October 30, 2012 is when Universal is releasing the 'Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Collection' containing fifteen of the director's seminal works. In an effort to bring you the most in-depth coverage on this set we are going through each included movie to give you the most thorough review we can. Feel free to visit the 'Alfred Hitchcock: Masterpiece Collection' hub page. There you will find links to the other movies in this set and everything you'd want to know about the set's technical specifics and its packaging.
On paper, the idea sounds corny: flocks of birds attack people in a small town as they run for cover. Sounds like a bad idea for a SyFy Channel movie, right? Well, in the hands of Alfred Hitchcock, this story of bloodthirsty birds doesn't seem so ridiculous after all.
Take, for example, Steven Spielberg and the masterpiece of suspense and naturalistic horror he created with 'Jaws.' Dozens of shark-related movies have been trying to capture that same unnerving feeling of dread that Spielberg created in 'Jaws' and have completely failed. I'm convinced the same goes for flocks of killer birds. In someone else's hands this story becomes just as trite as it originally sounds. In Hitchcock's care, the story takes on a completely different context. Not only is it a tale about a town besieged by ravenous fowl, but there's also a deeper story about an arrogant woman being humbled and a family coming together in the face of imminent death.
Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is the quintessential Hitchcock leading lady; blonde, slender, and gorgeous. She begins the film as a self-assured woman with a wealthy background who seems detached and coolly ignorant to the world and people around her. She isn't above deceiving and lying as long as it furthers her own ambitions. The attacking birds are used as fuel for her to change her ways.
Always wanting the final word, Melanie is hell-bent on teaching Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) a lesson. Mitch is a lawyer who doesn't find Melanie's practical joking funny at all. In order to get him good, Melanie drives up to his home at the edge of the infamous Bodega Bay to give him a couple of love birds as an inside joke after running into him at a bird shop. She's so determined to get him back that she rents a boat and motors across the bay hoping to deliver the birds undetected. She's brazen and brash. She greets everyone with the same icy stare and hollow words. She's the hot girl at the party who thinks she's better than everyone.
Much like 'Jaws,' Hitchcock takes his time unleashing the full fury of his feathered menaces. The first hour of the movie is spent setting up Melanie's cold bitchiness with only a few events of foreshadowing as to what's about to descend on the town.
There's something inherently creepy about getting attacked by a swarm of birds, and Hitchcock knows it. He understands there's absolutely no way to fight back. The best a person can do is run wildly while flailing their arms around in the air. An angry flock of birds would simply be too much for a person to handle on their own, which is why it's so easy to relate to the residents of Bodega Bay. You don't have to be attacked by birds to understand the fear. It's the fear of helplessness. Of not being able to do anything simply because you're outnumbered and have absolutely nothing to combat the enemy.
Melanie, Mitch, and the rest of the Bodega Bay population find themselves in a no-win situation. The feeling of hopelessness is palpable as people run around the town screaming as gulls and crows peck at their eyes. It's truly a bleak circumstance and it's the only way that Melanie could be humbled sufficiently.
Like so many Hitchcock leading ladies, Melanie is dragged through the proverbial mud. She begins the movie prim, proper, and full of confidence. By the end, she's broken and battered.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Check the main hub page for the complete detail of the packaging of this set. Everything about it can be found there. For fun we've posted a picture of the section in the set created for 'The Birds' so you can see what it looks like.
'The Birds' is a curious title to judge when it comes to a video score. What you may run into here is people complaining about the way the special effects look. They're a product of their time, but they still look relatively well done here. Truthfully, I expected the effects to appear much more outdated than they actually do. The 1080p presentation has treated them with care. They may not be the most realistic looking effects, but they're presented as they were intended to look.
Overall I was pleased with the way this turned out. The presentation is a mingling of stellar shots (such as a long-shot of Melanie's arriving at Bodega Bay) and a few softer shots (particularly the detail on faces and edges whenever characters are placed in front of a blue screen for effects to be added in behind them).
As mentioned, many of the longer daytime shots, like the one that takes in the whole town of Bodega Bay, look as photographic as any of the detailed landscapes we saw in 'The Trouble with Harry.' There are also many close-ups that show quite a bit of detail, especially close-ups of hands and arms being bitten by birds. I was also impressed by the detail in clothing. Mitch's mother wears a skirt during the final act of the film that I was sure was going to exhibit shimmering, but it didn't. Also, the grill on Melanie's car doesn't show any signs of aliasing when it easily could have.
There are some spots with localized noise, such as the scene where Melanie enters the elevator with another man. The light in between them seems to crawl with out-of-control specks. There's also a scene, around the 1:33:00 mark, where the sky seems to swarm with that same black noise. These are localized incidents, however, and don't represent the presentation as a whole.
On the whole colors appear stable and black levels are nicely rendered. Detail wavers a bit, but not enough to detract from one's viewing of the movie. It's a solid presentation.
For purely selfish reasons, I was hoping this title would get a lossless 5.1 mix, simply because of the amazing sound effects provided for the flocking birds and the way Hitchcock uses them to build the movie's nail-biting suspense. With that said, the DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 Mono track is no slouch.
Dialogue is always presented at a clear and audible volume. There isn't a time during the movie where a line of dialogue gets lost or obscured.
The real gem here though is the way the bird noises are presented. The beating of wings as the birds fill the Brenner household is as engulfing as a mono track can be. That time in particular the mix sounds like it's breaking the barriers of its mono origin and roaming free. The same goes for the screeching and cawing of the birds as they dive bomb the townspeople. At times the noise is ear-piercing, but it's got to be.
The scene where Melanie slowly walks past the crows on the playground as she makes her way to Annie's house is another example of how great this audio mix sounds. The birds don't caw, but there's plenty of disturbing clicking of beaks going on. It's an discomforting sound that the mix captures and relays perfectly.
This mono track is quite impressive when it comes to conveying the fear and terror of deadly flocks of birds. It truly showcases the way this movie should sound.
What a marvelously suspenseful and terrifying film 'The Birds' is. Even though the effects don't age well, the dreadful feeling you get while watching it does. That's the key to the movie and to Hitchcock's timeless talent. He takes something completely ordinary and creates a chillingly surreal experience. The video and audio presentations are as good as one could ask for. The supplements, including the sneaky Blu-ray exclusives, are a big plus. This one is a must own.