Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright
A wealthy San Francisco socialite pursues a potential boyfriend to a small Northern California town that slowly takes a turn for the bizarre when birds of all kinds suddenly begin to attack people.
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
French DTS Monaural
Spanish DTS Monaural
Runtime: 120 min.
Release Date: 5/6/2014
• “All About The Birds” Documentary
• “Hitchcock’s Monster Movie” Featurette
• Deleted Scene and Original Ending
• Storyboard Sequence
• 'Tippi' Hedren's Screen Test
• Hitchcock/Truffaut Clip
• Two Newsreels
• Two “100 Years of Universal” Featurettes
• Production Photographs
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The Birds [Blu-Ray] (1963)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 2, 2017)
Alfred Hitchcock demonstrates what we all know: icily beautiful blondes are the root of all evil. Whether they stimulate madness in some poor innkeeper or drive some miserable schlub to the point of self-destructive obsession, they always cause all sorts of difficulties!
Things get even worse in The Birds, where the gorgeous but clearly insidious Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) pretty much ignites the end of the world. Oh, the situation doesn't quite reach the absolute point of Armageddon, but it moves that way. Though the story doesn't explicitly state that Daniels is the cause of all the tumult, we know it's true!
Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) “meets cute” with Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) at a San Francisco pet shop. Though he annoys her, she displays signs of infatuation and goes well out of her way to deliver a pair of lovebirds to his pre-teen sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright).
This takes Melanie to the coastal town of Bodega Bay, and that’s where all hell breaks loose. Slowly but surely, random incidents seem to indicate that local birds attack citizens. Melanie and the Brenner family find themselves smack in the middle of the calamity.
I really like Psycho and think it's probably superior to The
Birds as a film, but I don't find it to be scary. I think it's better as a perverse character study than as a true horror movie, largely because of the strength of Anthony Perkins' fantastic performance as Norman Bates.
On the other hand, The Birds delivers some solid chills and thrills. I can't say the movie freaked me out or anything, but it's been about 20 minutes since I finished watching it and I'm still about shaken by it. At the risk of sounding arrogant, horror films rarely affect me, but Birds gives us a genuinely frightening movie that definitely got to me.
A lot of that stems from the fact that The Birds takes place in a mundane setting and the terror seems so happenstance. All of a sudden, these winged demons just decide to take out their bad moods on the residents of tiny Bodega Bay - and it's not big, scary birds that attack. No, it's common critters such as crows and seagulls who do the damage.
That last point serves as an absolute masterstroke, since it really brings home the terror. This isn't some remarkable species like the Great White Shark of Jaws. No, these are the same birds we see everyday, but they've simply decided - for no apparent reason - that they don't much like us anymore.
The randomness and incoherence of the attacks becomes also another cool part of the film. We never have the slightest idea why the birds go nuts, other than that probably unrelated connection to Melanie. Even if she shares some mysterious negative bond with the birds, the film never explains this, nor does it offer any other reason for the madness. It all just happens, without warning and without cause.
Madness without explanation delivers real terror. We like to bottle up horrible events in easily digestible ways, like the serial killer who was abused as a child or whatever.
Sometimes, it doesn't work that way, and The Birds reminds us of that aspect of life, that bad things can happen to good people and much of our existences come down to just randomness. Hey, I don't expect to be attacked by a horde of wrens tomorrow, but who's to say it won't happen? That's what makes The Birds so genuinely terrifying: something horrible can happen to us at any time and we're utterly powerless to predict or stop it.
So if want a "feel-good" movie, The Birds is not the place to look - even more so than most of Hitchcock's films, which clearly tend to be quite dark. That doesn't mean the movie's a consistently gloomy and dire affair, though.
On the contrary, it boasts a lot of humor and levity in it, and we even see the blossoming of a new romance between Melanie and Mitch. In typically misleading Hitchcock fashion, that latter concern actually seems to be the crux of the story for much of the first half of the film.
Of course, it's not, as the title of the film tells us. Though I suppose one could stretch it and reason that the movie's name is a play on "lovebirds" - which feature prominently in the early going and would describe our protagonists - the title sequence definitely demonstrates the more ominous tenor of the story.
I must admit I wish I could see films like this with no foreknowledge, though I'm not sure it would make much of a difference. As it stands, I find The Birds to be so powerful that I doubt additional ignorance would have made it more dynamic.
Put simply, this is a tremendous film, and I love the fact Hitchcock didn't include a score with The Birds. It's something I wish happened more often, because I think the lack of manipulation that comes with movie music frequently makes the events more terrifying.
For example, on the Psycho Blu-ray, the supplements include the famous shower scene both with and without Bernard Herrmann's classic score. At the risk of sounding heretical, I thought it seemed more horrifying and powerful without the music because it all seemed so much more real and gruesome.
Music tends to put an artificial sheen on top of the events and makes them appear more fantastical. Without that, you're just confronted with the stark reality of the events and their impact sometimes can be much greater.
No, I'm not calling for the abolishment of all movie scores, for they usually serve a definite purpose; the heroics in Star Wars seem all the more grand due to John Williams' music, and the minimalist piano of Haloween adds to the tension. At least in the case of The Birds, however, I think Hitchcock did the right thing by making it music-free, especially since it's one of his least theatrical productions.
Not that The Birds is shot like a documentary, but Hitchcock seems a bit more restrained than usual and keeps things on a fairly objective level. The acting appears less grandiose than typical as well, and all the performers offer solid work. I particularly like the young Veronica Cartwright as Cathy; her shrieks of terror in Alien were absolutely amazing, and here we see that she had similar power even as a kid.
Good performances, memorable use of sound, and a terrific premise: all of those help make The Birds a winner. It remains among Hitchcock’s best.
The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B/ Audio B/ Bonus B+
The Birds appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though it came with ups and downs, the image usually satisfied.
Sharpness varied a bit. Most shots appeared 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 some 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. Other instances of softness made less sense, but in general, the film offered good clarity.
Jagged edges and moiré effects created no concerns, and only some light edge enhancement was apparent. Source flaws weren’t a concern, as the movie suffered from no obvious specks, marks or blemishes.
Colors were fine. They never quite leapt off the screen, but they maintained a nice sense of liveliness and accuracy despite the occasional slightly drab shot. Black levels appeared 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 a pleasing image.
I found the movie's DTS-HD MA monaural audio to be good for its age. An important aspect of the mix, 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.
As reflected in my review, the movie used no score. Dialogue occasionally suffered from awkward dubbing, but the lines remained reasonably concise and natural. In the end, the audio worked well for its age.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the prior 2005 DVD? Audio seemed clearer and more concise, while visuals were tighter and cleaner. The Blu-ray gave us a step up from the DVD.
The Blu-ray replicates most of the extras from the DVD, and we start with a documentary called All About The Birds. The one-hour, 19-minute, 49-second show offers notes 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” 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.
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 interesting section shows much of Tippi Hedren's screen tests. This area runs nine minutes, 57 seconds and offers a fascinating look behind the scenes. Hedren interacts with Martin Balsam and we hear Hitchcock himself give directions off-camera. This becomes a great addition.
Other fun supplements come from two included "Universal Newsreels". First we find The Birds Is Coming (1:17). It's a fairly straight promotional piece that shows Hitchcock and Hedren as they shill for the movie, and it's entertaining.
Suspense Story: Nat'l Press Club Hears Hitchcock (1:54) seems more interesting because it shows a lecture given by Hitchcock to the National Press Club. While neither is fascinating, 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 disc 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.
The Blu-ray includes a few features not on the last DVD. The Birds: Hitchcock’s Monster Movie runs 14 minutes, 23 seconds and provides info from film historians David J. Skal and John William Law, and filmmakers Ron Underwood, Carol Littleton, Joe Dante and John Carpenter.
This one looks at the history of monster flicks and Hitchcock’s place in that genre. The program offers a decent mix of interpretation and historical significance. While it never becomes a great show, it offers some insights.
Under Hitchcock/Truffaut, we get a 13-minute, 58-second excerpt for interviews between Hitchcock and director Francois Truffaut. They discuss aspects of The Birds such as the cast and characters, his mindset during the production and related topics. Hitchcock throws out a nice collection of thoughts.
We also find two featurettes under the 100 Years of Universal banner. “The Lot” goes for nine minutes, 25 seconds and features comments from filmmakers Steven Spielberg, Peyton Reed, Ivan Reitman, Peter Berg, John Landis, Ron Howard, Michael Mann, Phil Alden Robinson, and John Carpenter, NBC Universal Archives and Collections director Jeff Pirtle, Universal Studios Hollywood tour guide Molly Orr, and actors Dan Aykroyd, Paul Rudd and Meryl Streep. This one takes us around the Universal Studios locations and tells us a little about movies made there.
What does any of this have to do with Birds? Very little. Despite the featurette’s disconnect from Birds, it seems pretty fun. While it aims to promote the greatness that is Universal, it’s still light and likable.
“Restoring the Classics” goes for nine minutes, 13 seconds and offers statements from Universal Studios Vault Services VP of Image Assets/Preservation Bob O’Neil, Universal Studios Technical Services VP Peter Schade, Kodak Pro-Tek Media Preservation VP of Preservation Services Rick Utley, Universal Studios Digital Services engineer Henry Ball, Universal Studios Technical Services mastering supervisor Phil Defibaugh, Universal Studios Technical Services mastering supervisor Ken Tom, and Universal Studios Technical Services supervising sound editor John Edell.
“Restoring” covers all the procedures used to bring various movies to Blu-ray. It’s a reasonably informative take on the subject.
Although I wouldn’t objectively call The Birds Hitchcock’s best movie, it may offer his most entertaining one. Packed with thrills and tension, it turns into a fun ride. The Blu-ray delivers largely positive picture and audio along with a nice set of supplements. I feel pleased with this Blu-ray.
To rate this film, visit the DVD review of THE BIRDS