Review by Michael Jacobson
Stars: Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne
Pleshette, Veronica Cartwright
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Audio: Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono
Video: Widescreen 1.85:1 Anamorphic Transfer
Features: See Review
Length: 120 Minutes
Release Date: March 28, 2000
The Birds remains one of
Alfred Hitchcocks most popular films, and has become a quintessential horror
picture. With combinations of real and fake
birds, elaborately planned trick shots and using the latest in matting technology (blue
screen processing without the blue screen),
its probably the most complicated movie Hitchcock ever made, yet he spared no effort
in his quest to, as he put it, drive the audience to the edge of their seat and keep
them there. It also marks
Hitchcocks second foray into the works of Daphne Du Maurier, after having
successfully bringing Rebecca to the big screen over twenty years earlier
as his first American picture.
So why birds? It would
have been a lot easier to create a horror movie using animals that are naturally more
threatening and more terrifying, right? Sharks,
snakes, alligators, lions
why not use one of those familiar standbys?
If thats a question you have going in, you certainly wont
have it going out. As one character in the
film remarks, there are about 100 billion birds on the planet. There are, what, 6 billion of us? You do the math.
Plus, Hitchcock slowly shatters all illusions of safety in our world by massing our
feathered friends against us. Sharks,
snakes, alligators or lions can be avoided fairly easily
just dont go where
they are. How do you avoid birds? Chances are, you go outside for even a moment,
youre bound to see, or at least hear one. Birds
exist among us, and we dont think about it. But
they do grossly outnumber us, so Hitchcock dares to pose the ultimate what if
scenario in his picture: weve hunted
and shot at them, eaten them for our Sunday meals, destroyed their natural habitations,
worn their plumage, and caged them for our own pleasure.
What if they one day turned against us because of all that?
There is no explanation in the film as to why the birds are behaving
the way they do
the closest it comes to it is a scene in a diner where some people
gather and discuss the situation
and naturally, theres the crazed loner in the
corner quoting the Bible and declaring the end of the world is at hand. An elderly ornithologist makes declarations about
the natural behavior patterns of birds, which of course, is going against everything
weve been witnessing.
I love the structure of the movie
in most man vs. nature films,
the point of the story is the antagonist, be it
the shark in Jaws or the snake in Anaconda. There
are human characters, of course, but their backgrounds are usually sketchy and
underdeveloped. Any story that belongs to
them is merely token. There is occasionally
the obligatory love angle, but again, its usually no more than fodder to fill up the
space between horror sequences.
The Birds begins like some
pages were torn from a soap opera script. A
beautiful young socialite, Melanie Daniels (Hedren) keeps crossing paths with handsome
attorney Mitch Brenner (Taylor). Its
obvious theyre attracted to each other, but they prefer getting on each others
nerves. She even takes a small boat out to
his house in Bodega Bay where he lives with his mother (Tandy) and little sister
(Cartwright) just to play a practical joke. But
the first interruption to the story occurs on her way back, as a seagull literally swoops
down from the sky for a sneak attack, leaving her wounded and bleeding.
The remaining picture plays out like it wants to continue with this
cheesy love story melodrama, but the damn birds keep coming in to throw the tale out of
whack, until finally, about halfway into the movie, it gives up and becomes a film about the birds.
Its a frightening notion to consider how nature could unexpectedly rise up
and throw a monkey wrench into our carefully structured lives and plans (see: Magnolia),
but sometimes, it does
and for my money, the way Hitchcock presents it here is scary,
but also with a bit of his legendary wicked sense of humor. The point is clear: we take nature for granted all too often, and
rarely consider that it could rise up against us at any moment.
The master of suspense builds upon his simple but
unsettling premise, until the last half hour of the film, which is almost mad with
tension. It leads to the absolutely
unforgettable finale, which is one of Hitchcocks finest moments.
In the end, does the lack of explanation hurt the overall film? For some, it does, but I dont personally
think so. As screenwriter Evan Hunter pointed
out on the included documentary, providing a reason for the birds attacking would turn the
picture from horror to science fiction. Plus,
it leaves a lot open for discussion afterwards, with no right or wrong answers to be
given, just thoughts and opinions. My own
take? If you watch the included trailer
(which is a hoot, and for once, I recommend playing it
before watching the film), I believe youll understand Hitchcocks own point of
This is an exceptional transfer from Universal one that might have garnered a four star rating, if I hadnt watched their DVD of Vertigo so many times. The Birds pales slightly in comparison, but only in comparison. If you havent watched Vertigo, I doubt youll find much to complain about here. Its only slightly less bright overall, and I emphasize slight. Throughout the anamorphic transfer, colors are good and images are extraordinarily sharp and detailed well into the background. The opening sequence in the bird store is a good example, as are some of the distant shots of the small town, where each structure and rooftop is singularly identifiable. There are an instance or two of noticeable grain again, very slight, and usually only against the blue sky background. Nothing distracting at all possibly not even that noticeable, unless youre really looking for it. A commendable job all around.
The soundtrack is a split channel mono, but it is without a doubt the
liveliest and most dynamic mono track Ive yet heard on disc. The sound is so carefully structured and
presented, so full of range and multi-dimensional, you might just find yourself fooled as
to what direction the noises are coming from.
As per the norm with Universals Collectors Edition discs, this DVD is loaded. There is a lengthy and fascinating recent documentary All About The Birds, recreations of the famous deleted scene and alternative ending, using script, photos and storyboards, extensive storyboard drawings, Tippi Hedrens original screen test for Hitchcock, two original Universal newsreels, production photos and notes, talent files, and of course, the immortal trailer, which I humbly beg you not to overlook.
The Birds is an absolute horror classic made by the master of suspense, and presented on an outstanding quality disc loaded with terrific extras. This is what DVD is all about!