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Jaws: 30th Anniversary Edition

Not until Cliffhanger did someone come up with an opening scene as chilling, gripping, and downright fun as the sequence that opens Steven Spielberg's Jaws (1975). Both films begin with the demise of a helpless, innocent girl, and it's a bold, almost cruel way to start a movie. But it works, even if it perhaps can cause folks to think the film is just an above-average action thriller. Rather, Jaws is one of the truly great movies about the American experience, in its way really more like Citizen Kane and North by Northwest than its nearest relatives in the summer-movie genre. Jaws's stripped down, subplotless narrative should be well known to most readers. After a series of escalating shark attacks that compromise the economy of the small New England resort island of Amity during the summer holidays, Chief Brody (Roy Scheider), a former New Yorker, hires a fishing captain named Quint (Robert Shaw) to kill the great white responsible for the attacks. Along for the ride is Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss), a scientist with a special interest in sharks. After a long cat-and-mouse game, the trio face the monster alone on an empty sea for a final confrontation. Jaws has been showered with praise over the years for its sharp screenplay and cinematic expertise, but why is Jaws one of the great American films? From the first seconds, Spielberg commands the audience. They do his bidding. At his command they laugh, they scream, they cry. But even more important, from the first few frames, the educated viewer knows that he is in the hands of a master, a director who exerts the superhuman command that the medium demands from its best practitioners. Jaws also proved that the young Spielberg, in his short career so far at that point, already was a true student of cinema without being particularly flashy about his learning. Echoes of Hitchcock and Lang enhance the film. But besides the sheer technical accomplishment and Bill Butler's beautiful photography, the film presents a consistent moral viewpoint that is deeply moving. Far from being one of those typical movies in which the hero must "face his fear," Brody — the aquaphobe who never goes on the water — ends up being the only sane person on Amity able to slay the dragon. He is protecting a whole community, and one that doesn't fully appreciate his dedication. Universal's Jaws: 30th Anniversary Edition is a two-disc release that updates their original 2000 DVD edition five years later with a few improvements, although dedicated fans are still bound to find a few details lacking. The transfer, while very good, appears identical to the initial release, while the Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1 audio tracks are now combined on one disc, joined by the original Dolby Stereo audio (included for purists). Disc One includes a reel of deleted scenes and outtakes (13 min.) as well a vintage featurette (8 min.), while the chief attraction is found on Disc Two: The Making of Jaws, the two-hour documentary that first appeared on Laserdisc and was cut down by half for the 2000 DVD edition. Also on board are four storyboard galleries, and while a few small features have gone by the wayside for this incarnation, only the lack of theatrical trailers could be considered an oversight. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case, with glossy color booklet, in paperboard sleeve.
—D.K. Holm

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