“Award season” is a scary, interesting and sometimes revelatory look at the world of films. The public is bombarded with a frenzy of films that have only been playing at some remote New York or Los Angeles theater or at some exotic film festival. How odd it is that most of the “Award Winning” films come from this onslaught that are released from October through the end of the year. I don’t have the answers and that’s not why you’re reading this, but I figured it somewhat relevant (that’s a common theme throughout this film, by the way) and wanted to mention it. While watching Birdman, I couldn’t help but think of when Michael Keaton was in films like Night Shift, Johnny Dangerously or, of course, Batman. We haven’t seen Mr. Keaton in a while and I’m sure that, in no small part, that’s part of what prompted this film. And after watching this I’m also reminded of Hollywood making fun of itself. Films like All About Eve or Sunset Boulevard certainly come to mind. Nevertheless, this is one that you’ll either love or hate – just strap yourself in and do your best to enjoy the ride.
We meet Riggan Thompson (Michael Keaton) as he’s having a moment. He’s meditating in a zen-like position and hovering three feet above the ground. He daughter (Emma Stone) calls. The camera follows. We learn that he’s adapting an old Raymond Carver story (We Talk About When We Talk About Love) that he’s produced and starring in on Broadway. Riggan had a great career a few decades back and is best-known for the role of Birdman. Desperate to try and reclaim some of his former glory, he’s staked it all on this production. After one of the actors has an unfortunate accident, Mike Singer (Edward Norton), an eccentric method actor, swoops in to save the day. But, as the preview showing are hit and miss, it becomes more and more evident to Riggan as to what he has to do. The New York Times critic is set to destroy his play and his daughter (and assistant) wants nothing to do with him. Will this play re-ignite his career or is his non-relevance a well-deserved thing?
I’m sure my review doesn’t do this film justice. The internet is, no doubt, full of folks who will wax philosophical and try to impress you with their interpretation of the film. I’m just not one of them. I will say that Birdman is a very polarizing picture. Even a few reviewers here weren’t too impressed, but after a second viewing – I’m quite the fan. About 15 minutes in I actually paused the movie and had to Google the following term “Birdman long tracking shot.” And, sure enough, my suspicions were confirmed (I knew nothing of this prior to putting the disc in the player). The film is shown in one long take. Yes, there are spots where we know they cut, but finding those isn’t the point. And, let’s face it, this is nothing new as Hitchcock did it 50 years ago in Rope. Still, it does add to the allure of the movie. Keaton was favored to win Best Actor – he lost. The movie was favored to win Best Picture – it won. While the movie might not be everyone’s cup of tea, it’s nice to see the Academy thinking outside the box.
Video: How’s it look?
A majority of the film takes place inside a Broadway theater and, as a result, it’s a fairly darkly-lit film. There are a few exterior daytime shots, but not many. That said, the 1.85:1 AVC HD image makes the most of what could have been an iffy transfer. Instead it sparkles. There are some shots that are so crisp and clear that you feel as if you could reach out and touch what’s on the screen. Detail is razor sharp, showcasing Keaton’s forehead wrinkles (and without saying too much, we see a bit too much of the actor) and the fake tattoos on Emma Stone’s shoulder. Black levels are deep and lack any movement or blocking. As much as I hate to keep uttering this phrase, it’s consistent with what we’d expect from a new to Blu-ray film.
Audio: How’s it sound?
Keaton’s character is plagued by his “Birdman” persona who serves as his conscience. The voice, gritty and deep, resonates through the channels adding a bit of life to what could be laughed off as a joke. The use of surround sound is very impressive here as well. A scene in which should have been normal dialogue has these little elements that threw me. What, you ask? The “tick tock” of a clock that had me pausing the film to see if that was coming from my speaker or somewhere else in my home. Sound doesn’t have to be loud to be effective. But if you want loud, the “Birdman” persona smashes a few cars and blows up a building or two later in the film. It sounds awesome! What struck me was the use of the sound and not its volume. To me, that’s sometimes more effective.
Supplements: What are the extras?
With its win as Best Picture, I’m sure we’ll be treated to a more robust edition at some point in the future, but for the time being here’s what’s included…
A Conversation with Michael Keaton and Alejandro G. Iñárritu – As the title suggests, this is a very candid conversation between the director and the actor. The two seem to have a mutual respect for the other and don’t pretend to provide any definitive answers as to what’s happening in the film (they label it as “experimental.”
Birdman: All Access – This is a pretty all-inclusive look at the film, the shoot and what the filmmakers were really going for. From the opening shot where the cast and crew are interlocked, holding hands, to some of the themes of the movie and the cast. It’s a nice, overall look at the movie that’s sure to please (and maybe provide a few answers).
Gallery: Chivo’s On-Set Photography – A photo gallery featuring pictures from the set.
The Bottom Line
I realize that Birdman won’t be for everyone. My parents watched it and said “it’s too weird.” I’m all about things that are a bit against the grain, so I rather enjoyed it. Keaton’s performance was good, but nothing too mind-blowing, but I’m sure we’ll see him in some more things now that this has received the attention that it has. The disc offers amazing audio and video qualities and while a bit lax on the supplements, should suffice for a good viewing. Highly recommended.