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MGM Special Edition DVD review

  • Jun 27, 2011
  • by
The finest and most famous of David Lynch's films often requires repeated viewings for one to appreciate it. It's quite accessible - far more so than his particularly cryptic projects - but its earnest celebration of small-town innocence, lurid depravity and oddly deadpan performances are likely to challenge the most weathered sensibilities of those few remaining uninitiated cinephiles. By forcing audiences to accept what might seem hokey or facetious at face value by contrasting the movie's Americana idyll with a vicious coexisting criminality, Lynch breathed new life into an increasingly stagnant American market. Ironically, a mainstream breakthrough enabled him to fill a void left in the wake of perished New Hollywood by way of retro stylization. This homage to Hitchcock imbues the trappings of a formal mystery with surrealist flourishes and surprisingly complex characters.

If ever a movie deserved a good treatment on DVD, it's this one. Blue Velvet was beautifully and precisely shot with Lynch's usual eye for minute detail. For years, fans whose access to the film was limited to television airings and VHS editions suffered through a horrendous, washed-out pan-and-scan butchery of this picture's sprawling 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The film's anamorphic format was repaired to MGM's first DVD release, but this second "Special Edition" finally restores the full luster of its vibrant, gritty Technicolor. As a result, the visuals are gorgeous, presented exactly as Lynch intended. The audio quality of this disc's Dolby 5.1 English track is also quite fine, even though some of the midrange dialogue sounds faintly tinny in a few scenes. Background and peripheral audio is rendered with outstanding clarity. If the disc contained only the film, it would be well worth its retail price, but there's plenty more here that warrants further exploration.

The main menu is impressive in itself: the elegant title hovers above the menu's options, below which a strip of four frames exhibit a montage selection of the movie's many iconic scenes. I needn't mention what the backdrop for this screen is. This is scored by the second half of Night Streets, a reworking of Angelo Badalamenti's main title theme - a sly, romantic synthesis of Bernard Herrman and Shostakovich which actually quotes the latter's fifteenth symphony.

The dubbed French dialogue track is very good in terms of both fidelity and vocalization. While the Spanish track is reasonably well-voiced, it's also burdened by a terrible mix of which the volume of all voices is fixed while the rest of the soundtrack is nearly inaudible. The English, Spanish, French and Portuguese subtitles are all clearly presented in the same white, sans-serif font, and the translations of the Romance language subs are as reliably faithful to the dialogue as the English text.

All of the special features are worth watching. The average featurette is usually so dull that I feel an urgent need for coffee when I decide to suffer through one, but the documentary on this disc, Mysteries of Love, is a significant cut above most extras of its sort. Ably produced and edited, it draws its narrative from numerous probing interviews conducted for the documentary with MacLachlan, Rossellini, Hopper, Dern, Badalamenti, producer Fred Caruso, DP Fred Elmes and editor Duwayne Dunham; these are interspersed with footage shot on-set during production, as well as scenes from the film itself. The program also draws on interviews with Lynch and the film's sound designer, the late Alan Splet, which were conducted and shot shortly after the release of Blue Velvet. Quite a few amusing and agonizing stories are related by the cast and crew, as are some penetrating insights - the three leads exhibit a distinctly astute understanding of their characters, and while the picture's themes and symbolism are fairly easy to comprehend, only Lynch can explain it all as he perceives it.

Those who are looking for deleted scenes will only be treated to visual impressions of them. A while after Lynch halved the four-hour running time of his rough cut in order to complete the finished two-hour cut that he was contractually obligated to deliver, the cut footage was lost and has never been recovered. All we're left with is a montage culled from publicity stills of these scenes, which are fully detailed in Lynch's screenplay. From these, it's safe to say that most of what Lynch cut consisted of filler and a few exciting sequences, all of which are interesting but probably in no way crucial.

For those who can bear to watch it, a brief clip from Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert's show At the Movies is included, in which the famed film critics discuss their opposing views of Lynch's masterwork. Anyone who's familiar with these two won't be surprised to find that Siskel appreciates the movie for the right reasons, while Ebert, after acknowledging Lynch's talent, whines like a child (or more accurately, a typically self-righteous papist) because the brutalization of Rossellini's character hurt his feelings. Of course, it's all about him and how he feels. The result is the kind of disorienting conflict of opinion that could often be seen on this show, generated primarily by the disparity between the two hosts' intelligence; Siskel was surely smarter than Ebert by at least 30 IQ points.

The disc's three photo galleries contain surprisingly pleasant material. Titled Lumberton, USA, the first of these consists of an array of photos that depict Lynch's interaction with his cast and crew. "International Posters" presents the movie's American, British, Italian and French theatrical posters. A third gallery draws from a series of photos shot by documentarian Peter Braatz that convey a unique perspective of the movie's production.

As expected, the enigmatic theatrical trailer is included, as are two shorter, cruder TV spots that are sure to arouse '80s nostalgia in anyone who's capable of it.

If you want to find this DVD's easter eggs on your own, please don't read any further. I've uncovered three, though there may be more. In the main menu, navigate below the second tier of menu options; the cursor will transform into a picket fence icon. Selection of this icon will trigger an alternate main menu, the montage frames of which display a different set of scenes. From here, one can again navigate below the menu selections to find that the cursor becomes a robin icon. When selected, this triggers a short outtake from the Mysteries of Love documentary in which Fred Elmes explains the odd set of circumstances surrounding the conspicuously artificial robin featured in the film's final sequence.
In the Special Features menu, select the "Special" of the screen's title, which runs an even shorter video in which Lynch provides his opinion of McDonald's.

I'm often satisfied to own torrented video files and VHS editions, and don't often feel a strong desire to own a DVD based on the quality of its content, presentation and extras, but this really is an exceptional disc. Whether you're a fan of Lynch, the movie itself or great film making in general, this is a first-rate disc that's actually worth buying.

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More Blue Velvet reviews
review by . August 17, 2012
posted in Movie Hype
**** out of ****    In the fictional logging town of Lumberton, writer-director David Lynch has created an urban landscape pretty enough for a postcard. In a creepy opening, we see men on trucks waving from the streets, dads watering the grass, and flowers growing in front of a white picket fence. The town is a portrait of what an idealistic 1950's society must have been like; content, peaceful, sociable. Or at least this is how we felt it ought to be. Water from a hose meets …
Quick Tip by . July 15, 2010
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This movie is creepy and weird. Don't see it. Unless you like really creep weird stuff.
Quick Tip by . July 14, 2010
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Such a brilliantly weird movie. Thank you, David Lynch. RIP, Dennis Hopper.
review by . July 13, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
I finally got around to seeing this, probably his most critically-acclaimed flick. With so much I heard about it over the years, I thought I pretty much had it pegged, and I somewhat did.      The criticism of suburban America and the two sides of society came as no surprise, as they shouldn't to anyone who has read the most simplistic of plot summaries. Dennis Hopper was just as insane as I would have expected. Given this script, any filmmaker could have said, more or less, …
review by . May 03, 2009
Blue Velvet was David Lynch's return to what he does best. Surrealistic dramas. After the box office failure of his big budgeted sci-fi/ fantasy epic that was based upon the novel DUNE, Lynch was looking for a much smaller project. A returning into the mainstream Dennis Hopper makes a career renewing performance as the psychotic Frank Booth. This film was a much needed shot-in-the-arm for both men. They would both be immortalized in 80's Americana thanks to Blue Velvet.    The …
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Robert Buchanan ()
Ranked #30
I'm a bibliophile, ailurophile, inveterate aggregator, dedicated middlebrow and anastrophizing syntax addict. My personality type is that of superlative INTJ.
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