Home from college, Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) makes an unsettling discovery: a severed human ear, lying in a field. In the mystery that follows, by turns terrifying and darkly funny, David Lynch burrows deep beneath the picturesque surfaces of small-town life. Driven to investigate, Jeffrey finds himself drawing closer to his fellow amateur sleuth, Sandy Williams (Laura Dern), as well as their prime suspect, lounge singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini)—and facing the fury of Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper), a psychopath who will stop at nothing to keep Dorothy in his grasp. With intense performances and hauntingly powerful scenes and images, Blue Velvet is an unforgettable vision of innocence lost, and one of the most influential American films of the past few decades.
David Lynch’s Blue Velvet receives a new Blu-ray edition from the Criterion Collection, utilizing a new 4K restoration. The film is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1 on a dual-layer disc with a 1080p/24hz encode. The new restoration was scanned from the 35mm original camera negative.
Fox/MGM’s previous Blu-ray edition made use of an older high-definition restoration created for the 2002 DVD edition, though surprisingly it managed to hold up fairly well when presented on Blu-ray almost ten years later. Dated in areas it still had a decent photographic look, delivered the details, and had been cleaned up impressively, leaving little damage behind. Criterion’s presentation does offer a notable improvement over that previous edition, though I was surprised to see the improvements aren’t all that significant, which ends up speaking well of the old disc. The photography can still be a little soft around the edges but the details are still strong, and the finer textures (like what is found on Rossellini’s blue velvet robe) are rendered cleanly. Colours come off a little bit duller in comparison to the old disc, at least in the darker scenes, but I’m sure it’s intended. MGM’s newer restorations have had a tendency to lean a little heavy on the yellows but that doesn’t appear to be the case here. Black levels are deep yet shadow detail can be very weak, maybe a byproduct of lighting and filming, and this was the case with old presentation as well.
Grain looks more fine-tuned and natural in comparison to the old disc, which in turn does help deliver the finer details a little better; this ends up being the most obvious improvement over the old disc, which didn’t handle grain all that badly itself (it was at least there and noticeable). The restoration work has also gone over the picture with a fine-tooth comb, and nothing of note remains in the way of damage. Again, the picture is nice and does offer an upgrade, but the improvement isn’t all that substantial over the old disc.
Criterion includes two audio tracks, both presented in DTS-HD MA: the original 2.0 surround presentation and Lynch’s remastered 5.1 surround track, created for the 2002 DVD. I only listened to the 5.1 track.
The mix isn’t overly aggressive, though it does make use of the split channels. Effects and music get nicely doled out between the speakers, with the song Mysteries of Love providing a wonderful ethereal quality during the last portions of the film. Dialogue is sharp and crystal clear, with nice range and fidelity, though it sticks mostly to the front center speaker. It’s not overly aggressive in the end but it’s effective.
Criterion ports over a few supplements from the old MGM/Fox editions while also adding some new material. The biggest feature from the previous Blu-ray edition to appear here is The Lost Footage 53-minutes’ worth of material cut from the film, which was a very big find. The old 2002 DVD edition presented its own deleted scenes feature but it was made up of stills and text descriptions since the footage was thought to be lost. The footage is presented here the same way it was on the previous Blu-ray, edited together by Lynch, almost making a whole other film, giving a better idea to the different flow and feel the main feature could have had. A lot of the excised footage deals with Jeffrey’s old college life and his family, particularly his having to head home because of his father’s health. There’s also more involving him and his relationship with Sandy. The material looks to have been edited in order (other than the opening portion, which features Frank’s joyride stop at a bar) and if it was left in it would have basically added another 45-minutes or so to the first half of the film (before Jeffrey’s joyride with Frank). It’s interesting to see how this film could have been but I feel Lynch was probably right in cutting most of this material. The current opening works so much better at putting the viewer off guard and the extra exposition really doesn’t help anything and would have just slowed the film to a crawl. At any rate it’s here and it is presented again in 1080p (it was actually restored for the previous Blu-ray, which was a bit of a surprise, and in areas it looked better than the main film on that disc). In a nice touch Lynch ends the scenes with a cast list of all of those who participated but apologizes in a note about how he was unable to find the names of all of those involved.
Criterion also appends 2-minutes’ worth of outtakes after the closing credits. These were presented separately on the old edition, so just pointing this out so viewers don’t turn the feature off once they reach the credits (this also explains the features’ 2-minute longer runtime in comparison to the old edition’s runtime).
”Blue Velvet” Revisited is a newer documentary put together by filmmaker Peter Braatz, who was invited by Lynch to film the production of Blue Velvet at the time. Described as a “meditation” on the film, the 89-minute feature is more avant-garde than straight-forward documentary. Mixing super 8 footage, photos, and audio, the film just floats through the production, presenting behind-the-scenes footage mixed with on screen interviews with Lynch, along with audio recordings of Lynch and the actors talking about the film. Hopper proves the most interesting interview subject, talking about the experience, including some of the frustrations that went into setting scenes up, and it’s material like this that made me wish the documentary was maybe a little more straight forward.
Room to Dream has been made for this edition, and it’s simply an 18-minute audio recording of Lynch apparently reading from the book “Room to Dream” he co-authored with Kristine McKenna. Lynch reads from a portion of the chapter on Blue Velvet in the first person and simply recounts the production, right from getting off the awful experience of Dune, to having to get the rights for Blue Velvet back from Warner Bros. (after he didn’t realize they actually owned it), to casting, to filming, to getting music, and so on and so forth. He also talks about the horrible experience that went behind test screening the film, and then shares a rather amusing story about meeting Elizabeth Taylor at an Oscar party. It’s a great and funny recounting of the production and I’m happy Lynch was so open about participating in this regard.
There’s an interview with composer Angelo Badalamenti, who also appeared on Criterion’s releases for Mulholland Dr. and Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with me. This is basically an extension of what appeared on the Fire Walk with Me disc and somewhat surprisingly Criterion repeats a lot of the material found in that interview. The difference here is that it has been edited to put more of the focus on Blue Velvet and writing the music for it (and getting Rossellini better prepared to sing in the film), which was only mentioned in the footage from the interview that appeared on the Fire Walk with Me disc. It runs 15-minutes.
Following this is then a collection of interviews with crew members, found under It’s a Strange World. A lot of material about the production is covered here, from how the idea behind a number of scenes came to be (like Dean Stockwell singing into the light) to the extremes Lynch went to to get the correct look for the film, even using real human brains in one scene (and it appears prop man Shaw Burney still didn’t know that he was dealing with real brain for the scene in question, at least according to his appearance here). There are actually a number of surprises in here and it is probably my favourite addition of the new material.
This edition also carries over the 2002 MGM documentary on the making of the film, Mysteries of Love, a retrospective piece gathering together members of the cast and crew including, but not limited to, Kyle MacLachlan, Isabella Rossellini, Dennis Hopper and Laura Dern. Not surprisingly Lynch only appears in older archival clips, yet despite his absence in newer material we still get a strong look at the making of the film from its early inception, its actual shoot, and then release. It’s an entertaining if not overly remarkable documentary, not offering much in the way of insight into the film and its themes (though maybe it was unfair to expect some), but like most MGM documentaries it’s incredibly thorough and engaging, running a lengthy 71-minutes.
The disc then closes with a short 1-minute goof feature, called Test Chart, which shows footage of crew members holding up a gray scale test chart for the camera, with a few amusing moments. A 29-page booklet then features excerpts from the chapter on Blue Velvet found in the Lynch/McKenna book Room to Dream, covering the making of the book in more detail in comparison to what Lynch read in his feature on the disc. Unfortunately Criterion hasn’t carried over the Siskel & Ebert excerpt where the two strongly disagreed with each other on the film, and they also drop the short vignettes, though some of this is found in the Braatz documentary.
I’m still disappointed we don’t get more scholarly material on Lynch’s releases but as it is the features offer a great behind-the-scenes look at the film in a far more substantial way than what the previous editions offered.
The presentation looks great but the upgrade over the previous MGM disc isn’t all that substantial since it didn’t look too shabby to begin with. At the very least it is a bit sharper and does look more filmic thanks to a stronger film grain presentation. The supplements, though, feel more satisfying in covering the making of the film.