The Birds appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though The Birds provided an inconsistent picture, it usually seemed positive.
Sharpness varied a bit. Most shots appeared reasonably crisp and well-defined, but some fuzziness occurred in a few wider images. As usual, Hitchcock used soft-focus on his leading lady, and this technique resulted in frequent lapses in sharpness. Take the pet store scene early in the film, where cuts from Hedren to her costars go from blurry to crisp in the blink of an eye. The whole use of this technique seemed odd to me - after all, the illusion is broken when Hedren's in a shot with others, since those are focused properly - but hey, he's the master of cinema, so who am I to complain? Despite those instances, the movie maintained generally fine delineation.
Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, and only some light edge enhancement was apparent. Source flaws weren’t much of a concern. For much of the movie, I only noticed a few specks, though some of the effects shots were a little messier. Take the climax, for example, when the process image showed some thin lines and other concerns. That was the exception, however, as most of the movie lacked significant distractions.
Actually, I must note one issue: grain. This was one of the grainiest films I’ve seen, and that element affected more shots than I expected. I wasn’t surprised to see grain in the process effects, but plenty of scenes without special visual elements also demonstrated an awful lot of grain. This wasn’t overwhelming, but it seemed rather heavy much of the time.
One qualitative note about the effects: though they clearly seemed dated, they actually worked well. The composite sequences really presented the images of bird attacks as convincing occurrences. Yes, some fakery could be detected without too much trouble, but the overall impression was very good.
Colors were fine. They never quite leapt off the screen, but they generally maintained a nice sense of liveliness and accuracy despite the occasional slightly drab shot. Black levels appeared quite deep and rich, and shadow detail looked good. A few shots were just a little heavy, but not to a substantial degree. Ultimately, The Birds presented an erratic but pleasing image.
I found the movie's monaural audio to be slightly problematic. It's a very simple track since a) it's mono, and b) there's no music; it only offered dialogue and effects. The effects were just fine; from ambient sounds in the environment to the bizarre - and creepy – electronically altered noises made by the birds, they came across without many hitches.
Speech, on the other hand, seemed less appealing. The dialogue clearly was heavily dubbed, but not in an effective manner. Oh, it seemed clear and intelligible, but the re-recorded speech did not blend well with the movie; it appeared vaguely artificial and really stood out in a negative way. I also noted some occasional hiss during dialogue. Overall, the audio of The Birds seemed adequate for such an old movie, but the dubbed dialogue caused some problems.
How did the picture and sound of this DVD compare with those on the original 2000 release? The audio appeared identical to me, but the visuals provided a noticeable improvement. The new disc presented a substantially cleaner, brighter picture. Both shared a lot of grain, but the 2005 version boasted greater definition and fewer defects. It’s still not a great transfer, but it’s a significant step up from its predecessor.
the Birds provides some fine supplements. First up is a terrific 80-minute documentary called All About The Birds. It combines modern interviews with archival materials and movie clips. We hear from Hitchcock’s daughter Pat, production designer Robert Boyle, screenwriter Evan Hunter, matte artist Albert Whitlock’s colleagues Syd Dutton and Bill Taylor, storyboard artist Harold Michelson, Hitchcock collaborator Hilton Green, actors Tippi Hedren, Veronica Cartwright and Rod Taylor, filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich, author Robin Wood, makeup artist Howard Smit, and Bernard Herrmann biographer Steven Smith.
The program starts with a discussion of how Hitchcock chose a follow-up to Psycho and goes through the development of the script. From there we hear about the use of matte shots, storyboards, visual effects, casting and working with Hitchcock, locations and sets, stunts and filming the bird scenes, the movie’s themes and cut sequences, editing and alternate endings, the absence of score and the use of electronic sounds, and reactions to the final film.
“All About” really covers a lot of territory in fine form. Its 80 minutes fly by as we scoot from one interesting subject to another. We learn tons about the making of the film in notes that vary from basic nuts and bolts to terrific anecdotes. This is a serious winner of a documentary.
(Note that this documentary doesn’t appear on the same disc as the movie. For this Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection, they sent this program to a separate disc of extras. I included it in my review of the film since it didn’t make sense to look at it elsewhere. It also factored into my grade for the DVD’s extras.)
A number of other strong supplements appear as well. One small disappointment comes from the two sections that offer unused material; one is called Deleted Scene and the other is titled Original Ending. Unfortunately, neither shows any actual film footage. It turns out the ending was never shot, while the other scene was filmed but apparently lost. As such, in these sections we see script excerpts plus production photos (for the "Deleted Scene") or conceptual drawings (for the "Original Ending") that let us know what these pieces would have been like. It's not quite what I expected, but at least they made the effort to convey this information, and I appreciate that.
Another unusual presentation occurs in the Storyboard Sequence section. Unlike the typical film to storyboard comparisons, this piece shows storyboards and then displays still photos of the relevant scenes, all from the attic sequence. I'm not a big fan of storyboards, but this presentation works pretty well.
One very interesting section shows much of "Tippi" Hedren's screen tests. These shots run for about nine and a half minutes, and they offer a fascinating look behind the scenes. Hedren interacts with Martin Balsam and we hear Hitchcock himself give directions off-camera. This is one very cool extra!
Other fun supplements come from two included "Universal Newsreels". One lasts about 70 seconds and is called The Birds Is Coming; it's a fairly straight promotional piece that shows Hitchcock and Hedren as they shill for the movie, and it's entertaining. The other, titled Suspense Story: Nat'l Press Club Hears Hitchcock, is more interesting because the 110-second piece shows a lecture given by Hitchcock to the National Press Club. While neither is quite as fascinating as the promotional newsreel found on the Psycho DVD, they're both still quite useful.
A funny trailer in which Hitchcock slyly points out all the reasons birds may not be too happy with humans also shows up on the DVD; it's not quite as good as the classic Psycho preview, but it's very entertaining nonetheless. Finally, 81 screens worth of Production Photos finish up the package; these include publicity shots, movie posters, and more candid on-set shots. All in all, it's a fine grouping of supplements that definitely added to my enjoyment of the film.
Does this new disc lose anything from the original DVD? A few materials fail to reappear. This set drops so-so biographies
for Hitchcock and actors Hedren, Taylor, Suzanne Pleshette and
Jessica Tandy, and it also ditches some very good production notes. Neither is a terrible loss, but it seems odd the new release would omit them since they wouldn’t take up much space.
Not that a movie as terrific as The Birds needs extras to make it compelling. This DVD would be a must-have even if it were a "movie-only" package. As it stands, although the picture and sound are only average, the supplements are very good and the film itself is absolutely top-notch. The Birds may be Hitchcock's scariest film, and the DVD comes very highly recommended.
Note that this version of The Birds appears only as part of the 15-DVD Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection. This massive release also includes Saboteur, Shadow of a Doubt, Rope, Rear Window, The Trouble With Harry, The Man Who Knew Too Much, Vertigo, Psycho, Torn Curtain, Marnie, Topaz, Frenzy, Family Plot, and a disc of bonus materials. As of October 2005, when or if a solo version of this DVD will come out is currently unknown.