The Birds (1963)

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Released 26-Sep-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Thriller Main Menu Audio
Featurette-All About The Birds (79:51)
Deleted Scenes
Alternate Ending
Featurette-Tippi Hedren's Screen Test (9:58)
Featurette-Universal News Reels (3:09)
Gallery-Photo
Theatrical Trailer-1.85:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 (5:12)
Booklet
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1963
Running Time 114:36
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (106:43) Cast & Crew
Start Up Language Select Then Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alfred Hitchcock
Studio
Distributor

Universal Pictures Home Video
Starring Rod Taylor
Suzanne Pleshette
Veronica Cartwright
Jessica Tandy
Tippi Hedren
Case ?
RPI $36.95 Music Remi Gassmann
Oskar Sala


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame Pan & Scan English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio None
16x9 Enhancement No
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Dutch
German
Swedish
Danish
Norwegian
Finnish
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    One of the highlights of the second volume of the Hitchcock Collection would have to be one of the maestro's most technically difficult films in The Birds. Of course, if this were to be made nowadays, it would not be anything like the technical challenge, but in 1963 this was pushing the envelope as far as effects were concerned. Today it would be CGI birds aplenty, and we would barely know the difference from the real thing. In 1963 of course, there was no such thing as CGI and the only way that this could be made was through new-fangled yellow screen technology (using sodium light) coupled with stuffed birds, real birds and just about every other possible technique to populate the film with thousands of birds. The result today is something that lacks just a little in believability, but for 1963 this was top of the effects tree. As Alfred Hitchcock makes very plain, there are over 370 trick shots in the film.

    Even if you have not seen the film, this is such a landmark film that you probably know at least bits of the film. The story is quite simple, as is so often the case with an Alfred Hitchcock film, and it begins in Union Square, San Francisco, with Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) heading for a pet shop to pick up a mynah bird. As she enters the store, she notes the unusual massing of seagulls over the city...

    Whilst in the store, she encounters Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), a lawyer with a streak of humour, who plays something of a prank upon her regarding lovebirds for his little sister. Of course, Melanie does not know who he is yet but using her connections at daddy's newspaper, she soon finds out. Obviously there is enough of a piqued interest from Melanie that she decides to buy a pair of lovebirds and deliver them to Mitch. Upon arriving at his apartment though, she finds that he has gone up the coast to visit his mother at Bodega Bay for the weekend - as he does every weekend. Despite not really knowing the man, Melanie decides to drive up to Bodega Bay to hand deliver the birds. Not knowing where the Brenner house actually is, Melanie heads to the local store to get the information, before heading to the local school marm, Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette) to find out the name of the little Brenner girl. Armed with the information, Melanie heads off across the bay by dinghy to reach the Brenner house, where she surreptitiously delivers the birds for young Cathy Brenner (Veronica Cartwright). Deliberately caught in the act by Mitch, he races back to town by car to meet her as she arrives at the town jetty by her little boat. But as she arrives at the jetty Melanie is attacked by a seagull, and the "fun" slowly begins.

    Mitch naturally is somewhat taken by the beautiful Melanie and invites her to dinner, necessitating a slight change in her plans - a change of plans she might yet regret. That change of plans just sets into motion the chain of events that keeps Melanie stuck in Bodega Bay as it is assaulted by wave after wave of birds. Those assaults have a fatal outcome in one instance, but the main result of the attacks is to terrorise this small town.

    As I indicated, this is a really simple story but what makes it work is the characterisation of the main characters. We get a decent feel of what the characters are like and who they really are, and the choice of actors here goes a long way towards making this a distinctive cast, one that by all accounts was very friendly. Obviously Rod Taylor is not the most convincing American on earth, thanks to one of the broadest Aussie accents ever known, but he does a fair fist of the job at hand. The rugged good looks were what probably got him the job and it certainly adds to the romantic aspect of the film. Alfred Hitchcock had a strong preference for striking blondes, and Tippi Hedren is the quintessential Hitchcock female lead. Whilst not quite in the league of the truly gorgeous Grace Kelly, she is certainly a beautiful woman. Not recognised as an actress when she got this role, better known at the time as a model, she was surprisingly effective here. It should be noted however that barring one or two instances, there was not an awful lot of pressure placed upon her acting abilities. The nice surprises here however are Suzanne Pleshette and Jessica Tandy. The former is too often remembered for her saccharine roles in Disney films, but this demonstrates the more traditionally dramatic side of her career. The latter of course went through a rather lengthy Indian summer in her career that culminated in an Oscar for her role in Driving Miss Daisy, so it is a change to return to a quality performance from the middle portion of her career.

    But overshadowing the story and the performances are the special effects. To be honest, they are starting to show their age a tad nowadays, but they still remain pretty respectable - especially considering the vast amount of yellow screen work that was involved here. It might not look as believable as modern CGI but personally I think that this only enhances the movie making experience.

    When one considers that this followed (in order) Vertigo, North By Northwest and Psycho, it would be fair to say that this represented a rather obvious purple patch for Alfred Hitchcock - remembering the film was followed by Marnie. Whilst I would be loathe to include this in the maestro's best, as exemplified by the first three mentioned films, it is nonetheless one of his more enduring films. Any representative collection of the maestro would need to include The Birds.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    But, any representative collection would probably need a somewhat better effort than that exemplified by this transfer. First of all, it is not in the original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, nor in any widescreen format. After comparison between the Region 1 release (which is in the correct aspect ratio of 1.85:1), it would seem that we have a pan and scan transfer, missing plenty of side information. In comparison with the Region 1 release, the picture looks a tad constrained as a result. Since it is a pan and scan transfer, it is obviously not 16x9 enhanced. Presumably, there are some logical reasons why we could not have a widescreen format transfer, but this is really a monumental disappointment within the context of the overall Hitchcock Collection.

    After the disappointment of the aspect ratio however, things do not really get any better at all. Quite simply, this is a very grainy transfer. Now this is a common trait held with the Region 1 release, which presumably means that the problem is source related, but irrespective of where the fault lies, it does make this a less than ideal transfer to watch. However, the grain just serves to compound a somewhat diffuse image and if you pause the transfer anywhere, you will see what I mean. A good example is early in the film when Hitch makes his traditional cameo appearance, walking out of the pet shop with two dogs on leads. If you pause the picture at this point you will note the lack of sharpness in the image and the amount of colour bleed, especially in the facial area. Basically, this is not a great transfer at all and certainly nothing as good as we have seen in films of an older vintage from other sources. Detail is adequate enough although you could argue that it is too good for the film since it does serve to highlight the effects work a tad too much. The shadow detail is adequate enough too, but obviously not a patch upon what we have seen from films even five years later. Since there is such an issue with grain in the transfer, which is most amply demonstrated by the interior scenes in the pet shop, you can pretty well guess that clarity leaves something to be desired. There also appears to be some issue with low level noise, although this may of course be a residual of the grain problem.

    The colour palette is a fairly typical example of the slightly oversaturated look that early Technicolor tends towards. This however is not consistent, and there are at times some feelings of undersaturation in (for instance) Melanie's rather pallid green dress. The exterior scenes, such as the opening scene in Union Square, San Francisco, have a slightly digital look to the colour that contrasts with the slightly smoother look of the interior scenes. Still, I would not really have that much complaint with the colour if it were not for the fact that we have seen much better in the ilk of Vertigo and North By Northwest. This is not what I would call a vibrant transfer, but the colours are reasonably believable. As indicated, there is something of an issue with colour bleed in the transfer. Nothing really serious, but enough to cause the odd double take on what you are seeing. There did not appear to be any oversaturation issues in the transfer.

    There did not appear to be many significant MPEG artefacts in the transfer, although there seemed to be a bit of blockiness in the bird cage at 7:25 and in the driving sequence around 11:00. There was also some lack of resolution in the pan shot at 19:14. Film-to-video artefacts were not that prevalent in the transfer and were only obvious in car grilles (15:06 and 18:40) and in roofs (25:29). There were a fair few film artefacts flying around here and this is one area which highlights the lack of a full restoration of the film. None were really intrusive, but the sheer consistency cannot be ignored.

    This is an RSDL formatted DVD, with the layer change coming at 106:43. This occurs mid-scene and is pretty awful, as it comes just after some motion has started.

    There are a reasonable number of subtitle options on the DVD, and I sampled some of the English efforts. They are not too bad, missing little in the way of essential stuff but struggling to keep up with some of the dialogue. There are fairly well presented and reasonably easy to read.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are two soundtracks on the DVD, an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack and a German Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. I stuck with the English soundtrack only.

    The dialogue comes up well in the transfer and easy to understand. There are no significant audio sync problems.

    The original music score is one of the most unusual of any Alfred Hitchcock film and is the work of Remi Gassmann and Oskar Sala. Making use of a new electronic gadget, this is not so much a musical score as an expression of natural sounds in an electronic-sounding way. It is surprisingly effective in its own way and probably adds a little more to the suspense of the film than would have a purely orchestral score from Hitch's favourite composer, Bernard Herrmann.

    There really is not much to say about the sound. Whilst obviously it could have been remastered to better effect, I am guessing that this is very much the original soundtrack - warts and all. One thing that really stands out for me is the lousy Foley work, no better exemplified than by the screeching tyres as Melanie drives to Bodega Bay. It might have been believable - just - in 1963 but sounds utterly ludicrous nowadays. The sound is a tad congested and has no space to it at all - very much typifying an unremastered mono sound in my view. Obviously the action is centre channel stuff and the surround channels and the bass channel are pretty much superfluous here. Thankfully there are no obvious distortions in the soundtrack.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There is a rather nice collection of extras here, much of which adds quite significantly to the film.

Menus

    Nothing much to bother about, with just the main menu having some audio enhancement - although the rather familiar music becomes a tad grating after a while. Themed in common with most of the DVDs from the first collection, the theming obviously will be carried through into the second collection.

Documentary - All About The Birds (79:51)

    Nothing much wrong with this rather extensive effort! Very much in the mould of the efforts seen in the first collection, this one is elevated by the contributions from Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor. A very interesting collection of interview material with some behind the scenes stuff and excerpts from the film - annoyingly in widescreen! Presented in a Full Frame format, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. The technical quality is good and the content is interesting, making this essential viewing.

Deleted Scene

    Well, not your normal deleted scene inasmuch as it isn't film. The scene itself has been lost and this is a reconstruction using script stills of the scene and photo stills taken during the filming of the scene. Somewhat pointless really but completists will be glad of the inclusion as at least you can imagine what the scene may have looked like filmed.

Alternate Ending

    This too is not your traditional presentation, as this ending was never filmed. It is the original idea as set out in the script and to some extent storyboarded, but which was changed prior to actual shooting. It is a similar presentation to the deleted scene, in that it uses script stills and the original storyboards to illustrate the ending. Interesting enough I suppose, although it duplicates almost entirely a portion of the documentary.

Featurette - Tippi Hedren's Screen Tests (9:58)

    Somewhat interesting, not the least because of the way the tests were done (recreating scenes from three Alfred Hitchcock films) and the involvement of Martin Balsam. Interesting too for the chance to listen to Alfred Hitchcock providing some direction to Tippi Hedren. Presented in Full Frame format, they are not 16x9 enhanced and come with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. As befitting something of this nature, the technical quality is probably best described as adequate, but it is an interesting inclusion.

Featurette - Universal News Reels (3:09)

    Actually comprising two news reels, these are fairly standard "promotional" efforts showing Alfred Hitchcock addressing the national Press Club and Tippi Hedren and Alfred Hitchcock doing some promotional work for the film using, obviously, birds. Presented in Full Frame format, they are not 16x9 enhanced and come with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Of marginal value only, apart from seeing a bit more of Tippi Hedren.

Gallery - Photos

    Comprising 85 publicity shots and stills from the film, a nothing extraordinary collection of photos. There are some obvious cross colouration issues in some of the stills towards the end of the display.

Theatrical Trailer (5:12)

    One of the typically different, extended promotional efforts in which Alfred Hitchcock seemed to excel. Done very much tongue in cheek, this is possibly almost as famous as the film itself. Presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, it is not 16x9 enhanced and comes with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Nothing much awry here and almost priceless in its uniqueness!

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The Region 4 release misses out on:

    The Region 1 release misses out on:

    Even before we go any further, you can pretty well guess that Region 1 is the preferred version of the DVD. However, let us actually consider the transfers themselves. I did a direct comparison between the two versions for the first twenty minutes of the film, which covers the main areas where I have problems with the transfers (graininess, blockiness, film artefacts, aliasing). After comparing the two, I have to say that the Region 1 release seems to be a little smoother, with the grain being a little less obvious and the blockiness not being so prevalent. Overall, on the direct comparison, I would have to say that I will be keeping my Region 1 DVD and would be recommending it as the version of choice in all respects: proper presentation, marginally but noticeably better transfer, more extras and probably a better cover (the Region 1 Hitchcock films have a much more appealing presentation than that afforded the original Region 4 releases, whose presentation will presumably be continued in this second batch).

Summary

    The Birds might not be amongst the very best that Alfred Hitchcock gave us, but it is still a darn good film. Unfortunately, the transfer has its problems (whether source-related or not) and large screen owners might have significant problems with this effort. The extras package is pretty good though and overall this gains only a grudging recommendation, albeit one tempered by the lack of a widescreen presentation. I cannot help but feel that the film deserves a full restoration that might well produce a much more wholly satisfying transfer in all respects. We can but hope that Universal rethink this one in the future.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Ian Morris (Biological imperfection run amok)
Wednesday, September 19, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-515, using S-Video output
DisplaySony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.
AmplificationYamaha RXV-795
SpeakersEnergy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL

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Comments (Add)
Very odd how R4 is pan and scan crap - REPLY POSTED
Mono Sound or ...? - Matthew
Why not widescreen? -