Birdman Blu-ray Review

Michael Keaton has never been better

Artistic doubt is crushing, more so for someone who was able to release their uncertainty through fame. Success is certainly fleeting though. For Riggan (Michael Keaton), it was mere minutes spent inside of a questionable super hero suit – the super powered Birdman. For Keaton, it is appropriately reflective on his own superhero days.

For an entire subset of actors working the current Hollywood comic book fetish, Birdman is likely to be the same for them in a decade.

Riggan needs fame. It has nearly consumed him, that rush earned from acclaim now lost to time. His mid-life crisis is of two minds – one, the returning actor seeking a Broadway hit against the odds, the second being the man still inside the costume, the voice of self-doubt: Birdman.

The film is cynical. Many seem to be these days. Riggan’s life, breaking financially and mentally, is surrounded by personalities, actors and actresses who have either succumbed to their bloated egos or accepted their place. This mix-in of characters binds Birdman together – quite literally. It is portrayed as a single take. Were it not for the smarts of a modern audience with regards to digital technology, chances are we would all believe it too.

Birdman becomes layered and complex, words which mean nothing on posters out of context but they sound good in marketing. In context of the narrative, a wild, unforgiving mixture of reality and mental fantasy (delusions?), Birdman is sublime. It is a movie about mistakes, the past, and lingering personal skepticism. Actor, artist, professional, or otherwise, Birdman will relate.

… inside of those filmmaking peculiarities and eccentricities is a lighting bolt film, a strike of genius

Construction is elegant. Director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu lets actors hash it out, tracking into scenes before settling on two faces on the sides of the frame. What sounds repetitive is sensational, a movie featuring notable stars which lets them work without interruption. Their stories, their lives – almost entirely confined to dressing rooms or the stage – are richly designed because their real off-screen lives can intersect with on-screen personas to high levels of satirical self-mocking. The necessity in their dialog is also eloquently done. Birdman is two hours and needs every minute of its frame.

Keaton is the star, obviously. The Academy said so too. Given the length of these takes, Birdman is an astounding achievement. But inside of those filmmaking peculiarities and eccentricities is a lighting bolt film, a strike of genius. It attracts all manner of energy from an alluring and interestingly delivered story. Birdman is so unique it will never happen again.

There is something to every motion Birdman makes. Every angle, every view, and every cut (and there are few of the latter). It is the type to be dissected in the halls of film study classes, but this should not be the call of an off-putting, pretentious feature. Birdman is too good. While mainstream audiences will wonder if Riggans actually has super powers and may find themselves bemused by a metaphorical ending, even those confused looks have merit. They are still interesting observations in a film which makes varied interpretations possible and welcome. The film is not impenetrable to new ways of thinking.

Movie ★★★★★ 

He can't get away @ 1:28:57

Birdman would be an unlikely candidate for film. It may have even been impossible to do on actual physical stock. Say what you may for digital, but the sheer freedom afforded by the format is on display in something like Birdman. It is never glossy, displays noise, and wanes in focus, yet this movie is so continuous as to be beautiful without dissecting the broad technicals.

Still, most of this one shows off. The level of texture is in fluctuation even if most of the movie is in close-up. Those shots which do succeed are on point. Facial definition is displayed in full. Fidelity stands out, resolving pores and hairs without fault.

Some green screened shots do display a smearing anomaly. Scenes on a ledge with Emma Stone and Edward Norton suffer from a noticeable jerkiness when panning, a problem seen nowhere else. It does not appear to be the disc or the encode. Some light banding can be spotted for those perceptive to the issue.

Speaking of those same scenes, they are also notable for noise. It sprouts up almost immediately, if with limited consequences to the images as a whole. The rest of Birdman is clean. Palette switches swap out warmth for cooler hues regularly, with flesh tones mostly unaffected except in extreme cases. Black levels are wholly natural, enough be unnoticeable in their perfection. They add weight and shadow as needed.

Video ★★★★☆ 

While Keaton and company may be in the midst of the Oscar rush, Birdman is also up for multiple sound awards. There’s a reason: It’s amazing. If the film is near perfect, the audio work truly is. Birdman may in fact be the best non-action mix this format has produced.

At the heart is an award-snubbed Antonio Sanchez score/soundtrack, completely unorthodox in execution. It’s all drums, but their effect is mammoth. The deepest hits pursue the subwoofer and cymbals rattle in the highs. Either they’re filling the mix or precisely following actors. Therein sits the appeal.

Everything moves around a focused central figure in Birdman. Stage crew chatter whips around the soundfield. Conversations are sent wide into the stereos or surrounds. Applause or jeers from an audience are specifically directional. Sound is frequently in one specific spot. You can’t miss it. Mixing is purposeful.

More than that, Birdman anchors sound to its idea of realism. On the streets with a drummer nearby, a conversation between Norton and Keaton feels underplayed yet audible – a natural effect on sound in a big city, but also of those drums next to them (played in the appropriate channel as they pass). Most films would kill to sound this real.

Audio ★★★★★ 

This review was based on a rental copy. As such, there are no bonuses. We will update if/when a retail copy is received.

Extras ☆☆☆☆☆ 

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Click on the images below for full resolution screen captures taken directly from the Blu-ray. Images have not been altered in any way during the process.