THE BIRDS - BD50 - R0 - Checkdisc date 29th June 2012 Length 01:59:29 / AVC / DTS-HD MA 2 Ch. 48kHz / Confirmed AR 1.85:1
These are my rough viewing notes about the technical quality of the *UK* Blu-ray:
Upshot: What ostensibly appears to be a clean and impressive looking image is, on further inspection, probably going to become one of the most debated and pored over Blu-ray transfers in this box set (and that includes Vertigo). It seems to be a huge restoration job that has unfortunately rendered the film looking uneven and unfilmic in many shots. I find it almost impossible to describe the technical look of this Blu-ray because it’s so inconsistent. It often doesn’t look like film – it’s a mixed bag of different looks that jar and don’t have any cohesion from shot to shot.
This is not a VistaVision film, it was shot on standard 35mm, and contains many elaborate process shots which were supervised by Ub Iwerks using the “sodium vapor process” (or “yellowscreen”) a much more accurate method than existing bluescreen processes of the time. Previous DVD transfers and TV masters, indeed, even clips from the film that appear unrestored but in HD in the accompanying new 14 minute documentary, all have a more consistent grain density and colour scheme from shot to shot than this Blu-ray.
This has been the most difficult film in the box set for me to review. Whatever has been done to the image here from shot to shot is inconsistent, and the 1080p resolution only acts to highlight the differences. Grain appears to be handled very finely on static highly detailed longshots, but in some medium shots and close-ups when an object moves or the camera pans it’s almost as if the grain has been applied as a separate 1080p filter which acts completely independently to the underlying film image.
Many breathtaking shots (usually long shots, such as Tippi’s drive up to Bodega Bay) alternate with strangely rendered process shots of uneven colour and grain, or close-ups of Tippi shot with diffusion filters that have a completely different grain structure and look to all other shots. It’s as if 5 or 6 completely different types of stock in different formats were used to shoot different parts of the film. Shot reverse shot conversations between Tippi and Rod, Tippi and Suzanne Pleshette, or Tippi and Jessica Tandy are visually jarring because Tippi’s shots are gauzey, diffusion filtered, and Rod, Suzanne, and Jessica’s shots aren’t (they’re finely detailed and look “normal”). I can’t imagine that this disparity should be this noticeable on Blu-ray.
Notable points in the Blu-ray encode that show digital detritus from overprocessing: i.) 00:09:56 The light in the elevator inbetween Tippi and the man is a mass of pixels. ii.) 01:33:54 Swarms of black pixels in the white sky (and they’re not supposed to be birds!). iii.) 01:53:57 Swarms of white pixels on the metal part of the steering wheel as Mitch tunes the radio. iv.) 01:55:03 Swarms of white pixels all over the car. None of these are process shots.
Someone must have thought what they were doing here was good work, but have they really used the best workflow in the circumstances? I have no idea what they were wrestling with, but we have the results in 1080p, and they throw up a lot of questions. I’d love to have seen a detailed documentary about this particular restoration.
Is this really how the film looks/looked? I think the average person will think it looks “very good”, but then the average person probably won’t know why it looks like it does or begin to question its appearance. My concern is that this new look for the film, the increased disparity from shot to shot, has changed something fundamental about its makeup. Its molecular structure has been altered, and thus its character.
If I’m proved wrong about the restoration and this really is the very best that can be squeezed out of the elements, then I’d still question the digital look/nature of many scenes, and we’d probably be looking at a maximum 6/10. I watched this Blu-ray twice to try and understand better what I was seeing. I wanted to give it a higher mark, however, I have huge reservations about the methods used to arrive at the finished Blu-ray encode and I can’t see how I could give it more than a confused 4.5/10