I had known about it for well over a year, but this week's official announcement had me giddy with excitement. My favourite film of all time – JAWS – is coming to Blu-ray on September 3 in the UK and August 14 in the US, and with the hotly anticipated THE SHARK IS STILL WORKING feature-length documentary finally being released with it. The Blu-ray is part of Universal Pictures' 100th year celebrations and I personally can't wait to have it in my hands.
I had the opportunity to have a quick chat with the man who oversaw the restoration and remastering of JAWS – as well as all of Universal's centenary Blu-ray titles – Michael Daruty, the Senior Vice President of Technical Operations, Universal Studios Ops Group, so check out my interview below as we discuss the arduous task of making one of the finest films ever made look the best it ever has. There's also a little exclusive tidbit (correct me if I'm wrong) with regards to the studio's plans for their legendary monster movies.
BRITGEEK: Hi, Mike, how are you doing?
MICHAEL DARUTY: I'm good, how are you, Adam?
BG: I'm great, thanks. It's a pleasure to speak to you today.
MD: You too.
BG: It's definitely good to talk about my all-time favourite film.
MD: Oh good. You'll enjoy it [laughs].
BG: So with the restoration of JAWS, I see that you decided to go with restoring the original negative.
MD: Yes, we did.
BG: What was the process you went through to reach the point where you decided to go with the original negative?
MD: We researched all of the elements, so we looked at all the existing elements from the original negative to the inner positive to the negative prints, everything, and during that evaluation process we were looking to determine what would give us the best quality, the best resolution, and also how much work we would have to do on the element.
We did choose the original camera negative because it is the highest quality, even though the camera negative was in fair to poor condition due to its use over the years. It had multiple running scratches, moderate to heavy dirt, some film and perf damage and an overall grainy appearance, but it did give us the highest resolution based on our testing because we knew that we could use some tools to be able to correct those problems.
MD: It started with conducting a liquid or wet gate scan. So we conducted the liquid gate scanning which filled a lot of the running scratches, so then when we scanned it to 4k, which is the environment that we scanned the negative to and worked in. We were able to correct a lot of the scratches that were in it just by the wet gate process. And then with all of our digital tools and skilled technicians, we were able to correct all of the other problems with our dirt removal systems and our editing and systems that fix damage, and then we had some great processing to try and manage some of the grain.
BG: So it was certainly a meticulous process.
MD: Yeah, it is, it took us months to work on this and then we brought Mr. Spielberg in at certain points of it, got his opinion on how the colour grading was going, how the digital restoration and the grain management was, took a few notes from him, brought him back in after we made some corrections, and he was very pleased with the outcome.
BG: In June of last year actually, Steven spoke to [Quint] and that's when I believe he first mentioned that JAWS was being worked on for a Blu-ray release.
MD: We were getting ready to start at that time, yeah.
BG: How closely involved was he?
MD: Well, Steven understands the importance of this film to him as well as to the studio, so everything was pulled out, there was nothing left unturned in making sure this title looked as best as it could.
BG: I think it's great that you were able to get Steven on board. I mean, obviously, no one can argue with his vision, but I think one of the problems that exists with remasters – generally – is that often the crew member brought in as a consultant while the film is being worked on may have had a different vision to the director. Using a film I saw last year as an example, where the cinematographer was brought in, the colour palette had dramatically changed much to the chagrin of fans and all because that person had always thought it should be that way. So, it's great that Steven was able to come in and share his feedback with you.
MD: Steven's very supportive about making himself available to go through the process. Our intention is always to match to the original look of the [film] and the film-makers' vision, so as long as we stay along those lines we're usually pretty close to what he's looking for.
BG: What were his views on the amount of grain? Audiences are always hard to please where classics are concerned. Some like it, some don't.
MD: It always is, but you need grain; film has inherent grain in it. When we're dealing with high resolution content like that and an original negative that has some grain in it, it's a fine line on managing that, and I think we've managed that fairly well in the look of the [film]. He was very happy with it.
BG: What kind of notes did Steven make?
MD: We had a few minor corrections. One of the scenes... the opening scene, [Chrissy's] in the water, and there's so much more detail coming from the original negative and scanning it at 4k, and looking at it at high resolution you see so much more detail than we've seen in previous HD versions, that he wanted to bring out a little more detail and brighten that scene up just a little bit so you could see her. So minor corrections like that is all we did.
BG: So when you're remastering and restoring for the Blu-ray format, how does that process compare to DVD and then going back to VHS?
MD: Well, we start out at a very high resolution, so we're working in a 4k environment and then we will create another digital negative from that 4k; we will create our HD masters from that; we will create archival 4k elements as well as digital elements that we protect and geographically separate, and then the HD elements are used to create the Blu-ray compression and that is handled by our home video group.
BG: Talking sound, the Blu-ray has the new 7.1 HD mix.
MD: Yeah, it's a 7.1 up-mix that was conducted from the 5.1 remix that was done from the two-channel stereo original, and the 7.1 sounds fantastic.
BG: Are there any changes with the 7.1 compared to the 5.1 remix? When the DVD came out, some of the effects had been changed.
MD: Yeah. No, Steven's pretty adamant about maintaining the original intent of what his work shows, so all they did was take the 5.1, they up-mixed it to 7.1, and, you know, through the sound process there's some adjustments that were made to get things in the other two channels, but there's no significant creative changes to it.
BG: JAWS is one of many classic titles getting the Blu-ray treatment to mark Universal's 100th year. Has working on the film been any different to the others?
MD: They all require a great deal of work. They all are unique. They have their own characteristics from their era, their film-making, the films themselves, the materials... but JAWS is exciting for us to work on because it's such a great title for us as a company and as a title from Mr. Spielberg's library, but they all are unique. The same kind of processing we worked on with JAWS is the same that we did with TO KILL A MOCKING BIRD, ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT and BUCK PRIVATES, and will be the same as what we do on our monster series that we're releasing. They're all scanned at high resolutions.
BG: So do you think the work done on JAWS has maximised the potential of the format?
MD: Definitely, I mean the JAWS work that was done is just outstanding. Steven said it looks better than it's ever looked in the theatre, and I think he refers to that in the restoration video that he was a part of.
BG: Which is on the Blu-ray.
BG: Excellent. Well I certainly can't wait to see it.
MD: I'm sure you will enjoy it!
So there you go, the 411 on the meticulous process that my favourite movie of all time went through to reach a Blu-ray disc. Excited? I certainly am. And who else noticed Michael's mention of the monster series? It's been rumoured since last year, but it appears we now have confirmation that the classic Universal Monsters movies are being worked on for release on Blu-ray.
JAWS is released on Blu-ray disc in the US on August 14 and the UK on September 3. Yes, those of us in the UK have to wait a little longer, but we get a limited edition Steelbook to go with the regular edition.
Here's what you can find in addition to the feature on the disc:
THE SHARK IS STILL WORKING: THE IMPACT & LEGACY OF JAWS: All-new feature-length documentary featuring never-before-seen footage and interviews with cast and crew, including Steven Spielberg, Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider.
JAWS: The Restoration: An all-new, in-depth look at the intricate process of restoring the movie.
The Making of JAWS: A two-hour documentary featuring interviews with key cast and crew.
From the Set: An insider's look at life on the set of JAWS, featuring an interview with Steven Spielberg.
Deleted scenes & outtakes.
JAWS Archives: Take a peek inside the JAWS archives, including storyboards, production photos and marketing materials, as well as a special segment on the JAWS phenomenon.
Original theatrical trailer.
UltraViolet: The revolutionary new way for consumers to collect movies and TV shows, store them in the cloud, and download and stream instantly to computers, tablets and smartphones. Currently available in the United States only.
Digital Copy: Viewers can redeem a digital copy of the full-length movie from a choice of retail partners to watch on an array of electronic and portable devices.
pocket BLU App: The popular free pocket BLU app for smartphones is now even better with newly updated versions for iPad, Android tablets, PC and Mac computers, with features made especially to take advantage of the devices' larger screens and high resolution displays.