DVD Review: Jaws/Sling Blade
By Glenn Abel
Like marriages and wars, successful films now deserve commemoration of their milestone anniversaries -- at least in the hyper-imaginative world of home video marketing.
This summer, the major studios are helping us celebrate the enduring appeal of "Father of the Bride," "Casino," "The Blues Brothers," "Pretty Woman" "Toy Story" and "Coal Miner's Daughter" -- all back on DVD in special anniversary editions. Most titles dress up for the occasion; others just come as they are.
Universal's "Jaws," which debuted on DVD five years ago in a silver anni edition, circles back this week with a 30th-year effort that chums the marketplace with upgraded extras and packaging. There are no noticeable improvements in audio or video quality. The double-disc set retails for $22.98.
Steven Spielberg, as usual, provides no commentary. But the director has plenty to say in Laurent Bouzereau's fine documentary "The Making of Jaws," created for the 1995 laserdisc.
In 2000, Universal gutted the 125-minute docu to under an hour, so it remains basically unseen. The film launched Bouzereau's triple-threat career as a making-of specialist, now with more than 130 titles to his credit.
The hard-luck shoot's history gets a full review, including the myriad problems with mechanical sharks. Spielberg recalls "Jaws" as a "fun movie to watch, but not a fun movie to make."
Of the pre-CGI production challenges, producer David Brown says, "Had we read (the book) twice ... there was no way we would have made 'Jaws.'"
Peter Benchley, who saw his hit novel's plotlines shredded, dispels any notion of bad blood in the water over those changes. Of the "Jaws" phenomenon, he says, "No one had an idea of what we had, including me."
Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider vie for camera time, spinning terrific stories. For the record: Scheider insists he never referred to the great white as Bruce, and never will. (Spielberg named the killing machine after his lawyer.)
New to DVD is "From the Set," a 9-minute British TV piece hailing from 1974. The 26-year-old Spielberg, hot off "The Sugarland Express," is interviewed in the waters off Martha's Vineyard. He looks like a pop star but talks like a savvy pro. ("Young, courageous and stupid," he later calls himself.) The high concept was "Duel" at sea.
The anamorphic widescreen video (2.35:1) comes ported over from the older DVD, not really a bad thing. Images are reasonably bright and enjoyable, but typical of the era they're soft and grainy. Minor speckling surfaces throughout, a defect that will have to wait for the 35th year, apparently.
Universal released two "Jaws" DVDs in 2000, one with Dolby Digital 5.1 and the other with DTS. The new DVD features both formats as well as mono for old salts yearning for the bad old days of 1970s movie audio. The surround tracks sound great, especially John Williams' thumping shark theme, its menace amplified by watery-grave lows from the subwoofer. Go with DTS if you have it.
Other features include a nicely done 55-page photo booklet, 14 minutes of deleted scenes and outtakes (some interesting; most not), photos and storyboards. Missing from the marketing materials is the famous trailer.
Miramax isn't making a big deal about it, but "Sling Blade" turns 10 somewhere around here. The indie classic hasn't aged a day -- it remains heartfelt, compelling and taut, even with 22 minutes added for the director's cut DVD.
Billie Bob Thornton doesn't do much directing these days -- he's busy acting in films such as "Bad News Bears," "Friday Night Lights" and "The Alamo." No matter what else he does, Thornton likely will be remembered for "Sling Blade" and its hero, the lumbering avenger Karl. No wonder Thornton poured so much charm and energy into this ambitious DVD.
"That movie was a moment of hillbilly zen," recalls the singer Dwight Yoakam, one of Thornton's many pals who worked on the $1 million film.
During production, "Nobody knew there was a movie being made in Arkansas and no one cared," Yoakam says. "No one in L.A. is called Billie Bob."
"Sling Blade" looks great, considering its low budget. The transfer is new, with anamorphic widescreen images unspooling at 1.85:1. Audio gets an upgrade from the previous DVD to 5.1 surround. The sound is warm and clear but with some boominess. The double-disc set retails for $19.99.
The improbable success story of Thornton and "Sling Blade" is told and retold in the generous-to-a-fault extras, which add up to something like seven hours. Some folks would call it overkill -- your mileage may vary.
The film went on to gross north of $25 million (the big film fests didn't want it; Harvey Weinstein did). Thornton walked away with an Oscar for adapted script, even though he was adapting his own work.
The slow-thinking, slow-talking Karl (Thornton) became a pop culture sensation -- "Hollywood's guy du jour," as Time put it. Mimics loved his protruding jaw and curious speech patterns. Mmm-hmm.
Thornton first recorded the commentary for a Criterion laserdisc. He updates it here when the newly inserted footage comes into play. It's a telling contrast. Thornton whispered like a hung-over golf analyst on the older material, but now sounds clear-voiced and engaged. Regardless, admirers will be better served by the profiles and interviews on disc 2.
Missing is the original Karl short film, "Some Folks Call It a Sling Blade," directed by George Hickenlooper. Not much mention is made of it, either.
One of the best bits is a roundtable discussion with Yoakam (who turned heads playing a liquored-up bad ass), veteran actor-musician Mickey Jones ("Home Improvement"), producer David Bushnell and Thornton. A lot of the talk is about music, which Thornton insists is at the heart of the movie. Thornton then reunites with scorer Daniel Lanois in a 22-minute segment. Lanois performs Karl's theme music and recalls the score as having "a nice na•ve spirit."
Two docus profile the down-home director: "Mr. Thornton Goes to Hollywood" from 1996 and a more recent bio from Bravo. Together they add up to almost two hours, plenty of time to cover Thornton's childhood, his early "days of hell" in L.A. as a waiter and B-movie actor, the breakthrough with "One False Move" and the story of Karl's creation. Thornton goes home again to Arkansas in one of the segments, dispensing plenty of charm and backslaps.
Thornton worked with John Ritter on a sitcom while he was prepping "Sling Blade," and had no trouble recruiting his pal to play a gay store manager who shares a surrogate family with Karl. In Arkansas, Ritter was subjected to a bizarre bowl-shaped haircut that rendered him almost unrecognizable. "He never forgave me for that," Thornton says, fondly.
Robert Duvall ("my mentor and friend") talks about his brief but key part as Karl's shell-shocked dad. Also included are an odd clip called "The Return of Karl," apparently shot at a party, some raw on-set video, and a trio of interesting print feature stories labeled as reviews. An after-the-credits coda featuring a pair of minor characters didn't make the cut but appears here.
Glenn Abel is Executive Editor, Electronic, at The Hollywood Reporter
Reprinted, with permission, from The Hollywood Reporter
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