Blu-ray Review: Hitchcock

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Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Release Date: 12/March/2013

Region: A

Length: 01:38:20

Video: 1080P (MPEG-4, AVC, 32 Mbps)

Main Audio: 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio

Alternate Audio:

5.1 French Dolby Digital

5.1 Spanish Dolby Digital

Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish

Ratio: 2.40:1

Notes: Includes a DVD, UltraViolet, and iTunes Digital copy. This title is also available on DVD as a separate release.

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“It was really based on Stephen Rebello’s book, Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, which is one of the most authoritative, if not the most authoritative, stories of the making of any film. Clearly there are elements of the film that are stylized, but there are also large parts—particularly Hitch’s fights with the motion-picture production code—which happened and have been documented in detail. It’s a true story with elements that have been dramatized for the film, but I think audiences are intelligent. They understand that. We’re not making a documentary. We made a film in the spirit of Hitchcock.” –Sacha Gervasi

The major criticism of Hitchcock seems to be that it is not true to the actual events surrounding the shooting of Psycho. It is evident from the film’s first scene that this particular film has other goals. It is meant to be a fun tribute to the director and not a serious look at the man and his working methods.

Stephen Rebello’s excellent book (Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho) offers Hitchcock fans an amazing amount of detailed information on the production of Psycho. In many ways, it makes sense for audiences to expect the same detailed content in a movie that claims to be based on this book. It should be said that it is obvious to intelligent individuals that certain human elements had to be added in order to make an enjoyable film from the book. The real issue should be whether or not the elements added were effective.

One of the major issues that critics seemed to have with the film involves the conflict between the director and his long-time wife and collaborator, Alma. Focusing on this relationship actually works on a number of levels. This was a logical point of departure for the script. It is interesting to see the subtle hints that she is feeling unappreciated.

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The subplot concerning Whitfield Cook is somewhat questionable from a dramatic standpoint, but its inclusion does seem to have been based on certain possible real-life events. While Alfred Hitchcock was overseas shooting Under Capricorn, Alma left early for America to work on a script with Whitfield Cook (it seems likely that this script was for Stage Fright).

“Mrs. Hitchcock and Whitfield Cook had begun to meet for lunch and dinner at restaurants which, if not quite obscure or out of the way, nonetheless fell outside the regular beat of Hollywood columnists. For the next three weeks, she and her co-writer enjoyed quiet get-togethers at the Ready Room and LaRue’s, discussing the script they were developing…

…After Alma came home from England, she appears to have seized the opportunity of her family’s absence to open her heart to cook. On the evidence of his journal, she said some thing to him on September 20 [1948] that took him by astonished surprise. If she told him of her feelings, he would have been astonished indeed, for according to his journal he spent as much time with men as with women.

Over the next week, meeting purportedly to discuss the script they were collaborating on, Mrs. Hitchcock continued talking. Although there may be other explanations, a fair reading of cook’s journal suggests that she was pressing her case for a different relationship. Cook sincerely liked Alma; he liked her enormously. But he must have been torn. He counted himself a friend to Hitchcock, and wouldn’t want to jeopardize that friendship, nor the work relationship they shared…

…It appears that, on October, 1, after a cozy dinner at a restaurant, they began making love, probably at Bellagio Road. According to Cook’s journal, their sexual foray was ‘complicated by an overseas call.’ A Hitchcockian scene: it must have been the husband himself, phoning at the most vulnerable, dangerous, inopportune time. Probably nothing was confessed; and it was perfectly normal for Cook to be keeping Alma company.

Whatever happened, though, must have reinforced Cook’s better instincts. Over the next week, the two saw each other constantly. They went to restaurants, and to dinner at Constance Collier’s. They drove to Santa Barbra for steaks at Talk of the Town. It appears from Cook’s journals that Alma wept during one of their meetings, perhaps bereft over her friend trying to distance himself. Whether she ever broached the idea of lovemaking again is unclear. But the two intensified their pace on the script, and Mrs. Hitchcock and Cook were inseparable for months to come.” –Patrick McGilligan (Alfred Hitchcock – A Life in Darkness and Light)

Of course, this occurred a decade before Hitchcock began work on Psycho, and Whitfield Cook’s novel (Taxi to Dubrovnik) was not published until the 1980s.

Changing the timing of real-life events isn’t uncommon when one is adapting a book or real-life events into a screenplay. Sometimes it is necessary in order to simplify a narrative. However, one wonders if Alma’s feelings would have been just as easily (and more subtly) dramatized without this subplot. In any case, it is certainly admirable that the film gives Alma Reville her due.

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Another often criticized element of the film is the scenes between the director and Ed Gein. In the film, Hitchcock has frequent imaginary conversations with Gein that suggest that the director is becoming unbalanced. The truth is that there is not any evidence to suggest that the director was unbalanced during the shooting of Psycho. This element of the story is obviously a device made up by the filmmakers in order to intensify the drama. The problem here is that this device takes the viewer out of the movie, which goes against its purpose.

The final criticism of the film is rather unfair to the filmmakers in many ways. The complaint is that the film simply doesn’t recreate the many ‘behind the scenes’ moments that Rebello’s book describes so very well. The crew was denied the right to use certain iconic sets from the film and was not able recreate footage from Psycho. A more reasonable complaint might be that the filmmakers altered certain events (such as the shooting of the shower scene) in order to imply that the director had become unhinged. The nude model (that might have created a few memorable moments in the film) and other interesting moments from the shooting of the scene are nowhere to be found in the film. These are traded for an uneven (but creatively edited) scene in which Hitchcock becomes unhinged.

It is unfortunate that critics come to these kinds of films with predetermined expectations. A film should be judged on its own terms and not on what a particular viewer might prefer the film to be. Judged as a work of fiction, the film is incredibly entertaining and an engaging wink to Hitchcock fans.

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The Presentation:

4 of 5 MacGuffins

The Blu-ray and DVD discs are housed in a standard Blu-ray case with reasonably attractive artwork and case is housed in a slipcover with the same cover artwork.

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The animated menus employ footage from the film supported by Danny Elfman’s score.

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Picture Quality:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The AVC MPEG-4 transfer is as beautiful as one might expect from a modern film. The ‘film’ was shot in 5k on Red Epic digital cameras and the picture is relatively immaculate. The film seems to be free of nasty compression artifacts, edge enhancement, and DNR. There is some occasional source noise that never becomes distracting and is hardly noticeable. Obviously print damage and dirt isn’t a possible issue on such source elements. Colors are nicely rendered and detail is incredibly crisp as well. The transfer seems to represent its source elements quite admirably.

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Sound Quality:

4.5 of 5 MacGuffins

The disc’s lossless 5.1 DTS-MA mix serves the film admirably and is a strong (if subtle) track with clear and well prioritized dialogue, with Danny Elfman’s score presented in a wonderfully dynamic presentation. Sound effects are effectively rendered as well. Rear channels also have nice presence and effectively enhance the listening experience. This is a solid track that should please audiences.

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Special Features:

3 of 5 MacGuffins

Audio Commentary with Sacha Gervais and Stephen Rebello

This commentary track will be an interesting and engaging experience for anyone who enjoyed the film. Some might hope for a more detailed discussion about the specific choices made in the adaptation of the film, but most will be satisfied with the general discussion that this track offers listeners.

Deleted Scene – (HD) – (1:42)

This deleted scene includes an introduction by the director explaining why it was written and why it wasn’t used. The scene itself wouldn’t have really added anything to the final film, but it is always interesting to scenes that were cut from a film.

Obsessed with Hitchcock – (HD) – (29:09)

This ‘making of’ documentary is the most comprehensive feature on the disc. It briefly covers most aspects of production and will delight fans of the film. 

Becoming the Master: Hopkins to Hitchcock – (HD) – (12:28)

This feature should have been a part of the ‘making of’ feature included on the disc, but stands alone as an interesting and informative featurette.

Sacha Gervasi’s Behind-the-Scenes Cell Phone Footage – (HD) – (13:31)

It is always nice to see behind the scenes footage, but ones enjoyment is slightly marred by the fact that the footage was shot vertically.

The Story – (HD) – (3:41)

The Cast – (HD) – (4:25)

Hitch and Alma – (HD) – (3:15)

These 3 featurettes come very close to EPK promo territory. Fans of the film will welcome them, but they do not offer much in the way of substantial information.

Danny Elfman Maestro – (HD) – (2:16)

This is essentially several clips of the recording sessions of Danny Elfman’s score.

Remembering Hitchcock – (HD) – (4:44)

Several former Hitchcock associates discuss the film and the man that they knew. Among the more interesting of those interviewed are Jerry Mathers, Veronica Cartwright, and Hilton Green. This was an interesting featurette, but didn’t offer much in the way of actual information.

Hitchcock Cell Phone PSA – (HD) – (0:41)

This is a theatrical spot that theaters played before a film in order to remind them to turn their cell phones off and not to text during the movie. It had the added benefit of promoting the upcoming release of Hitchcock. It is rather an amusing addition to the disc.

Theatrical Trailer – (HD)

The original trailer for the film is also included here.

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Final Words:

Hitchcock might not be a factual account of the creation of Psycho, but it does manage to be a charming entertainment for anyone willing to enjoy it on its own terms. After all, “it’s only a movie.”

Review by: Devon Powell

 

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