Birdcage DVD/ B+,B
US/1996/Color/Widescreen Anamorphic 1.77:1/DD,Surround/119
minutes/Directed by Mike Nichols/Starring Robin Williams, Nathan Lane, Gene
Hackman/MGM-UA/24 Chaps/Theatrical Trailer/$24.95
The colorful setting and lives of the
characters of The Birdcage make an interesting offering in the first wave of DVDs. Of the
four new DVDs I have viewed, The Birdcage looks least like the new Messiah of video. The
transfer calls into question what may be a problem in coming months as DVD appears in more
and more homes. Where to set the sharpness control on your monitor. The new optical system
clearly can deliver more information than the competition. In general, it will be
necessary, absolutely necessary, to turn the sharpness control on your display device all
the way off. Now, in the case of The Birdcage, it appears that the DVD transfer has been
rolled off from the potential resolution of the medium and consequently, with the
sharpness off, it looks somewhat soft. Overall, the transfer is lackluster. The explosion
of color that dominates director Nichols palette for this film is muted on the DVD.
Carping commentary aside, The Birdcage is often
an unrestrained laugh-feast. This remake of La Cage aux Folles, the delightful French
comedy, is one of the best Americanizations of a foreign film I can recall. Often,
translating humor generic to another culture is problematic. This is not the case with The
Birdcage, which combines the deft screenwriting of Elaine May and the polished direction
of Mike Nichols to capture much of the madcap humor
that drove the French farce.
The Birdcage takes us into another world, the
world of the diva transvestite, her legion of male supporting players in high heels, and
the live-in relationship between two gay men. The son, a product of Armands brief
heterosexual experimentation, has been brought up by this odd couple. When he announces
his intention to marry the daughter of a U.S. Senator, a leader of the ultra conservative
right wing moralists, all hell breaks loose is the wild household located over the
transvestite nightclub owned by Armand. The visit of the
girlfriends parents is the culmination of some inspired comedy.
After dressing up as a nanny in Mrs. Doubtfire, Robin Williams plays the
less flamboyant role of Armand Goldman in The Birdcage, and Williams is admirably
restrained in a polished performance punctuated by several patented Williams comic riffs.
Nathan Lane plays transvestite mate Albert, nee Starina, searching for a core of
seriousness underneath the garish clothes, wigs, and high heels. Its ironic that
while Williams restraint makes a better movie, Lanes failure to go all out
wild as Albert tempers the potential hilarity of the film, though he is mostly up to the
high comic antics. Gene Hackman and Diane Wiest are terrific as the Senator and Mrs.
Keeley. Hackmans flare for comedy through truth is
reminiscent of the great Spencer Tracy.
The Birdcage is a very good looking video. Make
no mistake about that. However, its not all that it could be. I fear that if
the variety of DVD transfers necessitates consumers playing with their sharpness controls
for best results, DVDs could suffer. Its more likely that the consumer will choose
to over-enhance the image, leaving sharpness controls at the point normally used for
broadcast or laser viewing. Lack of consistency in DVD delivery may wreck havoc in
teaching the consumer how to best set up a monitor to see the best of DVD. Are my eyes
deceiving me? Perhaps they were soft the evening of viewing The Birdcage, but
experience and a re-check have confirmed that the transfer for this film is simply too
soft. There are rumors floating around the industry that Studios fear consumers will not
turn down the sharpness controls and consequently DVDs wont look as good as they
can. Have the Studios opted to soften some of the initial DVD offerings? Not Space Jam,
not Blade Runner, not The Mask. Are there conflicting transfer philosophies that will
muddy the DVD waters? Subsequent releases will tell the tale in vivid terms.
The Birdcage is presented Anamorphic 1.77:1
and Pan & Scan on respective sides of the DVD. A theatrical trailer is included on the