Family Plot appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. As the most modern Hitchcock movie, shouldn’t this one look the best? Unfortunately, Plot offered an erratic and often substandard transfer.
Excessive grain created many of the problems. The level of the grain varied, but it remained a nearly constant distraction that gave the movie a blotchy, flat look much of the time. Other source defects betrayed instances of specks, marks, nicks and hairs. These weren’t as prominent as the grain, but they showed up more frequently than I’d like.
Colors usually looked drab. Some shots displayed good vivacity, but most seemed rather flat and dull, and skin tones took on a brownish appearance. At least blacks seemed reasonably deep, but shadows were somewhat thick, partially due to the way the grain obscured those shots.
Sharpness also seemed erratic. Some shots displayed decent delineation, but quite a few looked moderately soft and ill-defined. Moderate edge haloes also distracted, though the flick lacked signs of jagged edges or shimmering. This wasn’t a terrible transfer, but I thought it only deserved a disappointing “C-“.
As for the monaural audio of Family Plot, it fared nicely after all these years. Music sounded the best, as the score was surprisingly robust and dynamic. Effects lacked the same vivacity, but they appeared clear and accurate. Dialogue was also concise and natural, and no source noise marred the presentation. I felt very pleased with this high-quality single-channel track.
Among the extras, we locate a documentary called Plotting Family Plot. This 48-minute and 21-second program mixes movie snippets, archival elements, and remarks from director’s daughter Pat Hitchcock O’Connell, assistant director Howard Kazanjian, Universal Studios executive Hilton Green, set designer Henry Bumstead, composer John Williams and actors Bruce Dern, Karen Black, and William Devane. We learn about the source novel and its adaptation, pre-production and working with Hitchcock, visual effects, cast and crew, locations and sets, storyboards and planning, the score, and shooting specific scenes.
Most of the prior Hitchcock documentaries proved informative and engaging, and that trend continues here. While it doesn’t follow the most logical path through its subjects, it covers a lot of useful subjects and throws out plenty of fun stories. It becomes a consistently enjoyable program.
Storyboards appear for “The Chase Scene”. This area uses still frames to show the storyboards. I like the inclusion of the drawings, but I’d have preferred a split-screen running comparison to this still presentation.
The usual pieces cap off the disc. We find two moderately interesting trailers; Hitchcock appears during both, but he doesn’t add enough to make them great. Under Production Photographs we find 87 stills. These mix shots from the set, publicity images and ads to create a good collection. Finally, text Production Notes provide some basics about the flick.
A great career came to an end with Family Plot, Alfred Hitchcock’s final film. While he didn’t go out on top, he did end things with a pretty good effort, as Plot was arguably his best flick since 1963’s The Birds. The DVD suffers from spotty picture but it offers good audio and the usual allotment of interesting supplements. I wish the transfer looked better, but the DVD does enough right to earn my recommendation.