Hitchcock is a dramatized look into one period of Alfred Hitchcock’s private life, primarily concerning itself with the legendary director’s filming of Psycho. To hook modern audiences, Hitchcock uses the emotional and creative tension between Alfred and his beloved wife, Alma, to propel the plot beyond the standard dimensions of Hollywood biopics. An all-star cast, headlined by Anthony Hopkins and Helen Mirren, are the best aspects of a script that feels both underwritten and overwritten at the same time.
Alfred Hitchcock was a larger than life director in his heyday, known by moviegoers everywhere as one of the best directors that the cinema had ever seen. His droll mannerisms and personality were best known by audiences from his segments on the Alfred Hitchcock Presents series, a long-running and popular show in its day.
While Anthony Hopkins physically transforms himself for the role, he eschews imitating the precise manner and accent that was one of Hitchcock’s personal trademarks. One imagines a younger Hopkins investing more energy and vitality into the performance, who has been resting on his laurels in roles for sometime now. It is to his credit as an entertainer that he still gives a great performance, even if he doesn’t perfectly imitate the rotund icon. The surprise is Helen Mirren in playing Alfred’s largely unheralded wife, Alma. Her portrayal of Hitchcock’s silent creative partner outshines the rest of the cast, including younger actresses like Scarlett Johansson and Jessica Biel in their roles as actresses on Psycho.
Even with Alred Hitchcock at the height of his creative powers, reeling off one legendary movie after another, Hitchcock details the problems the director had in securing financing for Psycho. It was a shocking movie for its era and the studios had a hard time accepting some of its central motifs, including a cross-dressing serial killer in Norman Bates. Where Hitchcock goes wrong are the imaginary fantasy conversations it holds between Alfred Hitchcock and Ed Gein, the serial killer that partially inspired the book and premise of Psycho. The fantasy material is juxtaposed against the stark realism of the remaining melodrama, which simply does not work that well.
The thrust of the narrative involves a possible affair between Alma and her close personal friend, Whitfield Cook, as they work on a new screenplay together at his beach house. It does introduce some melodrama into the fictionalized version of events, though it is handled in such a trite and tidy manner that much of it rings false. Hitchcock is as much a story about Alma and her influence on the director’s movies, than it is about Alfred Hitchcock himself. That choice only works some of the time because it distracts from more interesting elements featured in the movie, like Alfred Hitchcock’s very complex relationships with his leading ladies. That is an area the movie’s story should have explored in more depth.
Hitchcock is passable entertainment that finishes before it gets too tiresome. The story has a little too much of the happy-ending syndrome that Hollywood so loves, but the director’s life was interesting enough to compensate for that shortcoming. The principle reason to watch the film is Helen Mirren’s performance, though Anthony Hopkins does a reasonable job in the titular role. One word of warning if one wants to remain unspoiled for Psycho, watch that classic thriller before this film.
Running a tick over 98 minutes, the main feature has been encoded in AVC at 30.23 Mbps. Shot on the digital Red Epic camera, Hitchcock on Blu-ray possesses high-quality video that displays superior detail and immense clarity. Fox has bestowed upon it a fine technical transfer from the raw digital files, allowing Hitchcock to be a near-reference disc for the format. Aside from a solitary moment of banding and posterization in Hitchcock’s bedroom, the compression is flawless and highly transparent.
The top-notch detail reveals an extraordinary amount of high-frequency content, right down to the facial prosthetics that Anthony Hopkins wore for his role. Close-ups look nearly impeccable in contrast and saturation, while the wider panoramic shots of the 2.39:1-framed movie are impressive in their scope. The rich, warm color palette boosts the saturation of primary colors such as magenta, though there is a slight yellow push to the flesh-tones whenever Hopkins or Mirren are in a scene.
Black levels are deep and inky, highlighting the refined level of shadow delineation possible on the latest digital cameras. A few moments show tiny amounts of black crush and lost detail, but they are the exception and not the rule for Hitchcock. A bit of ringing in the form of halos are noticeable in the back-lit scenes, particularly for the interior shots. These are really very minor indiscretions on what is mostly a stellar image. What prevents Hitchcock from being a reference disc for picture quality is the lack of depth and dimension to the image, a result of the flat digital cinematography.
Hitchcock’s main soundtrack is a lush 5.1 DTS-HD MA affair that does as much as it can for the mostly dialogue-driven drama. Danny Elfman’s restrained orchestral score attempts to imitate the great composer of Alfred Hitchcock’s best-known films, Bernard Herrmann. The infamous musical cues from Psycho are used in one key scene to great effect. There is some surround activity to the sound design, though much of it is mostly incidental sound effects and isolated musical cues. This is not a mix one can use for demo material, but the well-recorded sound is just another aspect of the film’s very high production values. Dialogue is clean and easily intelligible, appropriately mixed in balance with the score.
Fox has also provided the following soundtracks: 5.1 English Descriptive Audio, 5.1 Dolby Digital Spanish, 5.1 Dolby Digital French. English SDH and Spanish are the only two subtitle options, presented in a white font within the frame of the film.
Fox has loaded up Hitchcock with a multitude of featurettes and extras. Some of the featurettes are fairly brief but all of them are nicely constructed and presented in 1080P. First-run pressings of Hitchcock include a glossy slipcover. A DVD has been included alongside an UltraViolet code, redeemable for a HDX copy on VUDU. An iTunes digital copy is also part of the package.
Audio Commentary with Director Sacha Gervasi and Author Stephen Rebello – A laid-back discussion between the two men that often ignores much of what is happening on the screen. Rebello’s book on Psycho was the initial genesis for the movie and he had a personal relationship with Alfred Hitchcock, so his comments are particularly illuminating. It’s not the most informative commentary by any means, but some of the general background it provides on the movie is interesting.
Deleted Scene (01:42) – Director Sacha Gervasi introduces the sole deleted scene, featuring one of Hitchcock’s fantasy sessions with his psychologist.
Becoming The Master: From Hopkins to Hitchcock (12:28) – Hopkins wore facial prosthetics for the role and this featurette details the process behind the transformation.
Obsessed With Hitchcock (29:09) – The main special feature, this is a typical making-of documentary with pithy comments from the cast and crew. It it probably the most essential extra to watch for fans.
Sacha Gervasi’s Behind-the-Scenes Cell Phone Footage (13:31) – The director shot this footage on his iPhone, in that phone’s familiar vertical video format. A few candid moments are revealed from the set, but there isn’t much substance to this featurette.
Hitchcock Cell Phone PSA (00:41) Hopkins, in character, warns moviegoers about texting during the film.
The Story (03:54) – A brief featurette that probably was cut from the main making-of documentary.
The Cast (04:25) – Details how excellent the cast were in their respective roles.
Danny Elfman Maestro (02:16) – A short, almost wordless featurette showing Danny Elfman composing the score.
Hitch and Alma (03:15) – More background on the main relationship in the film, the one between Alfred Hitchcock and his wife, Alma.
Remembering Hitchcock (04:44) – The few living actors and crew members that worked with Alfred Hitchcock remember their experiences with the man.
Theatrical Trailer (02:33)
Trailers for other Fox films: Stoker, The Sessions, Life of Pi, The Best Marigold Hotel, TWIXT, Atlas Shrugged Part 2
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