Vertigo appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Only mild issues cropped up in this usually terrific presentation.
Most of the time, sharpness excelled, as the majority of the movie offered great delineation.. Despite Hitchcock’s penchant for soft focus on his leading ladies, this flick usually looked nicely detailed and distinctive. A few slightly tentative elements occurred, but not many.
No jagged edges or shimmering occurred, and I witnessed no edge haloes or issues with digital noise reduction. In terms of print flaws, a handful of tiny specks cropped up, but those were rare and barely a factor.
Colors often shined on this disc 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. A light band of discoloration affected a short part of the climax, but that was negligible.
Black levels appeared pretty good, with dark tones that seemed appropriate. Shadow detail was also positive, as “day for night” shots became the only “issues” in that regard. This wasn’t a flawless image, but it looked pretty amazing much of the time.
The film's remixed DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack performed fine as well. The soundstage wasn't terribly broad or deep, but it seemed just wide and involving enough to create a good effect. It's a 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 satisfying.
The quality of the audio was positive. Dialogue occasionally betrayed a slightly harsh edge, but the lines sounded reasonably natural and always were 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. Effects were fairly accurate and showed nice clarity. The audio held up well over the last 57 years.
How did the Blu-ray compare to the last DVD from 2008? Audio was clearer and more dynamic, while visuals looked tighter, smoother and cleaner, with more vibrant colors. I thought the Blu-ray presented a big step up in quality.
The Blu-ray comes with some of the DVD’s extras, and we start with an audio commentary from filmmaker William Friedkin. In his running, screen-specific discussion, Friedkin talks about the movie’s themes and interpretation, cast and crew, and a variety of minor film-related topics.
At times Friedkin manages to provide some good insight, and he also contributes a few interesting stories such as his experience with Hitchcock as a TV director. Decades later, Friedkin seems to remain bitter about the way Hitchcock treated him back then.
If the commentary included more material like that, it’d be a bigger success. Unfortunately, Friedkin often does little more than narrate the movie. He does this well, as he makes it sound like he really has something to say, but he doesn’t; much of the time, he simply describes the action on-screen. This makes the commentary sporadically interesting but not valuable as a whole.
Obsessed With Vertigo: New Life for Hitchcock's Masterpiece offers a 29-minute, 18-second documentary about the film - well, sort of, as 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 associate producer Herbert Coleman, restoration team leaders Robert A. Harris and James C. Katz, art director Henry Bumstead, script supervisor Peggy Robertson, co-screenwriter Samuel 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 actors Kim Novak and 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.
Next comes the 54-minute and 49-second Partners in Crime: Hitchcock’s Collaborators. This area breaks into four smaller components: “Saul Bass: Title Champ” (10:31), “Edith Head: Dressing the Master’s Movies” (17:11), “Bernard Herrmann: Hitchcock’s Maestro” (14:43) and “Alma: The Master’s Muse” (12:23).
Across these, we hear from Scorsese, Pat Hitchcock, credit designer Saul Bass, title designer Kyle Cooper, Saul Bass author Pat Kirkham, The Films of Alfred Hitchcock author David Sterritt, Hitchcock biographer Donald Spoto, Edith Head author David Chierchetti, costume designers Ruth Myers, Ruth Carter and Albert Wolsky, Hitchcock’s Films author Jack Sullivan, composers John Murphy and Nathan Barr, A Heart at Fire’s Center: The Life and Music of Bernard Herrmann author Steven C. Smith, Hitchcock’s granddaughter Mary O’Connell Stone, and filmmakers Guillermo del Toro, John Carpenter, and Joe Carnahan.
The various featurettes offer nice glimpses of folks who added so much to Hitchcock’s films. Though the pieces tell us about the participants’ interactions with Hitchcock, they don’t limit themselves to those areas, as they spread into other aspects of the subjects’ careers. These turn into enjoyable, informative segments.
For a chat between legendary directors, we go to the 14-minute and 17-second Hitchcock/Truffaut. This provides an audio excerpt of Francois Truffaut’s extensive 1962 interviews with Hitchcock. They discuss the film’s visuals, the influence of dreams on Vertigo, script and story issues, themes and characters, and some aspects of the flick Hitchcock doesn’t like. The chat moves slowly due to the lag in translation, but it includes some nice insights.
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.
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.
Trailers for both the film's original release and for the restored movie's theatrical run appear and we also get a featurette called 100 Years of Universal: The Lew Wasserman Era. In this eight-minute, 50-second piece, we hear from Moguls and Movie Stars writer/producer Jon Wilkman, Hollywood Left and Right author Steven J. Ross, former MCA Executive VP Tom Wertheimer, NBC Universal Director of Archives and Collections Jeff Pirtle, son Casey Wasserman, former MCA/Universal president/COO Sid Sheinberg, former executive assistant Melody Sherwood and former MCA Executive VP/Director Skip Paul.
The program looks at the life and career of Lew Wasserman, long-time MCA/Universal president. Much of this devolves into praise, but the show does tell us a bit about Wasserman.
The Blu-ray adds the Wasserman featurette but loses prominent features from the last DVD. It drops an audio commentary from a broad array of speakers as well as an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Their absence becomes a letdown.
Ultimately I find Vertigo to be a disappointment but - perhaps perversely - it's a disc I'll recommend. The movie doesn't fascinate me as much as it obviously does others, but I like it well enough to want to watch it again at some point. The Blu-ray brings us very good picture and audio along with generally useful bonus materials. It’s too bad the Blu-ray lacks the prior DVD’s extras, but it still becomes the most satisfying rendition of the film itself.
To rate this film, visit the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection review of VERTIGO