Blue Velvet (US - BD RA)
Jonathan checks out the classic Lynch film with 50 minutes of lost footage..
Beneath the surface of small-town serenity lies a dark domain where innocents dare not tread and unpredictability is the norm. It is the haunting realm of Blue Velvet, spawned from the mind of David Lynch. Clean-cut Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) realizes his Mayberry-like hometown is not so normal when he discovers a human ear in a field. His investigation catapults him into an alluring, erotic murder mystery involving a disturbed nightclub singer (Isabella Rossellini) and a drug-addicted sadist (Dennis Hopper). Soon Jeffrey is led deeper into their depraved existence...to the point of no return. (Adapted from the Fox syonpsis)
I'm going to keep the feature review of this one fairly short. Chances are you've already developed your own opinion of Blue Velvet, and the real highlight of this release is the 50 minutes of lost footage that has been restored and can now be seen for the first time. Even if you haven't seen Blue Velvet, chances are you've encountered it in pop culture. Perhaps you've heard the Frank Booth line where he passionately expresses his deep love for Pabst Blue Ribbon over Heineken. Or maybe you've seen the video review where Siskel and Ebert duel over their opinions of the film (included as a special feature in this release), with good reason. The film has a lot of depraved, disturbing content in it. I admire Ebert for setting objectivity aside and being honest about how the movie made him feel, even if he seemed to be misdirecting his frustrations with the movie. But I fall in line with Siskel's viewpoint. This is a masterful act of subversion, and a big part of the reason it works so well is Dennis Hopper's maniacal performance as Frank Booth. It's so repulsive and twisted that it borderlines on camp at times, but there is a genuine madness to it that only someone like Hopper could've brought to the role. Supposedly, during the audition process, Hopper got the part by saying "I've got to play Frank. Because I am Frank!"
In reality, if you match up all the content from some modern day horror movies with what happens in the more controversial scenes of Blue Velvet, it will feel tame by comparison. Even older exploitation films from before its release have far more explicit content. What made Blue Velvet so controversial was that it landed in mainstream cinemas where unsuspecting patrons got more than they bargained for. In many ways, I'm jealous of people who were able to experience this film in cinemas when it came out. It was before my time, and only after hearing of the film's reputation did I get to witness it for myself. I've spoken to parents of friends about the movie and they vividly recall the commotion surrounding the film when it came out. Whether you like it or not, the movie has an undeniable power of many viewers. Lynch has made a strange variety of films, but those familiar with his work will notice that his favorite theme is exploring the seedy underbelly of seemingly pleasant lifestyles. Blue Velvet marked the beginning of this trend as he tackled the facade of suburban life in America. Later on in Mulholland Dr. and Inland Empire, he evolved his focus to take on a twisted side of the Hollywood dream. I'm not sure where Lynch's desire to explore these inversions came from, but I like to think that it was an artistic lashing out against the machine that kept him from having creative control on Dune, just two years prior to the release of Blue Velvet.
Lynch's film looks better than ever in this wonderful 1080p transfer from Fox. The colours of the flowers and the greens of the trees have never looked as natural as they do here. The titular blue velvet in the opening and closing credits is saturated and especially luscious. There is a lovely film grain permeating throughout every scene that never feels digitally manipulated. Overall detail is a bit on the soft side, but that can be attributed to the film's age. Some studios would apply edge enhancement to sharpen an older film like this, but thankfully there are no signs of it here. The image is still considerably sharper than the 2002 MGM DVD. I noticed a few strange artefacts, but most of them occur in the blinding brightness of the sky, which is a common place for such things. In the scene where Jeffrey is walking in a field and finds an ear, there are some distinct dirty looking smudges in the sky that remain in place at the picture moves. It reminded me of watching a film projected on a dirty screen. There is also some occasionally unattractive shimmer. Aside from these infrequent distractions, this transfer looks as good as anybody could reasonably expect given the source material. The overall appearance strongly reminded me of the Dressed to Kill Blu-ray that was recently released by the same studio. Fans should be thrilled with it.
Blue Velvet marked the beginning of Lynch's long time collaboration with composer Angelo Badalamenti. The two are a match made in heaven. Badalamenti's score sets the tone throughout much of the film and adds a dreamy level of surrealism to many of the film's more "normal" scenes. Lynch has always used sound mixing as a vital tool to create feelings of darkness and uneasiness. This was evident as far back as his disturbing short films he made before Eraserhead. This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track gives his techniques a startling new level of effectiveness. Turn it up loud and let it shake you. Whenever Lynch wants to imply that something seedy is going on beneath the surface, low tones and a disturbingly deep rumble take over the mix sending a chill straight to your spine. These effects are where the mix is most dynamic, as they often fill the surround channels to assault you from multiple angles. The LFE channel is not safe from their wrath either.
I believe there were some missed opportunities in the directionality department. Especially when it comes to dialogue. In the scene where Jeffrey witnesses some awful things happening from the inside of a closet, the sounds happening outside the closet all stay in the front channels. When the camera focuses on Jeffrey in the darkness, peering out the blinds to what is happening to the right of the camera, some of the stereo balance could have been shifted to better represent where the off screen sounds are coming from. All of the dialogue in the film stays in the front speakers, regardless of where it is occurring on screen. Sometimes dialogue is somewhat drowned out by the overbearing score in more harrowing scenes, but that has been the case in every version of this film I've seen, and I would not be shocked if it was a stylistic choice on Lynch's part. Ambient effects are used well in the mix. You can hear some background noise in the bar or the chirping of birds and crickets in outdoor scenes. When Jeffrey finds the ear in the field, the volume of the cricket chirping is noticeably ramped up to eerie effect.
Before I dive into the extras, I just want to let readers know that this Blu-ray disc does not feature any menus. It goes directly into the film. The only way to access the scene selection and the extra features is to bring up the pop-up menu from inside the movie. The actual menu buttons didn't work with my player. I had to push the 'Up' arrow to make it appear. This took a little while to figure out, and hopefully this will save someone from going through the same confusion I did.
Mysteries of Love (SD, 01:10:45): This is a feature length documentary that was included with the MGM Special Edition DVD. It features some informative interviews with Lynch, Rossellini, MacLachlan, and some other cast and crew members. It covers the origin of the screenplay and how people got involved. The cast talks about a lot of scenes they were in. Rossellini talks about some of her more infamous portions. It's a great little documentary for fans of the movie, though it would've been nice if it were cleaned up a bit on the technical side. It's horizontally stretched and awfully rough on the eyes.
Lost Footage (HD, 51:42): This segment opens with a quote from David Lynch: "It's like the song 'Amazing Grace.' The footage was lost but now it's found." After this it immediately goes into the footage, all of which is remastered to the same extent as the feature film on this Blu-ray release. I originally started listing what happens in every single bit of lost footage, but it became very cumbersome and filled with insubstantial bits of information, so I'll keep it to the highlights.
The very first segment opens with a man playing blues guitar while another man sings in the back of a bar. Topless women listen from nearby. Some of them are dancing out of rhythm and others do nothing. They are interrupted by Frank Booth and his posse, which at this point includes Jeffrey and Dorothy Vallens. He throws a man down on a pool table and threatens to send him a nice big "love letter". Having more footage of Hopper playing Booth is a treat, but the scene is pretty clumsily put together and difficult to imagine it being part of the final film. As they exit the scene, a topless woman in the background does something rather unusual and disturbing with fire. Keep a close eye on her or you'll miss it.
There are a lot more scenes dedicated to Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) and his back story. For instance, in the original film we first see Jeffrey as he comes to visit his dying father in the hospital. In this lost footage, Jeffrey is a college student with a girlfriend (not Sandy), and his mother beckons him to come home because his father is dying and they won't be able to afford his schooling anymore. The girlfriend is played by Megan Mullally ( Party Down and Parks and Recreation). As a fan of her work in television, it was awesome to see that she was originally a part of this film. In another scene we see Jeffrey watching two college students at a party who appear to be having consensual relations with each other. As the man becomes more aggressive the woman pleas for him to stop, Jeffrey feels the need to interrupt. It's an interesting parallel to his experience in Dorothy Vallens' apartment later in the film. We also see how Jeffrey is first introduced to Sandy and we see him spending some more time with her family.
When Jeffrey and Sandy go to the bar where Dorothy Vallens performs, there is an overlong and indulgent scene of some other strange stage acts that come on before she does. This scene features some of Lynch's incredibly dry sense of humour, and fans may get a kick out of it, even if it does go on for way too long. There is also a lot more comic relief in some of this lost footage involving Aunt Barbara (Frances Bay), Jeffrey's mentally unwell relative that lives with him. She wages war on termites living in the house.
In a particularly tense scene, Jeffrey decides to call Vallens' apartment. Frank picks up the phone without saying a word and listens fiercely. While Frank is in the shot, the camera makes these brief shifts in an out of focus. The sound mix features some fluttery, wavering noises that sync up with the camera's shifts in focus. It is subtle, but I thought it was awesomely surreal and feels like a stylistic touch way ahead of its time.
There's a segment with no dialogue where Vallens takes Jeffrey up to the rooftop. Badalamenti's score takes over the sound mix while the two of them hold hands under a lightning storm. Vallens throws a shoe over the side of the roof, then lays on her stomach over the edge, as if she is imagining flying. When she slips forward, Jeffrey catches her and pulls her back onto the roof where they begin kissing. Dramatically the scene doesn't quite feel right, but it is a very interesting exploration into her mind and Jeffrey's white knighthood.
A Few Outtakes (HD, 01:33): A very brief but fun set of outtakes. Mostly just the actors cracking up and Kyle MacLachlan being silly.
Siskel & Ebert "At the Movies" (SD, 1:30): This is the exact same video that I linked earlier in the review. It's the Blue Velvet review segment from a 1986 episode of "At the Movies" where Siskel and Ebert disagree strongly about the film.
Vignettes (SD): Four random, brief featurettes. For example, MacLachlan talks briefly about where "the chicken walk" came from. Rossellini explains why she felt Dorothy Vallens did not represent misogyny. One of the crew members talks about where they got the robin from. He claims that they told Lynch it didn't look very real, and his response was "I know. It's great!".
Trailers/TV Spots: An HD encode of the original theatrical trailer and a couple of TV spots in standard definition.
Blue Velvet is a classic and remains one of the finest examples of subversive cinema to date, even if I don't find myself revisiting it nearly as much as Lynch's more cerebral films. That may change now that I have a terrific Blu-ray release. The AV quality is better than ever before and the extras (while mostly ported over from the 2002 MGM DVD) feature 50 minutes of brand new deleted footage that was recently found and restored. It is far more interesting than your average "deleted scenes" segment and it really changes the way you look at some of the characters. Fans should not miss it.
Review by Jonathan Hogberg
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 8th November 2011
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 1.0 Spanish, DTS 5.1 French, Dolby Digital 2.0 Portugese, DTS 5.1 Italian, DTS 5.1 German, DTS 5.1 Spanish
Subtitles: English, Spanish, French, Portugese, Italian, German, Chinese, Dutch, Japanese
Extras: Newly Discovered Lost Footage, Mysteries of Love Documentary, Original Siskel & Ebert Review, Vignettes, Trailer/TV Spots, A Few Outtakes
Easter Egg: No
Director: David Lynch
Cast: Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern
Genre: Crime, Drama, Mystery and Thriller
Length: 120 minutes
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