You know what the best thing about the release of the 30th Anniversary Edition of Jaws is? It gives me an excuse to talk about one of my all-time favorite movies, and arguably one of the greatest films of all time.
Kind of odd how a film about a big killer fish can somehow be considered a classic, but Jaws is exactly that: a classic. It’s a well crafted story with terrific characters and great dialogue. It’s visually beautiful, with music that’s powerful but also adds tension to a film that defines exactly what the soundtrack to a film is supposed to do. I mean, in how many cases is the music just as famous as the movie itself?
I can’t actually tell you when the first time was that I saw Jaws. I was born the year it was released — did I just reveal my age? — and think I caught it for the first time on television at some point when I was a kid. I have a vague memory of seeing Jaws 2 in the theaters — my gosh, I was only three years old, what were my parents thinking! That explains a lot.
Anyway, the original Jaws was something that always stuck in my mind. The character that really made an impression on me was Quint, played with perfection by Robert Shaw (even though I also felt that I had more in common with Brody). Quint’s accent, his demeanor, his near obsession with the shark were fascinating. And of course the story about the U.S.S. Indianapolis was an eye-opening revelation for me.
For those who live in caves, here’s the basic premise of Jaws:
The small seaside town of Amityville become terrorized by a great white shark. The town’s chief of police, Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), a young marine biologist (Richard Dreyfuss) and a bitter fisherman (Shaw) journey out to sea to confront this deadly menace, in a classic confrontation of man versus nature.
What makes this film work so well is the characters. Instantly likeable and played flawlessly by its main trio: Scheider, Dreyfuss and Shaw. That testosterone dynamic is, I believe, one of the driving forces of the film. So when the three of them venture out to tackle the beast and kill the great white, we the audience are committed to them. We feel for them, relate to them, and want them to survive and succeed.
I can’t say that the frights ever really scared me, but like the millions of others who have seen Jaws, I never looked at going to the beach quite the same. The idea of something lurking beneath the waves is pretty much always in my consciousness whenever I put a foot into the ocean.
Now, I purchased the original DVD release of this film a few years back, and ironically it was also dubbed as an “anniversary edition” because it came out when the film hit the 25-year mark. The new, 30th Annivesary Edition has the same menu set up, but comes with a second disc occupied largely by a two-hour documentary on the making of the Jaws. It’s an outstanding documentary, containing some great interviews with Steven Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss and others. For the most part, I’m not sure we learn anything that hasn’t been repeatedly explored in the past, but there was one section which I thought was kind of interesting.
One of the most talked about scenes in the film is the bit where Quint talks about his experience on the Indianapolis. It’s a brilliant monologue delivered with amazing heart and timing by Shaw. But where this monologue came from has been discussed in different ways, as it went through different incarnations with different writers. What I thought interesting about the documentary was that it seemed to draw a clear line that three different writers participated in its creation, with Shaw — a talented playwright — getting the final credit. However, the man ultimately credited with the script, Carl Gottlieb, is left out of this equation.
I recall that the E! network did a “True Hollywood Story” about the making of Jaws a few years back, and in it Gottlieb got very defensive about the speech. His version differed in that he was involved in rewriting the speech, but none of this is mentioned in the DVD’s documentary. I don’t know which is true, but I thought this difference was interesting.
The 30th Anniversary Edition of Jaws also include a cool British documentary made during the film’s production, as well as deleted scenes and outtakes, which I believe were also on the 25th edition. Lastly, there is a 60-page commemorative booklet featuring a series of great photographs both from the movie and behind-the-scenes.