There are some movie buffs who regard Steven Spielberg’s Jaws as a sort of Great White Antichrist. They’ll say the maritime munchfest signaled the demise of the thoughtful, noncommercial films of the late ’60s and early ’70s and ushered in an era of thrill-seeking summer blockbusters. For me, Jaws will always be the one movie I can throw on anytime and instantly be transported back to the summer of ‘75, when I was too terrified even to take a bath.
Now MCA/Universal is commemorating Jaws’ 20th anniversary by issuing a letterboxed version of the film for the first time on tape and tacking on 10 extra minutes of interviews with Spielberg and his cast. (A $149.98 deluxe laserdisc edition also includes a copy of Peter Benchley’s novel, a CD of John Williams’ Academy Award-winning score, outtakes, and storyboards.) This crisp, new, digitally remastered transfer is a revelation, especially considering the beat-up copies available in most video stores. This new Jaws will remind viewers that there’s more to the film than its visceral bloodlettings; there are the political intrigues of the insecure beach resort of Amity and the camaraderie and fear aboard the clunky little Orca, whose three crew members realize, as Roy Scheider’s Brody says upon first sighting their three-ton foe, ”We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
The film’s most powerful scene — in which the weathered old salt Quint (Robert Shaw) hauntingly recounts the wreck of the U.S.S. Indianapolis — gets an emotional boost here from the wide-screen treatment, as oceanographer Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) listens in awe next to him instead of being cropped out of the frame entirely, as in the earlier edition. It’s a rediscovered small, searing moment that easily matches the best of those quieter, less commercial films Jaws supposedly ate alive. A