The Birds

The Birds (1963)
Universal Home Video
Cast: Tippi Hedren, Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette
Extras: Documentary, Deleted scene, Original Ending, Storyboard comparison, Newsreels and more...

It has been a while since Universal Home Video released the last titles in their Alfred Hitchcock Collection, but now they continues the series with another one of the thrillmeister’s masterpieces, "The Birds."
Apart from the stylish "Psycho," Hitchcock’s "The Birds" is certainly one of his most recognized films and one that undoubtedly conjures up some of the most gruesome horrors of all his films. Since I had heard that Universal Home Video had prepared a number of completely new supplements for this DVD special edition, I was eagerly anticipating this disc and was looking forward to giving it a good check-up.

Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) is trying to pick up some birds she ordered at a bird shop in San Francisco when Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) catches her eye. Always in pursuits of an eligible bachelor, Melanie poses as a store assistant to approach Mitch, but soon learns that the young man knows exactly who she is and played along with the prank. Offended, yet still very interested, Melanie decides to visit Brenner’s hometown Bodega Bay on the weekend to bring over a small present. When she arrives at the picturesque bay, a weird series of events occurs. Out of the blue, she is attacked by a seagull in broad daylight and soon other bird encounters are reported across the small town.
Thousands of crowes, gulls, sparrows and other birds begin to flock together over Bodega Bay and start to prey on the horrified residents. What started as a simple lovestruck weekend trip for Melanie soon becomes a fight for her life, as the birds grow in numbers and become increasingly aggressive, threatening to destroy everything and everyone in their sight.

Alfred Hitchcock’s unexplainable horror tale about nature going berserk has long become a classic. The imposing imagery of the birds, the fabulous cast of the movie featuring Tippi Hedren in her first feature film role, Rod Taylor and Jessica Tandy, and the eerie sound effects used like musical cues, create a shuddering tale of terror that has not lost a bit of its impact over the years. Even after repeated viewing, "The Birds" remains a chilling and apocalyptic film that has viewers on the edge. Hitchcock’s skills as a dramaturgist and his perfect mastery of suspense in movies fully pays off in this movie, to the point that the fluttering screeching birds slowly take over the entire perception of the viewer as he plunges into this incredible movie.

Universal Home Video has given Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece the master-treatment on this special edition, so much is clear from the first seconds. The film is presented in its original 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio in a transfer that is <$16x9,enhanced for 16x9> television sets. The source print from which the transfer is taken is generally clean and without notable defects. Although the occasional speckle is evident – after all the film has been around for a few years – the transfer itself is mostly free of artifacts and presents a clear picture. Some film grain is evident a select scenes however, mostly due to the film’s age. Colors are beautifully rendered in this presentation, creating a vivid and powerful image, ranging from fully saturated blood reds, to the many colors in the plumages of the birds. The color reproduction is always faithful without over saturation and creates a picture that shows the best qualities of Hitchcock’s beautifully suspenseful imagery. Fleshtones are also very natural looking throughout. The transfer features good contrast with deep, solid blacks, that never lose definition, even in the darkest shadows, and good highlights. Some edge-enhancement is evident in the transfer that creates some noticeable ringing around edges at times, but no compression artifacts are visible in this restored presentation of the movie, bringing "The Birds" to life in all its beauty.

The DVD contains monaural audio track in English and French that are presented as 2-channel mixes. It appears the audio on the disc has been carefully restored. The quality of the track is superb with a good and neutral frequency response. Although the age of the movie is evident in the limited bass extension, the track always maintains a rather natural quality without sibilance or distortion. It is especially notable that the audio track does not exhibit any noise, which indicates that good noise reduction has been applied to the track, as quiet parts are truly silent, while all the track’s ambiance and sound effects are fully intact without clipping of the high frequencies.

This release of "The Birds" contains a brand new documentary called "All About The Birds." It features a large number of interviews with the movie’s cast and crew, and Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter Patricia, who vividly remembers the shoot of the movie. Many of the movie’s key scenes are nicely analyzed by the people involved, explaining in detail why Hitchcock did things the way he did, and more importantly recalling how some of the shots came about in the first place. An analysis of a number of the movie’s special effect shots make this featurette a great addition to the DVD. But also the brand new interviews with the movie’s stars Tippi Hedren and Rod Taylor, who tell entertaining anecdotes how arduous the shoot of this film must have been at times, make this documentary a greatly enjoyable addition to the disc.

The film also shows the movie’s original ending. As it had never been shot and was only part of the script, the ending is shown with storyboards that give a good impression what it could have looked like. Although I like certain elements of this ending, I think Hitchcock’s decision to go for the very ominous final shot he used to end the movie was ultimately the right choice.
As other bonus materials you will see a storyboard to film comparison, Tippi Hedren’s original screen test, a photo gallery of production stills and production notes, as well as the Universal newsreels "The Birds Is Coming" and "Suspense Story: National Press Club Hears Hitchcock." The release is rounded up with the movie’s trailers and a good number of biographies.

As I had hoped, Universal Home Video’s release of "The Birds" is a beautiful and meticulously created special edition. Not only does it feature the movie in a flawless presentation that is beautiful to behold, it also gives viewers the rare opportunity to learn more about the genius that was at work behind the camera. For every fan of Alfred Hitchcock the insight offered in the workings of the director on this DVD are invaluable.
But even if you enjoy the movie mostly for its terrifying sake, this DVD is a beautiful release that should find a place in every DVD collector’s library.