Director Alfred Hitchcock is having a pretty big year. Two feature film iterations of the iconic filmmaker will have been released by 2012’s end—the Toby Jones-fronted The Girl and the aptly named Hitchcock with Anthony Hopkins—and this week a massive collection of Hitch’s films hits Blu-ray. Just in time for Halloween, this convenient box set includes 15 of the most revered features from The Master of Suspense’s career in glorious HD, with special features and extras galore. From Psycho to Family Plot, this swell collection will make a fine addition to the home video libraries of cinephiles aplenty. Hit the jump for our full review of Alfred Hitchcock: The Masterpiece Collection on Blu-ray.
This is a massive Blu-ray collection encompassing 15 films, so I’ll just try to hit the highlights in this review in order to give readers a good idea of what the set entails and whether it’s worth the rather steep price tag. Of the titles included, only two have previously been released on Blu-ray (North by Northwest and Psycho), so most of these transfers are brand new. Here’s a rundown of all the films that make up The Masterpiece Collection:
- Saboteur (1942)
- Shadow of a Doubt (1943)
- Rope (1948)
- Rear Window (1954)
- The Trouble with Harry (1955)
- The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956)
- Vertigo (1958)
- North by Northwest (1959)
- Psycho (1960)
- The Birds (1963)
- Marnie (1964)
- Torn Curtain (1966)
- Topaz (1969)
- Frenzy (1972)
- Family Plot (1976)
The collection is presented in a fantastic accordion-like large booklet, with each film and accompanying disc taking up an entire page (left and right). The corresponding pages include the film’s theatrical poster, an image of one or two characters superimposed in front of the artistic background, a brief synopsis, a list of bonus features, and a quote from the film. Moreover, each individual disc is adorned with artwork and a title treatment for the corresponding film.
It’s really a quite stunning presentation, and I was happy to see that the discs can be removed with ease unlike some other recent Blu-ray collections (I’m looking at you, Back to the Future). The booklet does creak a bit when opened, and I’m not sure how long the whole thing will remain intact. For now, though, it’s a sturdy and gorgeous way to house The Masterpiece Collection’s films.
As I mentioned before, 13 of these films are appearing on Blu-ray for the first time. I’m sure many are especially interested in the HD transfers of Rear Window and Vertigo, and I’m happy to say that both look great. The courtyard stuff in Rear Window is especially stunning, with nary a blemish to be found.
The rest of the set has some top-notch quality as well, though there’s a bit of spotty work in The Birds. This transfer is noticeably better than the DVD iteration, but there are still quite a few clarity issues to be found throughout the film. The previous DVD release was pretty poor quality, so it’s possible that this is the best we’re going to get for The Birds. Rope also has some minor video quality issues, as the color seems to vary a bit within certain scenes. It’s a small issue, though, so the problem isn’t incredibly distracting.
Upon The Masterpiece Collection’s U.K. release, a fuss was made over some errors in Frenzy. I’m happy to report that Universal has rectified these issues for the U.S. release as far as I can tell, so no problems there.
Most of the films are presented in DTS-HD Master Audio, and as such we’ve got some great transfers here save for one: Rope. The volume of the dialogue in this film varies a few times (not constantly), and at one point drops out altogether. I’m not exactly sure if this is an issue with the Blu-ray transfer or an unsolvable problem with the actual film, but Rope is the only noticeable audio blemish in the entire collection.
This collection is packed with special features, though only one extra is new/exclusive to this collection: a featurette called The Birds: Hitchcock’s Monster Movie. This 14-minute documentary focuses on how The Birds drew from Universal’s classic monster movies and influenced other horror classics like Jaws. The featurette includes some fun interviews with Joe Dante (Gremlins), John Carpenter (Halloween), and Ron Underwood (Tremors), but it’s too short to really delve into anything of substance.
To be honest, the purpose of the featurette appears to be to pimp Universal’s other home video releases like Jaws, Tremors, The Mummy, and their Classic Monsters Blu-ray collection that was recently released. It’s pretty disappointing considering this Blu-ray collection would have been the perfect opportunity to create some new, retrospective Hitchcock documentaries.
Nevertheless, the extras ported over from previous releases are still very much worth looking at. They include feature commentaries, storyboards, excerpts from the legendary Hitchcock-Truffaut interview, alternate/original endings (Vertigo, The Birds, Topaz), screen tests (Tippi Hedren for The Birds), and much more.
In addition to the extras on the discs, The Masterpiece Collection also comes with a 58-page picture booklet. It’s a fascinating read that includes essays on the filmmaker’s leading men, the “Hitchcock Blondes,” costume designer Edith Head, title designer Saul Bass, composer Bernard Hermann, and trivia on all of the included films. The booklet also showcases costume sketches, storyboards, correspondence, story notes, and more. It’s a lot of fun to flip through, and I found the booklet to be a nice companion to the overall collection.
With a collection of 15 films spanning a large portion of Hitchcock’s career, fans would be hard-pressed not to find one of their favorite Hitch works in this set. It’s hard to complain about such an eclectic collection, but I’d by lying if I said I didn’t miss Rebecca, Dial M for Murder, Strangers on a Train, and Notorious. Still, it’s a joy to revisit the awe-inspiring art direction of Rear Window, the masterful editing of Psycho, the subtle brilliance and brashness of Vertigo, and the twists and turns of North by Northwest. It’s also great to take another look at “second-tier” titles like Marnie and Saboteur, and with 15 films within arms reach this set makes the perfect companion for spontaneous movie marathons.
Though the lack of new special features is disappointing, the sheer quantity of high-quality HD transfers and the elegant presentation of the box set make The Masterpiece Collection a treat for cinephiles and Hitchcock superfans alike. It’s a must-own for Hitch obsessives, and will make the perfect holiday gift for burgeoning film fans looking to expand their classic film knowledge.