Vertigo 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. This wasn’t a great transfer, but it satisfied.
Sharpness was generally good. Despite Hitchcock’s penchant for soft focus on his leading ladies, this flick usually looked nicely detailed and distinctive. Some edge haloes caused mild softness in some wide shots, but those instances weren’t excessive. No jagged edges or shimmering occurred.
Source flaws caused a few distractions. Speckles, grit and spots cropped up on occasion. They varied in intensity, as some scenes got off with none while others could be moderately messy. They stayed unobtrusive most of the time, though.
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. While the edge enhancement, minor print flaws and occasional softness created some issues, plenty of shots looked absolutely gorgeous. All of that made this an inconsistent but usually positive presentation worthy of a “B”.
The film's remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack performed fine, 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.
Although the DVD’s packaging claimed that the disc included a monaural soundtrack, this proved incorrect. Instead, this release provided a Dolby Surround 2.0 mix in addition to the 5.1 track. I’m not sure why it did so, as the 2.0 version sounded like a straight port of the 5.1 mix.
How did the picture and audio of this 2008 Vertigo Special Edition compare to those of the last DVD from 2005? Both appeared to present very similar visuals; the new one may be a bit tighter, but not by much. The 5.1 audio remained the same as well. However, the alternate English soundtracks differed. While this disc gave us a 2.0 Surround mix, the 2005 release included a monaural track. Honestly, that single-channel rendition wasn’t very good, as it came from poor source material. Nonetheless, it made sense to appear since it more closely represented the movie’s original audio. I have no idea why the mono track was replaced with a redundant Surround mix here.
This 2008 Vertigo SE includes the supplements from the prior versions along with some new components. I’ll mark exclusive elements with an asterisk. If you fail to see a star, then the piece already appeared on the prior releases.
On DVD One, we get two separate audio commentaries. For the first, we mostly 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.
For the new track, we find thoughts 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. Four 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.
DVD One contains a few other extras. Trailers for both the film's original release and for the restored movie's theatrical run appear. The disc also contains good production notes.
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.
Over on DVD Two, we start with 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.
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 18-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.
Finally, we get an episode of *Alfred Hitchcock Presents. 1955’s “The Case of Mr. Pelham” (25:28) is a gripping and involving tale kept me rapt for the duration. Mr. Pelham seems to have a twin - or is he just losing his mind? That's the question over which you'll puzzle throughout this winner, which also features a really great ending.
Ultimately I found Vertigo to be a disappointment but - perhaps perversely - it's a disc I'll recommend. The movie didn't fascinate me as much as it obviously has others, but I liked it well enough to want to watch it again at some point. The DVD provides good picture, sound and supplements. Vertigo doesn't dazzle me as a movie or as a DVD, but it’s worth a look.
This marks the third DVD release of Vertigo, and it’s the best. However, it’s not significantly superior to the one that immediately preceded it. Those two offer similar visuals and identical audio, though the new one loses a mono mix. Otherwise, this one differs from its predecessor solely due to a few new extras. While those components have value, they’re not enough to make the set worth a “double dip” for fans who already have the 2005 release.
To rate this film, visit the Alfred Hitchcock Masterpiece Collection review of VERTIGO