The Hollywood summer blockbuster is one of my favorite traditions. I have many fond memories of ducking out of the heat and humidity during the hottest days of the year for the escapist bliss of an air-conditioned local metroplex and the latest big-budget movie.
This past Saturday night I took a break from the Olympics (another favorite tradition) to host my own summer blockbuster screening from the cool comfort of my basement home theater. My wife and I dialed up the nostalgia meter even further by choosing the remastered Blu-ray release of Jaws, which is one of the original summer blockbusters.
Having seen Jaws during its original theatrical release (yes, I was four years old, don’t ask) as well as during a special screening hosted by the story’s author Peter Benchley at Radio City Music Hall back in the late 1990s, I was quite familiar with the big-screen experience of director Steven Spielberg’s 1975 classic. That’s why I was especially blown away (no pun intended) by the picture and sound quality of the Blu-ray as it was projected from my Runco projector onto my 2.35:1 120-inch Screen Research screen. It wasn’t the largest screen on which I’d seen the movie, but it was the certainly the best that it had ever looked or sounded.
Universal had chosen Jaws as one of 13 classic films to be digitally remastered and fully restored from 35mm original film elements as part of Universal’s ongoing 100th Anniversary celebration. Earlier in the year, I spoke with Michael Daruty, the senior VP, technical operations, Universal Studios Operations Group, who oversees the mastering, fulfillment, and content management at the studio, who told me about the Jaws remastering process.
Daruty explained that the Jaws restoration began with researching and evaluating the existing film elements to determine the best means to restore the film. Over the course of several months, skilled technicians at Universal Studios Digital Services meticulously balanced color, removed dirt and scratches, and repaired any damage to the film elements shot by shot and frame by frame. Following the picture restoration, Universal Studios Sound team up-mixed the iconic Jaws soundtrack to DTS-HD Master 7.1. The entire restoration process was conducted in conjunction with Spielberg and Amblin Entertainment’s post-production team to ensure the integrity of Spielberg’s original vision remained intact.
“We had some scenes that literally had torn frames and those we have to digitally frame by frame fix and it takes a long time but we fixed those and nobody would even notice,” Daruty told me. “We now have a high-resolution transfer from which we created all of deliverables. We’ve created a 2K DCP for digital theatrical screenings, a new digital negative for 35mm prints to be made, and created all of our high-definition files for Blu-ray.”
A short documentary about the restoration is available on the disc and on youtube. It shows how the remastering process corrected drastic timing and color differences from the original negative.
“We did it to match was the original intent was, but we always want him to look at it and make sure that if there’s any scene that needs to be tweaked we need to check with [Spielberg],” Daruty added. “Of any creative people that are still alive, we always try to bring them in so that we can get their opinion and support. In this case, working with in 4K resolution, Steven said that on the big screen it looked better than it ever looked, even in its initial release.”
Without the side-by-side comparison of the last DVD release from which to compare, I tried to watch Jaws as if it were simply a 2012 movie to see how its quality measured up. I was impressed by the film’s crisp resolution (especially the actors’ faces) and the improved contrast in the underwater sequences (shots of the nude swimmer during the opening scene were especially, um, revealing). The yellowed, Polaroid picture “gauze” familiar from frequent TV screening of the movie were replaced by color-accurate, bright images. Of course, the actors’ clothing was still distinctly “early ’70s” and the kid playing Roy Scheider’s youngest son still has a face that only a mother could love, but the film definitely looks as good as any current release. And there’s nothing quite like the “buh dum, buh dum,” of John Williams’ famous score to set you on edge.
Here’s hoping that our manufacturer friends at CEDIA EXPO replace those worn-out clips of the bridge sequence from Vin Diesel’s Fast Five with some underwater scenes from a classic that never goes out of style.