Universal Pictures is celebrating its 100 years of filmmaking with a list of 100 of its most notable films, 13 of which it is restoring. Jaws is one of those films, and in this article, we take you back into the water to find out just how safe it is to scan an original negative and bring Jaws back to life.
Jaws: Still afraid to go back into the water...
If you were old enough to go to the movies in 1975, you remember Jaws. Admit it...you can still hum composer John Williams' ominous theme song. It's the movie that made you terrified to go in the water that summer and perhaps every summer since. That's fitting since Jaws is credited with being the first-ever summer blockbuster, inventing a genre that has bankrolled the movie business ever since. Jaws -- which won three Oscars and the 1976 People's Choice Award among other honors -- also cemented the young director Steven Spielberg's reputation as a master of compelling storytelling.
Now, nearly 40 years later, Universal Pictures is celebrating its 100 years of filmmaking with a list of 100 of its most notable and beloved films, 13 of which the studio is in the process of restoring. Jaws is on that short list, along with To Kill a Mockingbird, All Quiet on the Western Front, The Birds, the 1931 Dracula and Frankenstein and The Sting, among others. Although the team of Universal executives, filmmakers and film historians had some "robust discussion" coming up with that list of 100 films and then narrowing it down to select the 13 that would be restored," says NBC Universal Archives and Collections Director Jeff Pirtle, there were no dissenting voices for Jaws.
NBC Universal Archives and Collections Director Jeff Pirtle
"Picking Jaws was a no-brainer for us," says Pirtle. "Steven Spielberg got his start at this studio and Jaws was his second feature film project at Universal. We're also celebrating the fact that Universal is a place where we've given new talent a chance."
"The release of Jaws in Summer 1975 wasn't like going to a movie," he continues. "It was a huge event. It spawned sequels, videogames, theme park rides and even musicals. It was a phenomenon that had never before been seen in the movie industry."
Universal Studios Technical Operations Senior Vice President Michael Daruty
Universal Studios Technical Operations Senior Vice President Michael Daruty concurs. "Jaws is one of our classic films and this will be the first time it'll be released on Blu-ray," he says. "We've put in the time and effort to do a full film restoration." One key component was the participation of Steven Spielberg in the restoration. "Steven wanted to be involved in this," says Daruty.
Film restoration at Universal Studios is an inside job. The studio has a state-of-the-art internal post production facility that it's used to restore some a long list of classic films including Out of Africa, Rear Window, Vertigo, Born on the Fourth of July, Erin Brockovich and many others.
The first step was to evaluate and test all the elements available from which to create a pristine restoration. According to Daruty, nearly all the other transfers were done from IPs. "Since they're a positive element, we don't take a chance in damaging the original negative," he says. "But we wanted to go from the best possible element we could for these 13 titles."
"The original negative was in fair to poor condition," says Daruty. "There were lots of light scratches, moderate to heavy dirt, perf damage and an overall grainy appearance. Going back to the original negative produced higher resolution but also had its challenges."
In October 2011, after testing several different scanners, wetgate and non-wetgate, NBC Universal scanned the negative at Cineric in New York, which used a 4K Oxberry film scanner modified for liquid gate. "It reduced or eliminated lots of scratches," says Daruty. "We found that the wetgate would help us with all the surface scratches. Otherwise, each one would have had to be manually painted out, which would have added to the complexity, time and cost. It gave us the best possible image to work with."
Working with an original negative can be nerve-wracking, but Daruty notes that NBC Universal only uses certified labs (such as Cineric) and also had YCM protection masters as a backup in case something happened. Fortunately, the scan was accomplished without incident.
Next, NBC Universal repaired film damage and did scratch and dirt removal, the latter using a combination of MTI Film's Correct DRS dust-busting tools and Autodesk Inferno as well as proprietary software for grain management. "We're always very careful how much processing we do," says Daruty. "We want the film to be as close to the original as possible."
The biggest challenge in restoring Jaws was the color grading. "There was so much variation in terms of stocks, the time of day it was shot and so on," he says. "Footage on the beach is one example. One scene was shot in the morning and the afternoon, and the look is so drastically different that evening them out was a big challenge. We had to fix the problems within the film where there were tears or damage as well as try to get the color matching right."
Universal Studios Digital Services Colorist Leo Dunn
Universal Studios Digital Services Colorist Leo Dunn handled the color correction, working with a Blackmagic Design DaVinci Resolve on a Linux-based platform. "We were fortunate enough to start with the original negative," Dunn says. "You can't do better than that as a source element." Dunn color-graded 2K proxies, for final output to 4K.
"The biggest issue overall was the various weather conditions," says Dunn. "If you watch the film and only focus on the sky, for example, you can tell they shot under various conditions: sunny, cloudy, windy, not windy. That posed a challenge for the cinematographer."
"Although they did an amazing job, it still created a challenge on my end to balance that out so you couldn't tell," he continues. "And that's a part of my job -- to balance out the look so none of that distracts you." In fact, says Dunn, he believes the restoration will be "more balanced than the original film release." "The original release was balanced or timed at the lab," he notes. "They did not have as many tools available as we have now."
The restoration was done shot by shot...and in some cases frame by frame. "For example, we came across splice bumps, where the first frame has a slight movement and in some cases a geometry change," Dunn says. "In those cases, we evened that out."
Some areas of the film required more attention than others. "On one of the beach scenes, the color and brightness are way out of whack compared to scenes around them," says Dunn. "I don't know absolutely why that was the case...it was probably an optical shot or dupe. Those are tougher to match. There were areas that needed power windows because the backgrounds out the windows weren't matching and that posed a challenge to make a shot by shot match."
Cuts also needed to match. "First and foremost we are charged to restore what the filmmaker intended and then make sure nothing distracts the viewer," says Dunn. "Nothing should take the viewer outside of the movie once you're watching. You should be absorbed in it."
In addition to the bigger challenges of color and brightness shifts, Dunn also dealt with a host of more minor issues. "There were some shots where there is production equipment in part of the shot," he says. "No one would notice, but we did. We got permission first from the production company and then removed it digitally or positioned it out." In one case Dunn recalls, he could see the shadow of a boom mic in the water off the boat. "It's safe to say that people who work in post have seen a lot of these things," he says. "Enough that we tend to catch them. But they tend to be subtle. A glint in the water might be mistaken for dirt, and you have to be careful about that."
Spielberg made a handful of tweaks, including a subtle change in the color of the glow coming off the barrels in the water
Then there were a few changes that Spielberg asked for. Getting the input of the filmmaker, wherever possible, is key to the process, says Daruty. Spielberg, he adds, was pleasantly surprised at the detail provided by the 4K scan. After scratch and dirt removal, Spielberg returned to see how the color grading and processing was going. According to Dunn, Spielberg made a handful of tweaks, including a subtle change in the color of the glow coming off the barrels in the water. "That was something he always wanted but couldn't get in the lab," says Dunn. "The fact that we made it right for him was very satisfying." Spielberg also oversaw the 7.1 audio up-mix at Universal Studios Sound.
When Spielberg gathered with the team to watch the final output, it was a fitting end to so many months of painstaking work. "I believed from the beginning that with the tools available, my experience and the incredible people that made up the NBC Universal team that we could put out a tremendous product," says Dunn. "It's a feeling that's hard to describe but to see Mr. Spielberg so happy and to see the final product, everything came together properly. It just felt so good to watch it."
None of it would have happened to that level of perfection without Universal Studio's awareness of the importance of the movie to its own history and filmmaking in general. "Thanks to Universal's commitment, we were given time and money to address anything we felt the film needed," says Dunn. "Steve Spielberg said it has never looked this good and that's the greatest nod we can ask for."
The successful restoration of Jaws is a reminder that not all the films that can benefit from restoration come from the early days of film. The benefit of restoring more recent films is that the result is a digital record that surpasses what a simple transfer could achieve. Even more tantalizing, the directors and cinematographers who made these movies are still among us, and able to return to their own movies for another chance to tweak and fix anything they had to couldn't in film world. The filmmaker still holds control of the movie's digital presentation and, perhaps more importantly, future generations won't have to guess at the filmmaker's original intent.
The newly restored Jaws, which will be available collectible Universal 100th Anniversary packaging for a limited time, will hit the streets on August 14. The Combo Pack contains a Digital Copy of the film for a limited time, compatible with iTunes, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Android or online retail partners, as well as an UltraViolet copy. Over four hours of bonus material includes the original theatrical trailer, the new documentary The Shark is Still Working with never-before-seen footage and interviews with cast and crew including Steven Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider; Jaws: The Restoration, an in-depth look at the restoration process; The Making of Jaws, a two-hour documentary; an insider's look at life on the set of Jaws, featuring an interview with Steven Spielberg; deleted scenes and outtakes; and a look at storyboards, production photos and marketing materials as well as a special segment on the Jaws phenomenon. Fans can keep up with the news on the movie's Facebook page.
Steven Spielberg on the set of "Jaws"
Jaws Film Restoration -- Own Jaws on Blu-ray August 14, 2012
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