Review Date: April 11, 2000
Released by: Universal
Release date: 2/22/2000
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 1.85:1 | 16x9: Yes
Alfred Hitchcock's terrifying "nature gone wrong" film, The Birds
, released on DVD a short time ago, is the latest installment in Universal's ever growing "Alfred Hitchcock Collection". Universal Home Video did some nice work on the release and like previous Alfred Hitchcock Collection discs it is a full on SE with all the trimmings. So let's take a look at those terrifying winged creatures otherwise known as the birds.
Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren), the daughter of a wealthy newspaper owner, stops by a pet shop to pick up a bird. However, the bird she wants has not yet arrived and Melanie is forced to wait. Enter Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) who bumps into Melanie in the pet shop while looking for two "lovebirds" as a gift for his sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright). He soon recognizes her from a court appearance and Mitch, who is familiar with Melanie's reputation, decides to play a trick on her and succeeds in humiliating Melanie by exposing her in a lie. Melanie decides to repay Mitch by playing a trick on him. She acquires two lovebirds and delivers them to his apartment where she is told Mitch has gone away to his mother's home in Bodega Bay and won't be back for awhile. Melanie still determined to get even with Mitch decides to travel to Bodega Bay.
Arriving in the small coastal sea town, Melanie delivers the birds but is spotted by Mitch who seems happy to see her. A sudden gull attack on Melanie disrupts the two and Melanie is taken to a restaurant to attend to a wound she received on the head. Mitch, thinking the gull attack to be a freak accident, thinks nothing more of it and takes care of Melanie's wound while asking her what she's doing in Bodega Bay. Melanie, not willing to come out and say she came to see him and deliver the birds, lies and tells him she came up to see an old friend Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette). Mitch's new entanglement with Melanie comes much to the dissatisfaction of his mother Lydia (Jessica Tandy), who is afraid of losing Mitch.
As Melanie and Mitch's relationship continues to develop, bird attacks become more frequent and it's not long before Melanie and the rest of Bodega Bay's denizens are besieged by mass bird attacks each one more viscous than the last. As the birds continue to mass in great numbers Melanie and Mitch are forced to take steps to ensure their safety. Together they board up Mitch's home and together with his mother and sister they plan to wait out the next assault, but can they really survive the onslaught of the birds?
Alfred Hitchcock's suspense masterpiece The Birds
is quite a memorable film for me. I saw it when I was younger, even before Psycho
, and like many have said of their own experience I've not looked at birds the same way since. The Birds
is the kind of film where Hitchcock earns the title of "Master of Suspense". Of course he earned that title long before The Birds
, but The Birds
proves that Hitchcock can turn any idea, no matter how corny (and lets face it a concept like birds suddenly attacking people in the wrong hands could have been pretty lame) into a terrifying and completely real experience. Suspense plays a big role in The Birds
, as it does in all Hitchcock's films and The Birds
is full of memorable suspense scenes.
One of the most memorable scenes in The Birds
, as discussed in the documentary is the "School Yard Scene" in which Melanie waits on a bench outside Bodega Bay's school yard. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to her, birds are massing right behind her in growing numbers getting ready to strike. The beauty of it is Hithcock lets the audience know by cutting behind Melanie to reveal the birds are growing in number as well as having birds swoop in behind her back. Hitchcock also likes to fool the audience by making us think a bird will attack when it doesn't. These little tricks pay off in the end when the attacks do happen and the audience is left unbalanced. The key to good suspense of course is for the payoff to be unpredictable and unexpected
The acting in The Birds
from the cast is excellent and they manage to create real people, which is always important. Tippi Hedren, Hitchcock's leading lady in The Birds
, plays the character of Melanie beautifully. At first you somewhat dislike Melanie but during the course of the film you begin to care for her, especially when she falls victim to numerous bird attacks. Australian actor Rod Taylor who plays Mitch also does a great job and together with Hedren they play a cat and mouse game onscreen when it's apparent they really care for each other; it's a relationship that is fun to watch unfold. Young Veronica Cartwright, who would play Lambert in Ridley Scott's Alien
, plays Mitch's sister Cathy, and Jessica Tandy plays Mitch and Cathy's mother - both are excellent supporting actresses. Unlike most Hithcock films, The Birds
is practically devoid of a musical score. Instead, Hitchcock and Screenwriter Evan Hunter opted to simply have the sounds of birds to fill in the gaps.
This was an interesting decision and I must say I never missed a score in The Birds
, so Hithcock must have succeeded. The Birds
is in my opinion one of Hithcock's best films. That said, it's also a very different kind of film in more ways than one I highly recommend it as a Horror/Suspense classic.
Universal Home Video presents Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds
letterboxed in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio in a new 16x9 enhanced transfer. The extra resolution provided by this 16x9 enhanced transfer is most welcome, however the grain is not. It's not so bad but the grain can be quite obvious and distracting at times, especially in reference to the processed shots. The print used for the transfer was in excellent shape with only some mild signs of damage like scratches and specks. The shots that exhibit the most are the processed shots. The image is generally sharp, but it's important to note that Hitchcock used soft focus lenses on his leading lady Tippi Hedren. As you'll notice close up shots of her or shots where she exists in the frame by herself have a slightly softer look then the rest of the film. This is not a flaw in the transfer but rather an artistic decision.
Colors looked very good and skin tones look very nice and flattering. Overall the image is quite pleasing, however the occasional mild to moderate grain may detract some, but having watched this disc twice since I got it I think the transfer is quite acceptable.
Presented in Dolby Digital Mono the sound is very clear and crisp. Dialogue was clear without any noted distortion. Alfred Hitchcock and Screenwriter Evan Hunter saw fit to exclude a musical score for The Birds
and only the sounds of squawking and screeching are heard during many of the films tense sequences. The sounds of the birds are quite erie and unsettling, which is what I'm sure Hitchcock was going for.
Universal Home Video debuts The Birds
in another great Collector's Edition. The best supplement featured on the disc is definitely the documentary, "All About the Birds". The documentary features interviews with Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Veronica Cartwright, Pat Hitchcock, Robert Boyle (Production Designer) Evan Hunter (Screenwriter), Bill Taylor (Colleague of Alfred Hitchcock), Harold Michelson (Storyboard Artist), Hilton Green (Collaborator of Mr. Hitchcock), Syd Dutton (Colleague of Albert Whitlock), Peter Bogdanovich (filmmaker), Steven C. Smith (Bernard Herman Biographer) and Robin Wood (Author, Alfred Hitchcock's Films Revisited). The documentary focuses on The Birds
roots and how the original story came from a novel which Hitchcock decided to adapt it into a major motion picture after real life "bird attacks" were reported in newspapers. The documentary also talks about the sodium process that was used to shoot The Birds and seamlessly merge the foreground and background as well as the traveling matte shots.
Both Rod Taylor and Tippi Hedren discuss their personal experiences with Alfred Hithcock as well as on the set. Hedren also talks about the ordeal she went through in the "Attic Attack" scene. The documentary also features an audio interview between Alfred Hitchcock and Peter Bogdonovich in which Hitchcock discusses the most difficult shot (that being the last one). Hithcock also mentions his original idea for the final shot. Universal are the makers of some of the best documentaries and The Birds
is no exception.
Next we have both the films original ending and a deleted scene. The original ending is basically just an extension of the one that exists in the film now. It involved a car chase after Mitch, Melanie Cathy and Lydia get in the car to get to a hospital supposedly in San Francisco. The chase consists of a mass of birds attacking the car attempting to get at the passengers inside. The scene is presented with the script and storyboards, as it was never shot. It sounds like a nice sequence but maybe it would have been overkill the way the ending is now leaves more to the imagination. The deleted scene is a dialogue scene between Melanie and Mitch after Lydia leaves in the morning.
Also featured on this DVD is the film's theatrical trailer starring Alfred Hitchcock. It's a delightfully funny trailer, similar to the trailer for Psycho
. Here Hitchcock does a lecture on the birds relation to mankind. It's pretty funny and inventive...a pity more trailers aren't as clever. Next up there are two short video segments. The first is "Suspense Story: National Press Club Hears Hitchcock" and the other is "The Birds is Coming". Suspense Story is around two minutes long and sees Alfred Hitchcock addressing the press about his new film, The Birds
. The other is around the same length and details Tippi Hedren and Alfred Hitchcock's promotional tour for the Birds.
Last we have Tippi Hedren's screen tests. Tippi, who did the tests opposite Martin Balsam who played Milton Arbogast in Psycho
. Some of the tests mimic scenes from Hitchcock's other films such as "To Catch a Thief". Also noteworthy to mention here is a storyboard sequence which is for the attic attack scene between Tippi Hedren (Melanie) and her fine feathered friends, the birds. Overall this is an excellent Collector's Edition which fails to score an A+ due to the lack of commentary which should be standard on a SE.
I've been patiently awaiting the release of The Birds
on DVD since I love this film and Hitchcock films in general. Though the image is a bit grainy the transfer is still overall pleasing. Universal, as always, put some excellent supplements on The Birds
DVD like they've done for past releases like Psycho
, which makes this DVD well worth the price for folks who love The Birds
or haven't seen it, I highly recommend it.
Image Quality - B+
Sound - B
Supplements - A
- Rated PG-13
- 1 Disc
- 20 Chapter Stops
- English Dolby Mono 2.0
- "All About the Birds"
- Deleted Scenes
- The Original Ending
- Storyboard Sequence
- Tippi Hedren's Screen Test
- "The Birds is Coming" Universal News Reel
- "Suspense Story: National Press Club Hears Hitchcock" Universal International Newsreel
- Theatrical Trailer
- Production Photographs