Bird on a Wire (1990)

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Released 11-Jul-2000

Cover Art

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Comedy Biographies-Cast & Crew
Production Notes
Theatrical Trailer-2.35:1 (16x9 Enhanced), Dolby Digital 2.0
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1990
Running Time 105:59
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (53:46) Cast & Crew
Start Up Programme
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By John Badham

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Mel Gibson
Goldie Hawn
David Carradine
Bill Duke
Case Brackley-Trans-No Lip
RPI $36.95 Music Hans Zimmer

Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    Since it seems to be decade-old film time at Columbia Tristar, it seems consistent that I now be bringing you my personal report on Bird On A Wire, the first of many films in which Mel Gibson has tried to play someone other than Martin Riggs. Rick Jarmin (Mel Gibson), or Billy Ray Bowers as he is known at the film's rather slow beginning, is in the Witness Protection Program after testifying against Eugene Sorenson (David Carradine) and Albert Diggs (Bill Duke). After being recognized by an old girlfriend who goes by the name of Marianne Graves (Goldie Hawn), Rick decides to call Joe Weyburn (Stephen Tobolowsky), his contact in the program, and ask to be relocated before she blows his cover. As luck and a bad script would have it, Joe has retired, and the man Rick is put in touch with is a tad on the shifty side, and so on and so forth. If you think I really disliked this film, then you are absolutely correct, and I can see why the voters on the Internet Movie Database rated this film a five-point-one. The characterization is weak, the script is weak, and the film itself might as well have "this is a hangover from the 1980s" written on every ninth frame. An excellent example of the poor scripting comes when Rick and Mary visit a veterinarian by the name of Rachel Varney (Joan Severance), who uses a local anaesthetic upon Rick before extracting a piece of buckshot from one of his buttocks. I may not have a medical degree, but I find it a little hard to believe that even Martin Riggs could run from attackers without falling to the ground minutes after such an operation. I also might not have my pilot's license, but alarm bells went off in my head when Rick and Mary went on a full loop in a light aeroplane, and the light helicopter pursuing them followed suit. Give me a break!

    No less than three people (Louis Venosta, Eric Lerner, and David Seltzer) are credited with writing this turkey, John Badham's direction does not help matters any, and we have four different people (Lynne Carrow, Mike Fenton, Lynda Gordon, and Judy Taylor) to blame for the casting. Casting Goldie Hawn in this film is a crime for which these four should have been shot, as she does nothing but wail like a banshee through most of the film, and I can think of a million other actors from the 1980s who were much more pleasant to look at. When all is said and done, however, the claim on the back cover that this is a "roller coaster of a movie" is patently false. The action sequences fail to suspend disbelief, the dialogue sequences are annoying, and the story is just garbage. This is another one that is strictly for rental, and I mean only if you cannot find something better to spend a hundred minutes with.

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Transfer Quality


    Regardless of what I think of the film itself, the video transfer is really quite good, denied reference status only by the limitations of its age and a couple of small problems. The transfer is presented in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is 16x9 enhanced. The transfer is very sharp throughout the film, with the only limitations on clarity being imposed by the cameras used in principal photography. The shadow detail is somewhat average, with a lot of black patches being found in the night-time sequences that have little or no apparent detail in them. Low-level noise was not a problem at any point in the film, making the climax in the zoo infinitely more watchable than it could hope to be on VHS.

    The colour saturation is the biggest clue to the age of this film, with many tones being dull and lifeless while skin tones often exhibited a touch too much red for me to enjoy looking at. Whether or not this is a problem in the way the film was shot, or a fault in the transfer process, I cannot say with any authority. The colours generally had a certain look that was common to films shot in the early 1980s, which makes the film look much older than it really is.

    MPEG artefacts were not noted at any point in the transfer, which is a definite benefit of the RSDL formatting. Film-to-video artefacts were also difficult to spot, although some shimmering makes itself apparent in such things as car grilles. This is only a very mild problem, however, which is reflective of the high amount of bits that have been allocated to the main feature. Film artefacts were found from time to time, but they only consisted of a few small black and white specks here and there that were barely noticed. Overall, this is a very clean transfer.

    This disc is presented in the RSDL format, with the layer change occurring at 53:46. This has been placed less than a tenth of a second after the completion of a line of spoken dialogue. Not only is the placement less than ideal, but the noticeable pause compounds the problem.


    Matching the good video transfer is a good audio transfer, although I still feel that it could have been just a little better. The audio transfer is presented in a choice of five languages, all of which are encoded in Dolby Digital 2.0 with surround-encoding. The default choice is the original English dialogue, with dubs provided in French, German, Italian, and Spanish. I listened to all of the soundtracks except for the French dub, but the only real difference with the dubbed languages is that the dialogue is somewhat unnaturally balanced in the said dubs. The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at all times, within the limitations of Goldie Hawn's annoying tendency to scream her lines. No audio sync problems were noted at any time, although I must admit that I was not looking particularly hard for them during this film.

    The score music in this film was provided by Hans Zimmer, who is currently riding a wave of fame for his work on Ridley Scott's latest masterpiece, a neat little piece of work by the name of Gladiator. Speaking of that film, the score music in that film was powerful, heart-wrenching, and exceptionally noticeable even when a million other sounds fought for your attention, everything that the score music, what little of it there seemed to be, in Bird On A Wire is not.

    The surround channels were used in a limited fashion to support the music and sounds of car chases, or other such ambient noise. However, during the parts of the film in which the story took something resembling precedence, the sound field collapsed into mono. It would have been nice if Universal had taken the effort to remix the soundtrack into Dolby Digital 5.1, but this wouldn't have really improved the entertainment factor of the film. The subwoofer was used every now and again to add a floor to the occasional explosion or gunshot, which it did without making itself conspicuous. Overall, this is not a bad Dolby Digital 2.0 surround mix, but its value is still limited by the film it accompanies.



    The static menu contains a few stills from the film, and it is 16x9 enhanced, but otherwise is unremarkable.

Theatrical Trailer (2:34)

    Clocking in at just over two and a half minutes, this theatrical trailer is a shining example of how trailers used to look on VHS cassettes: film artefact-riddled messes of colour oversaturation.

Cast & Crew Biographies

    Biographies for Mel Gibson, Goldie Hawn, David Carradine, Bill Duke, and director John Badham are provided. Gibson's biography is interesting in that it reveals the surname of his character in Mad Max (Rockatansky), but the rest of this section is nothing to get excited about.

Production Notes

    A rundown of the various intricacies of shooting the film that could have been better presented in the form of a commentary.

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 and Region 1 versions of this disc appear to be identically featured.


    Bird On A Wire is a dull movie presented on a very good DVD. Rent it first to see if the unfavourable comparisons with Lethal Weapon put you off.

    The video quality is almost reference material.

    The audio quality is very good for a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround mix.

    The extras are passable.

Ratings (out of 5)


© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Friday, June 23, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersPanasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Philips PH931SSS Rear Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer

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