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Universal Studios Home Video presents
The Birds (Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection) (1963)

"Birds don't go around attacking people without no reason."
- Deputy Al (Malcolm Atterbury)

Review By: Jon Danziger   
Published: December 15, 2005

Stars: Rod Taylor, Jessica Tandy, Suzanne Pleshette, Tippi Hedren
Director: Alfred Hitchcock

MPAA Rating: PG-13
Run Time: 01h:59m:30s
Release Date: October 04, 2005
UPC: 025192834622
Genre: suspense thriller

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ CB-B+ C

DVD Review

Maybe the most famous image from The Birds is one that isn't in the movie at all: it's a publicity shot of the film's director, Alfred Hitchcock, a bemused look in his eye, a vast cigar in his mouth, and the title characters perched on his head, his shoulders, and the end of his stogie. You can see that the whole thing is sort of a put on for Hitch, and it shows in the movie. Some of the images of nature gone amok can be frightening, but overall, the movie doesn't really cohere, and its momentary, scary bits aren't always enough to pull us along.

Tippi Hedren plays our heroine, Melanie Daniels, whom we meet while she's picking up a myna bird from a pet store in San Francisco. She's mistaken for a clerk in the store by a handsome young fellow, named Mitch Brenner, and Melanie plays along—soon enough, though, the jig's up, and he knows she doesn't work there. It seems that he's been looking to settle an obscure old score with her, some practical joke gone wrong, and now Mitch is satisfied that he's gotten a little of his own back.

Melanie likes pulling people's legs to the point of obsessiveness and hostility, it seems; she's just got to get back at this virtual stranger, so she plans an elaborate prank, and follows him to the small town of Bodega Bay, some sixty miles away, only so she can get the better of him yet again. Melanie wades into a psychological minefield—Mitch has a controlling, possessive mother (played by Jessica Tandy), and a spurned former girlfriend, Annie (Suzanne Pleshette), who surmises that pretty little Melanie is the object of Mitch's affections. Rod Taylor isn't the smoothest customer as Mitch, but he's got many women vying for his attention, so he does more than his fair share of preening.

So what's all this got to do with birds? Well, that's sort of the problem with the movie—the birds of Bodega Bay are going bonkers, swooping down in great swarms, attacking school children, pecking out people's eyes, and just generally wreaking havoc on this small town. But there's no connection between these attacks and what's going on with the characters—the best horror movies make manifest some sort of horrific anxiety, the embodiment of some internal conflict. (It's The Shining as the ultimate writer's block movie, for instance.) Are the birds a metaphor for Melanie, the force of the big city, of sexuality? Of disease, of death, of the Cold War? No, none of these things, really, nor anything else. It's almost as if there are two different movies going on here, one a cheap soapy melodrama, the other an obscure parable about the revenge of nature.

The birds' attacks, though, are pretty horrific and grisly, even by today's gory standards. The attack on Hedren in a phone booth seems deliberately reminiscent of the shower scene in Psycho, and here it's Hitch's use of sound that's so creepy. There's almost no musical scoring—instead, it's the otherwise innocuous caws and calls of birds that become so menacing. Many of the characters suffer, and those who survive are full of shrieks and accusations—alas, we more or less remain as much in the dark about what's going on in Bodega Bay as they do.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: C


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Lots of this is oversaturated, giving it that 1960s bleeding Life Magazine feel—it's very period, but you've got to have a taste for that sort of thing. Also, the transfer is very unforgiving with the many matte shots, making the bird attacks look very, very fake and unconvincing.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: Pretty cleanly done on the audio side, allowing you to wallow in every blood-curdling scream and echoing caw.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 20 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
Production Notes
3 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. production photo gallery
Extras Review: No extras to bowl you over, but a fair number of them, all with at least passing interest. The deleted scene on the disc is incomplete—it seems like a ham-handed attempt to explain the phenomenon of the birds, and is cobbled together here with script pages and still photographs, including a few of the director at work. The original ending—in script pages and storyboards—is still more apocalyptic, though the conclusion in the final cut is dark enough. You can see how much Hitch prepared for his shoots when comparing his storyboards with stills from a sequence in the feature, when Melanie gets attacked by the birds—there's not much spontaneity to the filmmaking, but the movie does run with the efficiency of a Swiss watch.

Tippi Hedren's screen test (09m:57s) seems more about her showing off some evening gowns than her acting talent. Two newsreel clips feature the director prominently—The Birds Is Coming (01m:17s) shows Hitchcock with Hedren, while a second clip (01h:54m) shows him at the National Press Club. Production notes emphasize the difficulties working with the birds, and a gallery of photos shows Hedren, Taylor and Hitchcock, on location and with the picture at Cannes, always with many, many birds. You'll also find a sampling of posters from around the world.

Extras Grade: C


Final Comments

The attacks of the title characters are deeply horrifying, but overall, the movie is awfully unsatisfying—a few isolated frames tell the whole story, and the opaque personal drama isn't worth attending to.


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