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“Jaws” production designer Joe Alves talks CGI, 3D and the film’s legacy

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For a movie that’s almost four decades old, “Jaws” has aged remarkably well. A lot of that can be attributed to Joe Alves, the production designer responsible for creating the movie’s titular shark.

Universal Pictures is honoring “Jaws” during the studio’s 100th anniversary celebration by releasing the Steven Spielberg classic on Blu-Ray for the first time ever. Lovingly converted frame by frame from 35 mm to the digital Blu-Ray format, this new release is sure to continue to wow fans for generations to come. In anticipation of the Blu-Ray release on August 14, IFC was invited to chat with Alves and some of the other people involved in the project and its restoration.

The interview with Alves took place on Jaws Lake, the area of Universal Studios Hollywood where the film’s great white shark has been terrifying theme park attendees for years by jumping out of the water accompanied by a burst of flames. It was the perfect opportunity to reflect on the legacy “Jaws” has created ever since its release in 1975.

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“I think the legacy is the simplicity of it,” Alves explained. “It’s the three men fighting this beast, which is not a beast, it’s a real thing that’s out there, a white shark, just a little bit bigger. Fear. Fear if you go in the ocean it will get you any time. And so I think it’s that. It’s not like a monster movie, not like a real horror movie. It’s like a very realistic something that could terrorize a community. Could hurt you if you’re there at the wrong time.”

It only helped that Alves’s shark looked like something that could easily be spotted in the ocean around Cape Cod. That fear is still prevalent today, where as recently as a few weeks ago a shark was spotted off Massachusetts’ coast.

“We created something that’s realistic, so there was no exaggeration. It wasn’t like we had strange monsters, Transformers and stuff. It was a fin and if you look at [a real shark] fin, it looked like our fin,” Alves said.

Of course, at the time he and Spielberg made the movie it was a lot more difficult to convince people that it was a great idea. Alves got to work on the shark for “Jaws” before Spielberg was even on board, and he admitted that he had quite a few struggles making it. The studio wasn’t too thrilled about the movie when they finally wrapped, because — as Alves puts it — “we had gone way over budget and schedule, so we weren’t heroes.” Everything rode on the movie’s opening night premiere in Long Beach.

“[The crew] used to laugh there when the shark didn’t work. You know, it made funny noises, because of the valves and things,” Alves said of the major cause of his nervousness during the screening. “So if it didn’t work, the crew would laugh, and so, take away those sounds, add other sounds, add John Williams’ music, the best editing, and we showed the movie and we’re sitting there going, ‘Oh god, I hope they don’t laugh.’ And they didn’t laugh. And they went crazy.”

He continued, “If you’re really dedicated to what you do, sometimes you do pictures where the script’s not so good, but you always try to do your best, because you take it personal. And some of them work, and some of them don’t. And ‘Jaws’ just happened to work. And it went on and on and on.”

At the time “Jaws” was created, there wasn’t much of a reliance on computer generated technology to make films look better. Alves and Spielberg had to find real-life solutions to the effects they wanted to create in the film. We asked Alves how he thinks “Jaws” would be different it was created in today’s Hollywood, and he had a very clear idea.

“There’s no question: a lot of CGI. You may do some close-ups with a real [shark,] mechanical, some prosthetics and stuff like that, but I think you’d heavily rely on computer-generated images. Why not? It makes it easier,” he said. “I think you get a script and you take the technology that you have available, and you say what works best for this? A prosthetic would work better, actor could react to it, or do it totally green screen and CGI. Those are the decisions that you make for creative reasons and financial reasons, time elements.”

Alves also directed “Jaws 3D,” one of the major 3D films of the ’80s. Obviously 3D has had a huge comeback in recent years, and Alves reflected on the struggles he had directing a 3D movie in that day and age.

“When I made ‘Jaws 3D,’ I did it to take the [emphasis] off the ‘3,’ because they weren’t making ‘3’s or sequels. And I like the underwater quality of it, but I had no idea that when I made this decision and the studio jumped on it and I was going to direct it that the equipment was all so old,” he said. “So we had to make equipment and so we were fighting technology, and so it was really difficult. And the convergence and get all that. And then the glasses were bad, cardboard glasses. Today you get these beautiful glasses and you’ve got all this technology, so it’s easier.”

Who knows — maybe “Jaws” will get a 3D makeover next.

Do you plan to pick up “Jaws” on Blu-Ray when it comes out Tuesday? Tell us in the comments section below or on Facebook and Twitter.

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New Nasty

Whips, Chains and Hand Sanitizer

Turn On The Full Season Of Neurotica At IFC's Comedy Crib

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Jenny Jaffe has a lot going on: She’s writing for Disney’s upcoming Big Hero 6: The Series, developing comedy projects with pals at Devastator Press, and she’s straddling the line between S&M and OCD as the creator and star of the sexyish new series Neurotica, which has just made its debut on IFC’s Comedy Crib. Jenny gave us some extremely intimate insight into what makes Neurotica (safely) sizzle…

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IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a fancy network executive you met in an elevator?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon.

IFC: How would you describe Neurotica to a drunk friend of a friend you met in a bar?

Jenny: Neurotica is about a plucky Dominatrix with OCD trying to save her small-town dungeon. You’re great. We should get coffee sometime. I’m not just saying that. I know other people just say that sometimes but I really feel like we’re going to be friends, you know? Here, what’s your number, I’ll call you so you can have my number!

IFC: What’s your comedy origin story?

Jenny: Since I was a kid I’ve dealt with severe OCD and anxiety. Comedy has always been one of the ways I’ve dealt with that. I honestly just want to help make people feel happy for a few minutes at a time.

IFC: What was the genesis of Neurotica?

Jenny: I’m pretty sure it was a title-first situation. I was coming up with ideas to pitch to a production company a million years ago (this isn’t hyperbole; I am VERY old) and just wrote down “Neurotica”; then it just sort of appeared fully formed. “Neurotica? Oh it’s an over-the-top romantic comedy about a Dominatrix with OCD, of course.” And that just happened to hit the buttons of everything I’m fascinated by.

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IFC: How would you describe Ivy?

Jenny: Ivy is everything I love in a comedy character – she’s tenacious, she’s confident, she’s sweet, she’s a big wonderful weirdo.

IFC: How would Ivy’s clientele describe her?

Jenny:  Open-minded, caring, excellent aim.

IFC: Why don’t more small towns have local dungeons?

Jenny: How do you know they don’t?

IFC: What are the pros and cons of joining a chain mega dungeon?

Jenny: You can use any of their locations but you’ll always forget you have a membership and in a year you’ll be like “jeez why won’t they let me just cancel?”

IFC: Mouths are gross! Why is that?

Jenny: If you had never seen a mouth before and I was like “it’s a wet flesh cave with sharp parts that lives in your face”, it would sound like Cronenberg-ian body horror. All body parts are horrifying. I’m kind of rooting for the singularity, I’d feel way better if I was just a consciousness in a cloud.

See the whole season of Neurotica right now on IFC’s Comedy Crib.

The-Craft

The ’90s Are Back

The '90s live again during IFC's weekend marathon.

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Photo Credit: Everett Digital, Columbia Pictures

We know what you’re thinking: “Why on Earth would anyone want to reanimate the decade that gave us Haddaway, Los Del Rio, and Smash Mouth, not to mention Crystal Pepsi?”

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Thoughts like those are normal. After all, we tend to remember lasting psychological trauma more vividly than fleeting joy. But if you dig deep, you’ll rediscover that the ’90s gave us so much to fondly revisit. Consider the four pillars of true ’90s culture.

Boy Bands

We all pretended to hate them, but watch us come alive at a karaoke bar when “I Want It That Way” comes on. Arguably more influential than Brit Pop and Grunge put together, because hello – Justin Timberlake. He’s a legitimate cultural gem.

Man-Child Movies

Adam Sandler is just behind The Simpsons in terms of his influence on humor. Somehow his man-child schtick didn’t get old until the aughts, and his success in that arena ushered in a wave of other man-child movies from fellow ’90s comedians. RIP Chris Farley (and WTF Rob Schneider).

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Teen Angst

In horror, dramas, comedies, and everything in between: Troubled teens! Getting into trouble! Who couldn’t relate to their First World problems, plaid flannels, and lose grasp of the internet?

Mainstream Nihilism

From the Coen Bros to Fincher to Tarantino, filmmakers on the verge of explosive popularity seemed interested in one thing: mind f*cking their audiences by putting characters in situations (and plot lines) beyond anyone’s control.

Feeling better about that walk down memory lane? Good. Enjoy the revival.

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And revisit some important ’90s classics all this weekend during IFC’s ’90s Marathon. Check out the full schedule here.

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Get Physical

DVDs are the new Vinyl

Portlandia Season 7 Now Available On Disc.

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In this crazy digital age, sometimes all we really want is to reach out and touch something. Maybe that’s why so many of us are still gung-ho about owning stuff on DVD. It’s tangible. It’s real. It’s tech from a bygone era that still feels relevant, yet also kitschy and retro. It’s basically vinyl for people born after 1990.

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Inevitably we all have that friend whose love of the disc is so absolutely repellent that he makes the technology less appealing. “The resolution, man. The colors. You can’t get latitude like that on a download.” Go to hell, Tim.

Yes, Tim sucks, and you don’t want to be like Tim, but maybe he’s onto something and DVD is still the future. Here are some benefits that go beyond touch.

It’s Decor and Decorum

With DVDs and a handsome bookshelf you can show off your great taste in film and television without showing off your search history. Good for first dates, dinner parties, family reunions, etc.

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Forget Public Wifi

Warm up that optical drive. No more awkwardly streaming episodes on shady free wifi!

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Inter-not

Internet service goes down. It happens all the time. It could happen right now. Then what? Without a DVD on hand you’ll be forced to make eye contact with your friends and family. Or worse – conversation.

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Self Defense

You can’t throw a download like a ninja star. Think about it.

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If you’d like to experience the benefits DVD ownership yourself, Portlandia Season 7 is now available on DVD and Blue-Ray.