Jaws: Before and After

Screw any introduction of myself (that will come later). I’m just going to leap into this blog thing. My first post is both praise for my favorite film and an indictment of a drop in standards.  When Jaws came out on DVD in 2000, I was understandably thrilled. Pretty quickly, however, I was appalled to see—hear—that the sound was quite different than I had remembered…

How did this happen? How did the sound of a three-ton shark crashing through the side of a boat go from sounding like a ’73 Buick Riviera driving into your living room to Zelda Rubenstein dropping a champagne glass in your kitchen? I can only speculate.

Y’see, Jaws was originally mixed in (glorious) mono, and, naturally, that doesn’t sit right with the present-day sound-crazed home-theater owners. So when it was time to make the DVD, Universal did what was necessary to make a 5.1 mix for the film, which included re-recording several sound effects. And whoever was hired to do that phoned it in. (The whole film is missing chunks of great sound FX.) And someone (Universal? Spielberg?) gave it a stamp of approval. And this new mix was the only soundtrack available on the DVD!

And so here I was, a sound editor buying his All-Time Favorite Film, cringing at a desecration and daydreaming of the day when the word “blog” would be invented. I should be clear that I wasn’t the only one to think the sound FX work for Jaws was amazing: this film won only three Oscars, and one of those was for its Sound.

Gratefully, when Universal did its money-grubbing 30th Anniversary Edition DVD in 2005, the mono track was included—though it defaults to the 5.1 mix, which I think (as I’ve made perfectly clear) sounds like shit. And as I note in the clip, if you’re lucky enough to see a new print of Jaws (which looks gorgeous, BTW) in a movie theater, it will have this less-than-thrilling soundtrack.

One of these days I’ll post more examples of the tremendous inadequacy of the new soundtrack. Laughable and sad.

And yes, I welcome—encourage—anyone who was responsible for the sound FX on the remixed Jaws to drop me a line. I’d love to hear what you have to say to a fellow sound editor.

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19 Comments

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19 responses to “Jaws: Before and After

  1. Ken Yapelli

    My guess – and I think I’ve said this before – is a rushed deadline and the use of lots of stock sound effects.

  2. Jeanette

    I remember the day you brought the dvd (or was it a vhs copy from the dvd?) into Spin Cycle and made me listen to the sound. You were so disappointed!

    • Yeah, I was pretty pissed. It’s a little silly to start this whole blog thing with this post bec. I’ve been bitching about the sound in this film for 9 freakin’ years. I’m sure most of the people who’ve read it so far have thought, “He’s still griping about this?! Give it a rest.”

  3. Mom

    I find this comparison interesting. As a lay person I would have never noticed the difference. Pointed out, it certainly does effect the scene.
    Like your blog. Although it has to do with your particular interest, I find it eclectic.

  4. Erin

    “…[like] Zelda Rubenstein dropping a champagne glass in your kitchen…” – HA! (Rip Ms. Rubenstein)

    I’m glad you started off with this, when you showed it to me in person it blew my mind and now I’m glad I can forward it on to others that I’ve mentioned it to.

  5. Interesting. Rooting around now for my copy!

  6. Just pulled it!

    We were screwed over in the UK my r2 disk has DD5.1 and DTS but no original soundtrack. The 5.1 DTS has had something done to it though as it has more presence.

    Now stop making me think nerd thoughts!

  7. Fred B. Smith

    (Since I’m rooting through old blog entries)

    The stereo remix for The Terminator had the same problem, mostly notably in the scene where the Terminator arrives at the wrong Sarah Connor’s house:

    Ahnold: “Sarah Conner?”

    Her: “Yes?”

    ..at which point he shoves open the door, and fires several shots- BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!- into her, before blithely walking away in full view of the neighbors. In the remix, the gun shots sound *silenced*- *thwip**thwip**thwip*- which robs the scene of its visceral power. Of all the times to try subtlety, Cameron…

    At which point

  8. Pingback: The terrifying motion picture from the terrifying No. 1 best seller. « Peel Slowly

  9. David

    From now on, I think films should stay in their original sound mode instead of being re-recorded to the “newer” sounds. I wonder how many other films were changed from their original masterpiece sound effects to the newer garbage sound effects…besides those already listed here.

  10. J. McCrackan

    I was obsessed with ‘Jaws’ for years–read and reread the book, saw the movie over & over, bought the soundtrack several times because I kept wearing it out (back when you *could* wear out an album). I obsessed over ‘Jaws’ the way my peers obsessed over ‘Star Wars.’

    I was therefore very excited to finally get the 30th-anni edition, and I of course found it somehow underwhelming. I dismissed the experience to a) you can’t go home again and b) it’s just not the same watching it at home vs. in a theater. But no, you’re right: it’s the shoddy mono-to-stereo conversion.

    Know anyone whom we can complain to?

    • Hey! Thanks for chiming in. As far as complaining to someone, ironically, I recently had a conversation with a friend who suggested I track down the guys who did the sound work for the conversion. Of course, they would be powerless to make amends, so to speak, but it might make for an interesting conversation/interview/post.

      But to actually complain to the powers that be, I think there’s some similar rumblings on sites much more devoted to Jaws than mine is. Here’s a page of links for a few of them (we’re not alone!):
      http://www.jawsmoviearchives.com/links/links_html/links_and_contacts_1.html
      I remember one had a petition in the late 90s about the 25th Anniversary DVD–and I know many of their requests were implemented. Now whether it was that petition that made a difference we’ll never know. But I do know there’s other cool shit we’ve yet to see (i.e. some of the cast members were on the Mike Douglas Show to promote, something like that), so there’s definitely more versions that could be on the inevitable Blu-Ray.

  11. iad

    I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY ONE !!!!

    Watched Jaws non-stop as a kid and memorized EVERYTHING ,

    Few years ago bought the 25th anniversary edition …. like you said it looks great but something wasn’t right i noticed it on a few occasions
    Quint firing at jaws (sounds different)
    Quints rifle after the indianapolis speech (different)
    brody’s pistol
    the explosion from the engine !! sounds like a muted puff now !!
    sinking of the Orca and Jaws crashing through the glass (your example)

    But the biggest one for me was Brody’s rifle at the end and the explosion …. just sounds …. bad ….. i remember the mono mix , the explosion had like a ricochet explosion effect (if that makes sense !)

    If the Newest Dvd has a mono mix on I’ll just have to buy it again i guess ….

    • “I THOUGHT I WAS THE ONLY ONE !!!!”
      I love it when the internet makes us realize we’re part of a community. I mean, isn’t that what it’s for? Frankly, it’s one of the reasons I started this blog, so I could find out if others/how many others felt like I do.

      The list of differences between the mono mix and the remix is sad and staggering, isn’t it? I have one other post about those discrepancies (https://peelslowlynsee.wordpress.com/2010/06/20/jaws-the-terrifying-motion-picture/) and then I gave up on it. I felt too cynical (and old) wallowing in the World of Before and After. But if I WERE going to do another side-by-side comparison, I totally agree with you: it would be the rifle shot at the end. For starters, leading up to it, in the original mono mix, all the underwater shots of the shark approaching the camera, tank in mouth, have a great (appropriate) subsonic rush, while the stereo mix has…nothing. Just music amped up. When the gun shot happens, the original mix has this great analog recording of an actual rifle–where as the new mix has the latest trend of devoting a track to each aspect of the gun fire, crisp, clear, pristine. I bet there’s six tracks happening at once (i.e. the trigger, the hammer coming down, the discharge, and so on), which is just too much info. And most importantly, it’s timed differently to drown out Brody saying “bitch” at the end of his sentence.

      So sad.

      But, hey, I’m so glad we bonded!

      Thanks for chiming in!

  12. Christopher Russo

    You’re not the only one who’s bothered by this. I’m 19 and have been a Jaws fan since I was about 7 or 8. I had seen Jaws on TV and was completely freaked by it. But I eventually I began watching it on TV whenever it was on and I would borrow my brothers VHS copy. My dad eventually got a sealed VHS copy for me on eBay which was the 1983 edition.
    The first time I noticed the new sound effects was when once I saw Jaws on TV twice in the same day on different channels (TNT and TCM I believe). When I saw the scene where Brody fires his pistol at the shark after Quint hooks it with another barrel on TCM, I could have sworn it sounded different when I saw it on TNT earlier. TNT I believed showed the 5.1 version (as most TV stations sadly do now) and TCM showed the original mono.
    Anyways I eventually got the 25th Anniversary double pack VHS and that was when I realized I was correct about the change of sound. By this point I had viewed my brothers Widescreen VHS and my own VHS, both which feature the mono version, repeatedly so it wasnt too hard to pick up the new sounds. It was a bit interesting at first but towards the end not so much. For a while if I watched this edition I would imitate the original sound effects while watching it.
    When I was about 11 I got The Terminator Special Edition DVD which also had a 5.1 remixed soundtrack which I didnt care for either. Luckily I had the 1997 Image Entertainment DVD which had the film in its original mono. I later discovered the SE DVD had the option of viewing the film in mono. By now I had the 2000 DVD edition of Jaws so I checked to see if this could be done on that DVD. Sadly, the English 5.1 was the only audio option presented.
    Then about a year later I read on Amazon.com that a 30th anniversary Jaws DVD would be released in June. After reading in to it more on Amazon and Jaws sites, I learned the original mono would be included. I was ecstatic and got the DVD the day it came out.
    Since then, Ive made my own comparisons by switching back and forth the two mixes and still prefer the mono. I barely like watching Jaws on TV because it has the horrid new mix and prefer to just watch the DVD. I even saw a special showing of it at a theatre last year and of course it had the remix.
    Ive watched your video and its a great comparison. Ive noticed other great examples where the mono has better sound FX’s. For instance, when Brody informs Quint that the barrel has risen Quint climbs out of the boats hull and tosses his wrench aside. In mono, the wrench makes a loud clang but makes a small almost inaudible clang in the 5.1 mix. Once I gently dropped a small wrench on a wooden stereo speaker for my own curiosity and of of course it made a loud clang. Also during the dinner scene, when Ellen Brody says ‘Im sorry, I thought you told me the shark was caught and I heard it on the news. I heard it on the cape station’, between ‘caught’ and ‘and’ the sound of Brody pulling the cork out of the wine bottle is heard in mono but missing in the 5.1 mix.

  13. I wish they would go back to the original mono version of Jaws when they show it on TV. And, other movies have the same changes. Even Star Wars has some sound effect changes. The most notable one I thought stood out from the rest is the scene when they’re in the Death Star and C-3PO explains about the location of the power beam that was keeping the ship held there. Well, in one version I saw, they completely omit his explanation and just show the screen. In the same scene, they also added a beeping noise when the screen flashed, showing where the power source to the tractor beam was.

  14. Another movie I just remembered the sounds being changed…Critters. Especially the ending where they blow up the house all the way to when the house is put back together by that device “Johnny Steel” gave to Brad. Listen closely when it comes on TV again (or when you watch it online) and you’ll notice some sound effects that sound different than the original sound effects. Are they going to change all old movies to 5.1 Stereo sound in the future? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I prefer the original version of these movies. I think The Fog (1980 John Carpenter film) has a few “updated” sound effects, but I don’t remember exactly where in the film.

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