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  Specs
  • Pan&Scan
  • Dual Layer (RSDL )
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Mono
  • German: Dolby Digital Mono
  Subtitles
    English, Spanish, German, Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian
  Extras
  • Deleted scenes
  • Theatrical trailer
  • 2 Featurette - Tippi Hedren's screen test, Universal newsreels
  • Photo gallery
  • Booklet
  • Storyboards
  • Documentaries - All About The Birds

The Birds

Universal/Universal . R4 . COLOR . 115 mins . PG . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Good eeeeeeeeeeeeeevening…

This week's tale opens in a San Franciscan pet shop, where we meet snooty young playgirl Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren). Ah, how sweet - she wishes to purchase a mina bird as a gift for her aunt - oh, but she's planning on teaching it naughty words first. Enter young lawyer Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), who unbeknownst to Melanie recognises her as a renowned practical joker, and deciding to turn the tables leads her to believe that he thinks she's a shop assistant. After some to-ing and fro-ing he admits his deceit, after enquiring as to the availability of lovebirds as he is after a gift for his sister's birthday.

Brenner intrigues Melanie, and after tracking him down via his number plate she decides on a whim to purchase the lovebirds and make a journey to his weekend haunt of Bodega Bay. A quick hoon down to the coastal town in her funky silver convertible ensues, tyres screeching around every bend, where some simple detective work leads her to the home of his mother and sister. She hires a boat to allow her that certain element of surprise, deposits the lovebirds inside the farmhouse, and makes good her escape - but is seen by Mitch. As he rushes to meet her back in town, a lone gull attacks - leaving her bloody-headed and shaken. What a peculiar occurrence.

After her mini-ordeal, Melanie has dinner with Mitch, his sister Cathy (Veronica Cartwright) and rather jealous and over-protective mother (Jessica Tandy). Ms Daniels decides to stay the night with the local schoolteacher Annie Hayworth (Suzanne Pleshette), a former love of Mitch, who just so happens to have a room to let. After a kamikaze bird lobs on the doorstep the two are curious as to what's going on. When a flock of seagulls assaults Cathy's party guests the following day however, it's clear to all that something is definitely up with our feathered fiends.

"Are the birds gonna eat us Mommy?"

More and more odd ornithological happenings ensue, and as they start claiming scalps many of the townsfolk fear for their lives. Love blossoms via adversity for Melanie and Mitch, and even his Mom begins to approve upon witnessing the strength of she who is trying to take her son away. Up until now humans and birds had always lived in harmony, will things ever be the same again?

More than three years in the making, and featuring a staggering considering the technology of the time 370 effects shots, The Birds has become renowned as one of Hitchcock's most frightening films. His third film based on a Daphne Du Maurier story, whilst the concept of taking everyday, ordinary birds and turning them into killers is a chilling idea, it does come across here as quite the gimmick - almost a try-too-hard attempt to best the creepy horror of the film's predecessor, Psycho - as in reality the plot is remarkably thin on the ground, and the end - well, I don’t wish to give away any spoilers, but if you have seen it I daresay you'll know what I mean...

Apparently Hitchcock was convinced that Tippi Hedren would become the next Grace Kelly. Unfortunately it would seem he was in need of a good whack from his wife Alma, as surely the only explanation for his casting such a cold, emotionless actress in this role could but mean he was smitten with her. She lights up the screen like, well, an igloo, leaving Taylor and Tandy to try to mop up and give us some characters with which we can at least sympathise.

Sure there are some fantastic only-Hitch type moments for all to enjoy. The mere concept of combining romance and death in such a manner being one which few could get away with so successfully (now who muttered Shakespeare?) The use of a cacophony of various bird sounds as the basis for the soundtrack, with nary a musical note to be heard, is an absolutely chilling master stroke, and perhaps could be singled out as the one feature which has gained The Birds such renown simply for its uniqueness, and the at times almost overbearingly menacing atmosphere it adds to this film, especially when coupled with the director's uncanny ability to come up with ever-innovative camera views.

After a slow start things pick up pace nicely, with Hitch gradually teasing us with the increasing menace of the birds, and dropping in his devilish little humorous bits with seeming abandon. As the audience we have more of an inkling as to what is to ensue than our on-screen protagonists, adding to the suspense no end as we can but wonder what is to transpire next.

  Video
Contract

Oh the ornithology! In a star(t)ling example of complete and utter rampant stupidity on behalf of the distributor, this region 4 release of The Birds is presented in pan and scan. Originally released to cinemas in a ratio of 1.85:1, the region 1 disc reproduces the correct format anamorphically, leaving us wondering why we have been treated with such utter disregard.

If you can get past this massive perversion of justice, the video quality is reasonably good, barring the grain that is present throughout the entire feature. Colour scrubs up nicely, just managing to avoid over-saturation, and the image is fairly clear and sharp at all times. There are a couple of instances of minor aliasing, although none worthy of too much complaint, and needless to say with a film of this vintage there are examples of speckles visible throughout. The layer change comes quite late in the film, and is jarringly plonked mid-scene, something Hitchcock fans are sadly becoming accustomed to.

In all the visual side of things comes up quite well considering, barring the incredibly major fact that the disc has been released in the wrong ratio. When there is obviously a perfectly good 1.85:1 print out there this is a crime that has left me no option but to half the overall video score. It's even more frustrating when the included documentary shows clips from the film as we should be seeing it. Hang your heads in shame Universal, as this is an incredibly poor show.

  Audio
Contract

Not afforded the remix treatment some of Hitchcock's other work has received, The Birds is delivered to us in mono. Despite the lack of separation, dialogue is always easy to understand, and no dramas with audio synch are apparent. Some minor hissing and crackling is noticeable at various times throughout, made all the more conspicuous by the film's many periods of silence.

As hinted earlier, unlike most any film you could ever name, The Birds has no musical soundtrack whatsoever. Hitchcock's regular composer Bernard Herrmann was employed as "sound consultant", orchestrating the many bird noises both real and synthesized into a disturbing symphony that truly is amazing.

  Extras
Contract

As with discs from the first Alfred Hitchcock Collection, a static menu featuring a still from the film is served up, accompanied by the familiar tune from Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Funeral March of a Marionette. Unlike many previous releases, there is quite the abundance of extras to play with…

Documentary - All About The Birds: Not a mere half an hour or so this time, but an 80 minute spectacular - in theory. Unfortunately this review copy although unmarked would not play past about the half-hour mark, however being a test pressing I would hope that the final release copies actually work. I can at least tell you that what was viewable was brilliant, both content-wise and also visually. Many clips from the film are present, and in their correct ratio just to rub salt into our wounds. There are captivating insights into the incredible-for-the-time effects processes used, and interviews with everybody from Hitch's daughter Patricia, production designer Robert Boyle and film maker Peter Bogdanovich - all of whom will be familiar to those who have purchased recent Hitch DVD releases - to actors Hedren, Taylor and Cartwright. Many others who worked on the film from effects supervisors to makeup artists feature here too, and the usual fascinating array of anecdotes about Hitch and working with him abound.

Deleted scene: Well, it sort of is. In actuality a series of stills from a now long lost deleted love scene between Mitch and Melanie on the porch of the Bodega Bay farmhouse, interspersed with the actual typed script, you'd better be one heck of a speed reader to catch it all, as they are not able to be paused. Originally planned as an attempt at a bit of levity within the drama, Hitchcock apparently felt it too distracting for an audience simply crying out for more birds.

Original ending: Hmm, this is also a tad misleadingly titled, being similar to the above except as it was never shot we get production drawings rather than stills. Essentially an extended version of the film's ending, I won’t say any more, other than once again you may wish to brush up on your spd rdng talents before approaching this part of the disc.

Tippi Hedren's screen test: Almost ten minutes of rather crackly and scratchy vision of Miss Ice Queen herself pouting, preening and showing off various expensive outfits in a few different takes, obeying orders from an off camera Hitchcock, and interacting with some bloke who's sitting on a couch. You get to find out about the Swedish origins of the name 'Tippi', and even a discourse on necrophilia. In all this has quite an air of tastelessness that is rather hard to put into words.

Universal newsreels: Two black and white theatrical news snippets, one in which "the man who was chilling theatre audiences long before air conditioning" addresses the National Press Club about The Birds, the other a pre-promotion for the film where we see Hitch and Tippi releasing pigeons. The video and sound are both rather average, but not seriously horrible either.

Production photographs A huge collection of 85 well-presented photos, covering the usual gamut of worldwide posters, lobby cards, behind the scenes glimpses, stills and posed promotional shots. A grand total of two of them are annotated.

Trailer: Now this is almost worth buying the disc for on its own - almost. Presented in the ratio the film should have been, 1.85:1, and in remarkably good condition in both the video and audio departments, we are treated to a 5:12 minute "lecture" from Mr Hitchcock himself on man's relationship with the birds over the years. A completely fascinating discourse displaying the man's wryness, cynicism, irony and dastardly wit, we see him pecked by his pet budgie, about to tuck into a roast chicken, and get interrupted by Ms Hedren shrieking, "They're coming!" - fabulous stuff!

4-page booklet with production notes: Apparently included with the release copy, our review disc arrived without one so it's a bit hard to comment on it at this time.

  Overall  
Contract

The Birds is regarded as classic Hitchcock by so many that at first I thought I must be missing something, although on second viewing I'm not necessarily convinced that I am. I can understand how at the time of release it would have been a terrifying cinematic experience, but nowadays at least to these eyes it comes across more as gimmicky and lacking in substance in both the story and acting departments. Perhaps in some ways you could view it as a precursor to the modern day flicks where effects carry the show, for the birds are the true stars here.

As for the disc, the extras are undeniably great, notwithstanding the quibbles mentioned above, the sound is adequate and the video is fine except for the major issue of the lack of an anamorphically enhanced 1.85:1 transfer. The big question you must ask yourself here is whether it is really worth investing in a clearly inferior product to that released overseas? I think my thoughts on the matter are clear...

FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARK!!!


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      And I quote...
    "Unforgivably released locally in the wrong ratio, FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAARK!!!"
    - Amy Flower
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Pioneer DV-535
    • TV:
          Sony 68cm
    • Receiver:
          Onkyo TX-DS494
    • Speakers:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse RBS662
    • Centre Speaker:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECC442
    • Surrounds:
          DB Dynamics Eclipse ECR042
    • Subwoofer:
          DTX Digital 4.8
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          Standard Component RCA
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