Vertigo appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. That factor caused problems, and a few other issues made this a fairly mediocre image.
Sharpness was inconsistent. Many scenes appeared vaguely soft in a gauzy way, and the transfer exhibited moderate edge enhancement that rendered some scenes as ill defined. Some of the softness seemed intentional on the part of Hitchcock, but other segments offered loose definition for no apparent reason. The movie gave us decent clarity much of the time but lacked the clarity I’d expect.
Vertigo suffered from a few moiré effects and some jagged edges, though neither was a substantial concern. As for source flaws, speckles, grit and spots cropped up on occasion. These also were reasonably infrequent given the movie’s age, but they did cause periodic distractions.
Colors often shined on this DVD and they were usually the best part of it. They could appear quite rich and lush and vibrant, as the photography demonstrated more than a few vibrant elements. Black levels appeared pretty good though inconsistent, and shadow detail also seemed largely appropriate but occasionally too opaque. Again, the filmmaking techniques may be mainly at fault; some "day for night" shooting appeared to have occurred, and those shots almost always looked too dark. I found the bell tower scenes to also seem overly dense, though. The edge enhancement and lack of consistent sharpness were the major problems I saw, and combined with source defects and a few other issues, I thought this transfer only deserved a “C+”.
The film's remixed Dolby Digital 5.0 soundtrack performed better, but it also had some concerns. The soundstage wasn't terribly broad or deep, but it seemed just wide and involving enough to create a good effect. It's a very gentle, ambient mix for the most part, with only light sounds usually emanating from the front side or rear channels. Car noises were the most prominent effects we heard, and we even witnessed some solid panning between channels from them. Despite the non-aggressive nature of the mix, I found it to be quite satisfying.
The quality of the audio was a bigger concern. Actually, it usually sounded very good – that was the problem. Due to the condition of the source material, some effects had to be re-recorded. Although I’ve been fine with some other movies that did this – I liked the remix for Jaws very much, in fact – I found the new foley work of Vertigo to come as a distraction. Those pieces didn’t mesh well with the rest of the track and they stood out from the rest of the mix.
Dialogue occasionally betrayed a slightly harsh edge, but it sounded surprisingly natural and clear and always was easily intelligible. Bernard Herrmann's score really came to life here. The music lacked a little high range but still seemed smooth and packed some good low end. Only the distractions of the new effects gave me pause when I listened to this mix. Otherwise it was a solid affair.
A decent set of extras shows up here. First up is a running audio commentary from a number of participants. Mainly we hear from associate producer Herbert Coleman, who's paired with restoration team leaders Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz. In addition, comments come from co-screenwriter Samuel Taylor and Bernard Herrmann biographer Steven Smith as well as actor Kim Novak, art director Henry Bumstead, former Paramount director of advertising and publicity Herbert Steinberg, script supervisor Peggy Robertson, and Hitchcock’s daughter Pat. The variety of speakers necessitates a fair amount of editing, but it still flows smoothly.
As one might expect, Taylor talks about the screenplay and his work on the film, while Smith goes into Herrmann’s career and his collaborations with Hitchcock. Novak tells us a little about what Vertigo means to her and also chats about her time on the flick. Bumstead and Steinberg discuss their impressions of Hitchcock, while Pat and Robertson present notes about his personal side as well. DVD producer Laurent Bourzereau tosses out one short comment about the production but otherwise solely acts as a narrator.
Coleman, Harris and Katz offer the standard running, screen-specific chat into which the other remarks are interspersed. When I first listened to this commentary a few years back, I didn’t like it, but on second screening, it works much better than I recalled. Issues connected to the restoration fill a lot of the time, as we learn all the challenges faced by Harris and Katz. Coleman also digs into various production elements such as problems with the script, sets and locations, shooting specific scenes, casting, and general concerns.
When I first listened to this commentary, I was hard on Coleman, as I thought he said little of use and didn’t seem to remember much. I was too tough on the guy. His memory slips at times, and this leads to some awkward moments where his thoughts conflict with the other guys’ research. Nonetheless, Coleman is honest and entertaining, and he gives us enough good info about the film to make his time worthwhile. This never becomes a great commentary, but it helps flesh out our knowledge of the flick.
Next up is Obsessed With Vertigo: New Life for Hitchcock's Masterpiece, a 29-minute and 17-second documentary about the film. Well, sort of - the program also discusses the movie's restoration. Narrated by Roddy McDowall, we find interviews with participants, film clips and both production stills and behind the scenes footage; this is intercut with material about the restoration. In regard to the interviews, we hear from Katz, Harris, Coleman, Novak, Robertson, Bumstead, Taylor, Hitchcock’s daughter Pat, filmmaker Martin Scorsese, writer Maxwell Anderson, production manager CO “Doc” Erickson, June Van Dyke of the Edith Head Collection, and actor Barbara Bel Geddes.
The participants get into Hitchcock’s desire to shoot a mystery set in San Francisco, developing the script, casting, locations and sets, costumes, score, and titles. As mentioned, we also get tidbits about the restoration. This isn't a bad program but it seems superficial and lacks the depth of the documentaries that accompany Psycho and The Birds. This show provides some good information but simply zips through its subjects too quickly and without enough depth.
Vertigo contains a few other basic extras. Trailers for both the film's original release and for the restored movie's theatrical run appear, and we get decent but unexceptional Cast and Crew biographies for five actors and Hitchcock. Both the disc and its booklet also contain good production notes. Please note that the text featured in both places is different; the booklet does not simply duplicate the material on the DVD, which is a much-appreciated touch.
The two-minute and nine-second Foreign Censorship Ending isn’t as exciting as its title might imply. It wraps things up with less ambiguity and makes the movie less effective. Still, it’s cool to see.
Inside The Vertigo Archives, we find a mix of still materials. These include production design art, storyboards, production photos, marketing materials and text information. The latter replicate some of the information from the “Production Notes” elsewhere on the DVD, but they are significantly longer and more detailed.
In all, this area features 409 frames of materials. Many are quite good; I especially like some of the publicity photos that feature Stewart and two Novaks, and the various Saul Bass poster concepts are cool. However, the interface bites. These elements were ported over straight from the old Vertigo LD and don’t allow easy access to the various areas. That means that to get to the text at the end, you have to step through hundreds of earlier images.
Ultimately I found Vertigo to be a disappointment as both a film and a DVD, but - perhaps perversely - it's a disc I'll recommend. The movie didn't fascinate me as it obviously has others, but I liked it well enough to want to watch it again at some point. The DVD provides mediocre picture with fairly good sound and supplements. Vertigo doesn't dazzle me as a movie or as a DVD, but it’s worth a look.
To rate this film visit the Masterpiece Collection review of VERTIGO