Jaws of life

Spielberg's 1975 blockbuster finally receives the DVD treatment it deserves

Most of the DVD's deleted scenes deserved to be excised; there's little here among the 10 minutes of cutting-room-floor material worth remembering, save for an excruciating scene in which Quint terrifies a music student who can't quite play "Ode to Joy." The expunged frames contain needless exposition, empty small talk. A scene in which Hooper whines to Brody about a girl who likes to make obscene phone calls on his credit card is funny but goes nowhere. On the other hand, the two outtakes, or bloopers, are short and sweet: In one, Scheider repeatedly tries to fire a gun, only to find the prop is jammed. Finally, he becomes disgusted: "Aw, fuck!" he shouts, as he's clearly a man who lost his sense of humor somewhere off the coast of Martha's Vineyard.

But the documentary contains the most revelatory outtakes: excised footage of the malfunctioning shark and scenes in which the ominous fins come out of the water and reveal harnesses and wire below. Spielberg also talks about why he deleted some of the more graphic scenes from the movie--including one in which Brody's son Michael (Chris Rebello) is nearly dragged to an underwater death by one of the shark's victims, which retains its gruesome impact even with the director's voice-over--in order to preserve its tension. The making-of film, which also features interviews with all of the stars (save for Shaw, who died in 1978) and producers and screenwriters, serves Jaws far better than any director's commentary, of which there is none, because we see what other filmmakers only talk about.

Steven Spielberg, courageous and stupid on the set of Jaws
Steven Spielberg, courageous and stupid on the set of Jaws

The 75-plus minutes' worth of bonus material--which also includes production photos, storyboards, and a trivia game--is among the best to be found on a special-edition disc; among the major studios, Universal is a leader at providing warts-and-all packages. But it's all gravy: Not since Jaws appeared in theaters on June 20, 1975, has it looked so vivid, so alive (even the blood looks as though it's fresh from the victims' veins). But this release is a small step for major studios, which have yet to catch up to the demand for the new technology. Not only do Spielberg's best and most popular films remain unreleased on DVD, but The Godfather and Star Wars movies--not to mention Citizen Kane, Some Like it Hot, Lawrence of Arabia, Rear Window, and Sunset Boulevard--likewise are not slated for DVD release anytime soon. This cleaned-up, souped-up Jaws can only frustrate those forced to watch America's best films on deteriorating videotape or on television, which snips and trims history to fit it onto the small screen. Audiences, and movies, deserve better.

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