Birdman Blu-ray Review
What are you? I’m the Birdman Blu-ray.
Birdman Film Review
Seamlessly blending stage and screen drama to give Michael Keaton a career-high role, Inarritu’s innovatively-directed Birdman is a masterwork.A stunning character dissection, peppered with both insight and imagination, Birdman: or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) - to give it its full name - expertly delves into the mind of an ageing once-popular star who is struggling to make his Broadway acting / directing debut. As the play – and his life – collapses around him, his alter-ego persona – the Birdman character he once played – criticises and chastises him at every turn. Although director Alejandro Inarritu denies even having Michael Keaton in mind for the piece, there’s no escaping the real-life comparisons, with Keaton’s own 20+ year old celebrity superhero status overshadowing almost all of his later efforts until, perhaps, now. Indeed this is arguably to Keaton what The Wrestler was to Mickey Rourke: a harsh and brutal character study that promotes a side to the actor which many have likely never seen.With an ensemble cast – Naomi Watts as an ageing actress with her own desperate Broadway aspirations, Emma Stone as the damaged daughter, and Edward Norton on fantastic form (again playing pretty close to home) as a maverick method actor whose supposed ‘performance’ actions have the potential to destroy the entire play even before opening night – Keaton has some great support. In a strange way, much of this itself overshadows Inarritu’s Oscar-winning skills behind the camera, which is a shame because the acclaimed director worked some real magic to make the whole stage play / feature film trick work, basically designing the whole piece as one long take, as you follow the character through several days of pure hell. It’s no surprise really that the film won Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Cinematography but honestly, you should probably mentally add Best Actor and Best Score to that list.
Blu-ray Picture QualityBirdman comes to UK Region Free Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox, who provide what looks to be the exact same spectacular video presentation that adorned the preceding US counterpart. The movie is rendered in 1080p/AVC-encoded High Definition and framed in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 widescreen.
Despite the guerrilla style of the cinematography, this digitally-shot film looks stunning.
Detail prevails throughout the piece, despite the fact that it is almost entirely steeped in dark, shadow-bathed back-stage rooms and moody sets. In spite of all of this, banding is almost non-existent, softness negligibly apparent, and textures and clarity resound, with skin detail particularly impressive, although background sets – whether stage-based or out on the streets – have rich nuances. The colour scheme is surprisingly broad and vibrant, with healthy skin pallor, and vivid tones peppering the piece, and black levels are strong and rich and boast a frequently near-flawless depiction of shadow detail. Overall it’s a tremendous presentation, demo and reference quality through and through.
Blu-ray Sound Quality
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is almost as impressive, and is headlined by a percussion-based score which was shamefully disqualified from the Academy Awards.
Dialogue is given well-defined prioritization across the frontal array, with a seamless blend of stage-based ‘performances’, off-set conversations and introspective ‘narration’ all disseminated clearly and coherently through the fronts and centre channels. Effects are discretely prioritised too, with surprisingly nuanced atmospherics kicking in through the surround channels, and the rears lighting up just when you least expect it. Sure, there are a few more punchy segments, but it’s a credit to the audio design that the track excels at crafting a strong, largely engulfing affair throughout the piece, even without these more boisterous moments. The highly directional nature of the audio helps to completely sell the the 'single-take' premise of the film, with sounds following the camera as it moves seamlessly around the theatre. Of course the superb, energetically syncopated Gene Krupa-style drum-based score – cleverly blended from diegetic to non-diegetic in a way which would make Scorsese proud – is the real highlight of the piece, lighting up the feature at every possible moment. It’s tremendous and rounds out a veritably demo-worthy offering.
Blu-ray ExtrasThe trio of solid extras do not necessarily make for a bountiful, comprehensive behind-the-scenes, but nevertheless offer some quality no-fluff background into the production. The half-hour Birdman: All Access Featurette offers up an ‘unprecedented look at the innovative process employed in bringing this project from page to screen’, which basically means we get some interesting insight into the almost-one-long-take style of the feature, and has plenty of behind the scenes footage and cast and crew interview snippets. A Conversation with Michael Keaton and Alejandro G. Inarritu further expands upon this revealing material with some insight into what the more symbolic /surreal aspects of the movie mean (the emphasis being: don’t think about it too much), and the disc is rounded out by a Gallery of on-set shots.
Blu-ray VerdictUndoubtedly one of the best films of last year, acclaimed filmmaker Alejandro Inarritu supposedly wanted a break from his trademark tragedies, but it’s hard to see this latest masterwork as being all that distanced from his usual fare. Nobody is going to complain, though, with all the acclaim that this has rightfully earned, he clearly ought to stick to what he’s good – no, great – at.
A career-high for both filmmaker Alejandro Inarritu and actor Michael Keaton, the darkly comic character-study that is Birdman is worth every minute of your time.
The Region Free UK release is almost as impressive as the movie, with near-perfect video and outstanding audio, as well as a strong – although not comprehensive – selection of extra features. It comes highly recommended.
You can buy Birdman on Blu-ray here
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £15.00
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