Birdy (1984)

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Released 2-May-2000

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Biographies-Cast & Crew
Theatrical Trailer-1.78:1, Dolby Digital 2.0 (2:31)
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1984
Running Time 115:16
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Alan Parker
Studio
Distributor

Sony Pictures Home Entertain
Starring Matthew Modine
Nicolas Cage
Case Brackley-Trans-No Lip
RPI $39.95 Music Peter Gabriel


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.78:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
French
German
Italian
Spanish
Dutch
Arabic
Czech
Danish
Finnish
Greek
Hebrew
Hindi
Hungarian
Icelandic
Norwegian
Polish
Portuguese
Swedish
Turkish
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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

Plot Synopsis

    I must admit that I never had any great hopes for this film in terms of plot value, as I had never heard of it until the day it came to be on the release sheets. As a matter of fact, I managed to confuse it with a film version of Bye Bye Birdy, but I was soon set straight on that factor. I also had my doubts when I learned that a man who starred in the dreadful Full Metal Jacket, namely Matthew Modine, was the top-billed star of the production. The fact that Alan Parker, whose other credits include The Commitments, is responsible for this film's direction does not help matters any. But if there is one thing that did give me good hopes for this film, it is the fact that Nicolas Cage plays a major role. Sure, he's no Marlon Brando, but he does have a talent for bringing a certain touch to the characters he plays. Anyway, the film revolves around "Birdy" (Matthew Modine), who resides in an isolated room within a US Army hospital's psychiatric ward. For some time, he has been crouched in his room, sitting in various bird-like positions, and this leads the appropriate officers to decide to bring in anyone they can find who might know Birdy, in an effort to unlock the secrets buried in his mind. As luck would have it, they manage to find a close friend in the shape of Al Columbato (Nicolas Cage), who has known Birdy since their adolescence in Philadelphia. Al has suffered major injuries to his face as a result of his efforts in the Vietnam war, whereas Birdy had been a prisoner of the Vietnamese guerillas for over a year before his arrival in the psychiatric ward. Al attempts to bring Birdy out of his catatonic shell to rejoin the rest of the world, but the secret to this lies in memories of their youth.

    The thing that separates this film from most dramas relating to war is that the war itself is little more than a detail in the story, rather than the dominant focus as it is in most other films of this kind. Indeed, a major proportion of the film is used to depict Al and Birdy as adolescents in Philadelphia, demonstrating that they are both human beings in spite of their present-day deformities. I haven't read the William Wharton novel this film is based on but I would believe the packaging's claim that the film is like the novel, in that it is about dreams, war, futures, obsession, and friendship. Despite the film taking its time to get into gear, it is a strangely, not to mention surprisingly, compelling drama about two human beings and the events that led to a major crossroad in their lives, not to mention the way they go from there. Of particular note are a brief cameo by a rather young-looking Marshal Bell as a secretary with a spitting problem, and the strangely satisfying way in which Birdy's relationship with smaller members of the animal kingdom is extrapolated in the many shots of the past. If you're searching for a great drama about human beings at the best and worst they can be, as opposed to just another war movie, then Birdy is certainly up your alley. I am certainly very happy that I had a look at it.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Okay, so the film is sixteen years old and is a two-hour effort confined to a single layer, so some allowances need to be made. However, given the combination of the film's age and its decidedly non-commercial nature, this is a very good transfer with only one or two flaws that deny it reference status. The transfer is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, complete with the feature I think should be compulsory on all DVDs, namely 16x9 enhancement. This ratio is slightly narrower than the original theatrical exhibition, but we can let this one slide. The transfer is reasonably sharp, although many shots in daylight sequences are softly focused, as was the case with many small-time films from the mid-1980s. Shadow detail is reasonable, but inhibited by the age of the film stock to quite a noticeable degree. Low-level noise was not a problem at any point in the transfer. Colour saturation was very muted and dull, reflecting the age of the film and the locations in which it was shot.

    MPEG artefacts were not noticed at any point in the film. Film-to-video artefacts were the chief letdown of this transfer, with aliasing becoming apparent in some shots of chequered menswear, and a very problematic bout of telecine wobble at 61:02 that lasts a whole twenty-five seconds. The picture juts up and down quite badly during the entire shot, which is extremely distracting and annoying to say the very least. Sadly, there also appear to be other shots in the film that are affected by telecine wobble to a much smaller degree, although these are nowhere near as bad to look at. This is a real pity, because this is otherwise a nice transfer of a film that has obviously been rotting in the vaults for quite a while. Film artefacts were very occasional and very minor, which is quite a surprise when you think about how long it has been since this film has been seen on any media at all.

Audio

    The audio transfer is very plain, but functional enough considering the age and the theme of the film. A choice of five soundtracks are included with this DVD, with the original English dialogue in Dolby Digital 2.0, with surround encoding. Dubs in French and Spanish are provided in Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo, although the packaging erroneously refers to them as surround encoded soundtracks. Finally, German and Italian dubs are provided in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono. For this review, I stuck with the original English dialogue, although I later sampled some of the dialogue in German and Spanish for the purposes of curiosity. The dialogue was always clear and easy to understand, which is decidedly important when you consider the importance of the dialogue in this film. There were some moments when certain parts of the dialogue threatened to lose clarity due to the limitations that 1984 recording facilities would place upon dialogue that is shouted, but this was not the fault of the transfer. Audio sync was never a problem at any point in the transfer as a result of either the transfer or the production itself.

    The music in this film consists of some score music and some contemporary music dating back to the specific eras covered by the two distinct time periods in the film. What is interesting to note is that the score music is credited to one Peter Gabriel, and I am still trying to figure out whether this is the same man who is responsible for such contemporary songs from the 1980s as the much-loved Sledge Hammer. In any case, this is a very moving score that is powerful and very complimentary to the film, with not a single moment of its presence wasted in any way.
(Addendum April 28, 2000: As of yesterday, I have been emailed and informed that the Peter Gabriel who scored this film is the same Peter Gabriel who recorded such hits as Sledge Hammer. As it stands, I highly recommend the score music if you're looking for a good soundtrack CD.)

    The surround channels were used in moderation, to support the moderate occasions in the film that called for them. They were lightly worked by the ambient sounds in the film and the music. The sounds of birds chirping were well-supported by the surrounds in spite of the obvious limitations of the mix, and they have quite a surprising impact. The music used during the film was also quite well-supported by the mix, and the overall sounds in the film are amazingly moving, which make me award the film slightly more than I would normally award an audio transfer with such limitations. The subwoofer was used very occasionally to support moments in the soundtrack, but it was not very frequently used. When it was called into the overall sound mix, it was inconspicuously worked into the overall mix without making itself suspicious.

Extras

    Given that this disc retails for forty dollars here in Australia, I feel that we have been somewhat short-changed here. A commentary track by Alan Parker, Matthew Modine, Nicolas Cage, or all of the above would have been especially welcome.

Menu

    The menu consists of some graphics from the film. It appears to be 16x9 enhanced, despite the small amounts of shimmering in the cursor.

Theatrical Trailer

    This trailer is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1, with 16x9 Enhancement and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, and a choice of German, French, Dutch, Spanish, and Italian subtitles. For some reason, however, it appears to lock up whenever the menu button is pressed while it is playing back.

Cast & Crew Biographies

    Limited biographies are provided for Matthew Modine, Nicolas Cage, and director Alan Parker.

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 version of this disc misses out on;     Given that automatic Pan & Scan is supposed to be included with DVDs, and the fact that seven theatrical trailers are crammed onto a single layer of the disc with the film itself, the fact that the Region 1 DVD is dual-sided is just not on. Whomever was in charge of the video transfer of the Region 1 version really needs their head examined. Region 4 is the winner through sheer incompetence.
(Ed. I would personally declare the R4 and R1 versions as equivalent, as I don't hold the passionate views of Dean on dual sided DVDs.)

Summary

    At first I was wondering why on earth I had volunteered to review Birdy, and now I am extremely glad that I did. It is presented on a good DVD.

    The video quality is very good, except for a rather bad problem with telecine wobble halfway through the film.

    The audio quality is good, considering the limitations.

    It's a real shame about the extras, especially considering the price point.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Wednesday, April 26, 2000
Review Equipment
DVDGrundig GDV-100D/Toshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsong CS-823AMF (80cm)/Panasonic TC-29R20 (68 cm). This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersPanasonic S-J1500D Front Speakers, Sharp CP-303A Back Speakers, Philips FB206WC Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Subwoofer

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