A funny thing happened during my second viewing of Alejandro González Iñárritu’s Birdman — this time as a Blu-ray review — I finally recognized the brilliance everyone has been talking about. And now that it’s won the Academy Award for Best Picture, I’m happy to report that Birdman can safely perch in my Blu-ray collection, now available from 20th Century Fox.
I originally dismissed the film, to quote myself: “The word masterpiece gets thrown around a lot but do most of them really deserve that high of regard? Even if a film is an outstanding filmmaking accomplishment, it doesn’t necessarily mean it deserves the title ‘masterpiece.’ Time is the one thing that can really decipher the difference between say, a masterpiece versus a genre classic. In the case of Birdman, I don’t want to step on the artsy fartsy crowd’s toes, or rain on the director’s parade, but while it is a technical marvel, it is far from a masterpiece. Make no mistake, this is a film you need to see, but I will probably never watch it again.” I take back every word.
Riggan Thomson (Michael Keaton) is a washed-up, former superhero actor, staging what he hopes will be the comeback of his career by directing, producing and starring in a Broadway play. As if being surrounded by egotistical, self-absorbed actors isn’t enough, Riggan is also dealing with an alter-ego in a physical incantation of his Birdman character.
When an actor is injured during rehearsal by a stage light, Riggan forces his lawyer/best friend Jake (Zach Galifianakis) to recruit Mike (Edward Norton), a brilliant method actor who already knows Riggan’s play inside and out — possibly better than Riggan does himself. In addition to prepping the play, Riggan is starting to come unnerved over New York Times critic Tabitha (Lindsay Duncan) aiming to get his production shut down, and his girlfriend/actress Laura (Riseborough) informing him she might be pregnant. Riggan is left trying to keep all his balls in the air and make it through opening night, but his id may have other plans in store.
As for the video presentation, 20th Century Fox lets Birdman soar with a near flawless presentation in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a 50GB disc. In fact, if it weren’t for one shot of banding at the 88 minute mark, and a slight amount of judder in the opening pan of Riggan’s dressing room, I’d have nothing else to mark it down. This is a demo disc through and through. Blacks are inky without resulting in crush. Colors are bold and dynamic while never bleeding. Detail is breathtaking, thanks to Emmanuel Lubezki’s Oscar-nominated cinematography.
The 5.1 DTS-HD audio track is almost even better than the video. With Antonio Sanchez’s wrongfully disqualified score thumping across the soundscape, we’re also treated to plenty of deep and rumbling bass, with a mesmerizing soundfield, planting the viewer right in the middle of every scene. Directionality is absurdly spot-on with no line of dialogue getting swallowed up by the panning camera movements. You will believe you’re on set of every scene. Additional audio tracks include French DTS 5.1, and 5.1 Dolby Digital in Spanish, Portuguese, Czech, Hungarian, Polish, and Turkish. Subtitles are offered in English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Arabic, Bulgarian, Croatian, Czech, Dutch, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Icelandic, Korean, Mandarin, Polish, Romanian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, and Turkish.
While the special features may not be overflowing — which let’s face it, would have only hindered the video/audio — but they definitely give you an amazing behind-the-scenes look at the production.
“Birdman: All-Access (A View from the Wings)” (33:28) kicks things off with the cast and crew taking a moment to listen to a speech from Iñárritu on what was probably the first day of shooting. He explains to everyone that he will “kill himself to make this the best,” and thankfully he didn’t have to in order to achieve such an accomplishment. The amount of rehearsal involved is astonishing and only goes to show how much hard work was put in from everyone.
“A Conversation with Michael Keaton and Alejandro González Iñárritu” (14:03) sits down the star and director who show what a great dynamic the two have and the enthusiasm and how they hope the audience finds themselves having individual personal experiences rather than spelling things out. “Gallery: Chivo’s On Set Photography” is a collection of pictures taken throughout the production with both a Manual and Auto Advance option.
Looking back at my final paragraph from my original review, I couldn’t be more wrong. Birdman really is the masterpiece everyone proclaimed it to be. While I originally really liked the film, I felt it was a little overrated. I now see the error of my ways. Iñárritu has delivered a marvel of a film, and I’m glad I took the time to go back and revisit it before it was declared Best Picture. While light on features, there’s no doubt we’ll eventually see a fully loaded Blu-ray release, but with stellar video/audio, Birdman is a film worth flocking to grab on Blu-ray.[amazon template=iframe image&asin=B00RO49JEI]