2 Movies 1 Moment: A Birthday Party

This Week: A Birthday Party

Birthday parties are a heavy favorite in films as they are a great way to introduce characters, bring characters together, establish tone or just have fun. There have been some great birthday party moments in movies, some that are sentimental (Who can forget that sweet first kiss in Sixteen Candles?) and some that are just hilarious (Frank the Tank taking a dart to the neck in Old School). Here are two birthday party moments we’d like to share.


Melissa’s Pick

Movie title: The Birds (1963)

Film Summary: The Birds follows Melanie Daniels (Tippi Hedren) as she travels to Bodega Bay to play a charming ruse on Mitch Brenner (Rod Taylor), a man she met the previous day in a pet store and had instant chemistry with. Once there, it becomes apparent that something is amiss as the birds in the area become increasingly aggressive.

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The Moment: Mitch’s younger sister, Cathy, is having a birthday party the day after Melanie arrives in Bodega Bay. Although, Melanie is hesitant to join at first, Mitch soon convinces her to stay until the party and join them for the festivities.  Soon after Melanie arrives at the party and is greeted by Mitch, a flock of birds swoop in and start to attack everyone in attendance. Panicked, the children try to run into the house for safety. A little boy tries to escape by hiding under a table, a little girl runs up a hill to get away and is attacked by a gull, another girl in a blue dress has fallen to the ground while a bird on her back continues attacking her. All the while Melanie, Mitch and the other adults are doing everything they can to help the children get inside and escape the chaos.

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Why It Matters: Another masterfully told tale by Alfred Hitchcock, The Birds is all about the build up and the suspense.  Prior to the birthday party, there are a few small instances that foreshadow the chaos to come; Melanie is attacked by a gull as she crosses the small bay and another bird flies into the door and dies when she is with her new friend, Annie.  Individually, these occurrences could be overlooked but Melanie can’t deny that something is going on. Just as her suspicions are at their height, she attends Cathy’s birthday party and it becomes glaringly obvious that they are in trouble. This moment changes the persistent feeling that something is wrong into a certainty that they are in danger. The birthday party is a jarring shift in tone for the movie; it is the point in the movie where it changes from a suspense thriller to a horror. For this shift to take place at a child’s birthday party is incredibly effective. It’s  such a seemingly safe place; there is lots of laughter and everyone is relaxed. To have this peace shattered by the very thing that they thought was wrong but pushed aside because of the ridiculousness of it, that’s the scariest notion of all.  People become complacent and take their safety and overall way of life for granted. What would happen if this was all taken away one day by something that you would never even consider to be dangerous? That’s what The Birds tries to get across, and that’s what is perfectly depicted in this scene. Although the visual effects are dated and it may not appeal as much to younger generations, that doesn’t take away from the intent of the film and they skill with which it was told. It also doesn’t take away from the fact that this is one of the most terrifying moments in movie birthday party history.

David’s Take: Hitchcock made the right choice with this birthday scene, as Melissa nicely describes. The setting is naturally enjoyable and creates a sense of calm. This is a party and little children are playing about, and though we know something is not right in this town we are lulled into feeling good. Then the birds arrive and we recognize that these children represent our vulnerabilities and our naivety. They scurry and fall and are easily taken down. This scene is jarring and absolutely sets a new tone and without it, the terror of the attacks would have far less of an impact.

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Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: Daphne Du Maurier, Evan Hunter

Stars: Rod Taylor, Tippi Hedren, Suzanne Pleshette

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David’s Pick

Movie title: Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring

Film Summary: The Fellowship of the Ring is the first in an epic three-part series chronicling the adventures of a group of men, dwarves, elves, and hobbits as they travel across Middle Earth to Mordor to defeat the Dark Lord Sauron.

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The Moment: In the beginning of the tale, we meet the Gray Wizard Gandolf as he comes to Hobbiton for his old friend’s birthday party. Bilbo Baggins is turning 111 and everyone and anyone has come to bid him a happy day. There’s lots of food, dancing and drinking, and Gandolf brought magnificent fireworks. But what no one knows, except the wizard, is that this is actually a good bye and Bilbo is leaving The Shire to live with the elves, whom he made friends with in his younger days while on his first adventure (later told by Jackson in The Hobbit films). Bilbo has a surprise for the party-goers. In his pocket is an enchanted ring he found long before in a dark place where a creature named Gollum lives. When he wears it, he disappears. And so he does while giving his birthday speech, leaving the crowd in shock.

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Why It Matters: Bilbo, unlike other Hobbits, has a taste for excitement, acquired years before while helping to trick and defeat the dragon Smaug, allowing the dwarves to reclaim their mountain home. He has sat at Hobbiton for too many years with no food for the soul and wants only to be away from the simple life that his people so cherish. In his speech, he begins with some kind words, but it quickly turns foul as he practically insults them before abruptly bidding farewell.

The party itself is spectacular and a great movie moment. There are dozens upon dozens of Hobbits attending and there is a great sense of excitement and authenticity. Jackson gives it time to develop, letting us know these people a little better before parting ways. It sets up a lot about why it is so important to both Frodo and Sam when they eventually have to leave. These people are full of vivid personalities and they capture the hearty, fun-loving spirit of the Hobbit lifestyle.

The scene really succeeds because of the details Jackson gives. Watch carefully as the background is full of activity. It feels like a genuine party. What’s more, we get this wonderful moment when Bilbo is hosting a small group of little children enraptured with a tale of his escape from trolls. These elements truly give the Hobbit’s a sense of place in the story. We immediately care for them, and want to learn more. It’s one of the best birthday party moments in the movies.

Melissa’s Take: I couldn’t have said it better.  Biblo’s birthday party is a beautiful moment in this film and it gives us a crystal clear depiction of everything that will be fought so fiercely to protect in the subsequent films. The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring is the beginning of an incredible journey with four relatively unassuming Hobbits at the forefront. This party is the calm before the storm. David perfectly explained the sense of excitement and the incredible attention to detail that Jackson pays to this scene. There’s a sense of wonder when Gandalf shows up and treats the children to some fireworks and we get a real feel for Merry, Pippin, Sam and Frodo. Without this scene, we wouldn’t have a real understanding of what is at stake for our new heros. Also, it’s one hell of a party.

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Director: Peter Jackson

Writers: J.R.R. Tolkien (novel), Fran Walsh (screenplay)

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Melissa is a contributing writer to TMI. Visit her Homepage for Movie Reviews and More.


Next Week: A Bike Ride

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9 Comments

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