Instead, when her remains are found, it’s obvious that drowning wasn’t the cause of her death.  The initial ruling is death by shark attack, and Chief Brody rushes to close the beaches.

The town leaders however, mindful that news of a shark attack off Amity’s soon-to-be-crowded shore would kill the summer business that the town depends on, pressure the coroner to amend his report, and Brody to hold off closing the beach.  Instead, he’s allowed call for an expert from a nearby oceanographic institute to help determine if they do have a problem.  Before he can arrive however, there’s another attack:  a young boy dies as a result.  There’s no longer any doubt that a killer shark is feeding off the shores of Amity Island.  A bounty of $3,000 is placed on the shark; drawing would-be shark hunters from throughout New England.

Into this confusion arrives the shark expert, a man named Hooper (a superb performance from Richard Dreyfuss).  He quickly determines that the girl did indeed die from a shark attack, and that the shark would have to be a large one.  When a fishing boat returns with a seven-foot Tiger Shark aboard, the mayor’s quick to call it a successful hunt, and proclaim the crisis at an end.  Hooper’s not sure of this, and wants to examine the shark’s stomach; anything it had eaten recently would still be inside.  The mayor flatly refuses this; the idea of the corpse of a ten-year-old boy spilling out onto the pier for all to see in his mind.  Brody and Hooper wait until nightfall to perform the necropsy; there are no human remains in the shark’s belly.  It’s not the right fish.

Even when confronted with the proof that the killer shark is still out there, the town leaders refuse to cancel the 4th of July festivities.  Boats with armed men aboard are stationed off the beach, and helicopters keep watch from above.  Brody paces the shoreline, as thousands of bathers enjoy the beautiful summer day.
However, despite the precautions, the shark gets into a small tidal pond away from the beach, attacking two small boats and killing one man.  This finishes any pretense that there’s no crisis in Amity—the summer season has effectively ended.  No one’s going back into the water.  Brody demands that the mayor hire the one man who can hunt down and exterminate the beast—Quint (a third excellent performance from Robert Shaw), an embittered old shark fisherman, a man with a deep hatred of the animals.  The mayor agrees, and the three men—Brody, Hooper, and Quint—put out to sea the find and kill this monster.

As I outlined in “The Summer of the Shark” [see above], this movie was one that had a tremendous impact on me personally.  Certainly there had been movies before this that had frightened me; that was what I loved about Horror Films—that sensation of fear that would fade as the house lights came up.  But with JAWS, that fear was there to stay… and it came back with a vengeance every time I tried to go back into the ocean near my Florida home.

Any movie that’s that effective deserves to be celebrated, and Universal Studios Home Entertainment did a wonderful job of that on this DVD.  Though this year marks the 35th since the movie’s release, JAWS has lost none of its power and impact in that time; it still remains the most frightening movie I’ve ever seen.  Something tells me it always will.

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