4/3/14

THE BIRDS - REVIEW


With Michael Bay thinking of producing a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's classic Daphne Du Maurier adaptation of The Birds, there's no better time to go back and watch the original then confirm how good it is and how a remake of it would be not only completely unnecessary but just silly.

About as silly as The Birds II: Land's End...

The film sees Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren in her iconic screen debut) make a mischievous attempt to play an elaborate prank on a guy she clearly secretly likes only to find that the small town she's travelled to is about to be attacked by seemingly random waves of killer birds. Daniels and Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor) first meet in a bird shop, out of which Hitchcock himself walks with his dogs in his obligatory cameo, and the former soon starts using her connections to find out where the guy lives before driving off to Bodega Bay so fast, the love birds she's bringing him pivot in their cage with every turn. One of the film's best little jokes, by the way. There, she meets Mitch's mother whom, as with most mothers-in-law in Hitchcock films, is kinda creepy and unpleasant. Then, of course, the birds start attacking the inhabitants of the small town more regularly and this all leads to a tense disaster movie climax.

The bird effects are obviously dated by today's standards but, for 1963, they're a clever mix of real birds, overlays and practical effects. Bernard Herrmann's score may be silent but the mixing of the bird sound effects throughout the film really adds an essential unnerving vibe and, whether you're distracted by the special effects or not, the film is still an intense, stressful, scary watch to this day. It's not every movie back in the day that could get away with children being attacked brutally, dudes with their eyes pecked out and people being set on fire so this one certainly takes a few chances.

The mystery surrounding why these birds are attacking really is the most fascinating part of this movie. We're never given a clear answer, the film skilfully avoiding obvious explanations at every turn, occasionally even sending you down dead ends or purposely leading you to red herrings. A scene even flat-out makes fun of that as several very different people debate in a diner whether it's the end of the world, whether this is even really happening or not, whether Melanie Daniels herself is responsible. There is, however, an underlying explanation which, if you've seen the film as many times as I have or if you know what the alternate ending for the film was, does make sense albeit in a surreal way. The film mostly just wants you to accept what's happening without driving yourself nuts trying to figure it out and, honestly, that's a good way to watch The Birds as Hitchcock throws enough sly clues through how these main characters interact with each other, with subtle looks, line deliveries and dialogs hinting at many different underlying things to make sure you feel what's really going on without ever really consciously knowing.

The Birds is still one of Hitchcock's best: one of the 60's most original and bizarre films, it's a beautifully crafted little oddity with its fair share of surprising horror movie moments. It's also much smarter than you'd think and boasts some of the director's most striking images and sequences.

Classic stuff.

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