Sony // 1984 // 120 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge David Rogers (Retired) // March 7th, 2000
"I'm scared Birdy. I'm more scared now than in the war."
Birdy is one of those 'uplifting, serious' films, in the same vein as Patch Adams or Mask. Unfortunately, it doesn't have quite the amount of charm as these other examples. Starring a young Nicolas Cage (Leaving Las Vegas, Con Air, Snake Eyes) and Matthew Modine (Full Metal Jacket, Pacific Heights, Any Given Sunday) as a pair of boyhood buddies who grow up in '50s into America during the Vietnam war.
Directed by Alan Parker (Pink Floyd: The Wall, Mississippi Burning, Evita), Birdy sets Modine as, first a boy, then a man, obsessed with birds. Cage plays his (normal, by societal standards) friend, always there trying to even things out, setting a level standard for their exploits. When they come of age, they're both drafted into the Army during Vietnam. This sets Birdy into a catatonic state, and he is placed into a military psychiatric hospital. Al (Cage) is brought in by the psychologist overseeing Birdy's case to try and help his friend back to reality.
The film is very slow, told very methodically, mostly in the form of flashbacks as Al tries to reach Birdy by reliving their childhood together. Birdy has a fairly normal family, Al's dad is one of those nearly psychopathic fathers who show 'tough love' and yell a lot. It's touching from the perspective of Al trying to help his clearly disturbed friend, but also very predictable and more than a little odd. This isn't to say it's a bad film, just that it's one designed for a very specific segment of the viewing audience. I daresay it's not really a mainstream audience film, the story is very, well, depressing.
The good parts are Cage, who's one of the better actors working today. It's enjoyable to watch him in this role before he became the name he is now, the talent is there and clearly recognizable. Modine is firmly in character, but he's never really had the same breakout success Cage has enjoyed (and earned). There are also interesting scenes of '50s and early '60s Philadelphia street and city life, from a kid's perspective.
Birdy's video transfer is very clean, very crisp, as it should be for an anamorphic transfer. Colors are strong and vibrant, edges remain solid. For a 1984 film, that's a very good transfer job, and the studio is to be commended. Audio is unfortunately limited to Dolby 2.0, but still uses the ProLogic circuit pretty well; the surrounds come up with background music for many scenes. Dialogue is forward and mostly discernable, with only a few instances where it fades a few notches. And for subtitle fans, there are six language options.
The disc, however, is pretty barebones basic. While I didn't quite enjoy the film, I have to think a commentary track might could have helped to expand the audience somewhat by providing the director a vehicle through which to better explain his thinking behind scenes and story. Also missing is a full Dolby 5.1 soundtrack, which is always a nice feature for home theater enthusiasts who've invested in such a system.
Clearly a niche disc, Birdy ultimately is a solid offering, though lacking in key areas that would have better enhanced it's value for consumers. But a very good video transfer helps even the scales out a bit.
The usual complaints about barebones offerings are issued. The studio is commended for a nice anamorphic print however, and gets a finger shook at them for a 2.0 only soundtrack.
Review content copyright © 2000 David Rogers; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Portuguese)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 1984
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Talent Bios
* Theatrical Trailer
* Trailers for Road to Wellville, Midnight Express, 8mm, Guarding Tess, It Could Happen to You