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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 88.50)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • French: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English, French, Czech, Greek, Polish, Hungarian, Dutch, Portuguese
  Extras
  • Additional footage - 1986 Siskel And Ebert review
  • Deleted scenes - still image montage - 10 min
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Photo gallery
  • Animated menus
  • 2 TV spot
  • Documentaries - "Mysteries Of Love" - 71 minutes

Blue Velvet

MGM/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 116 mins . R . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Believe it or not, there are people walking around video stores who have never heard of Citizen Kane. Don’t just take our word for it; go on, head on down to your local and try it for yourself. Grab a random half dozen customers and ask them what they think of Citizen Kane. At least one of them will either give you a blank stare and go “huh?” (or, in rare cases, will just presume you’re talking about an obscure Schwarzenegger moofie). Now try that same test again, but this time ask them about Blue Velvet. You’ll get a reaction nearly 100% of the time. Only a few of them will have actually seen it, but most everyone will have heard of it.

Such is the reputation of David Lynch today that it’s easy to forget that, back in 1986, he was known mainly for his remarkable filming of The Elephant Man - and aside from the low-budget cult favourite Eraserhead, he’d not yet found a place to really exercise his unique talent for darkly comic drama and visual poetry. Blue Velvet changed all that; never again would Lynch be a gun for hire on somebody else’s idea of a movie. It would ultimately be Twin Peaks that brought Lynch to the attention of the masses, but Blue Velvet is, in many ways, the real genesis of that later TV series.

In sleepy, picturesque Lumberton USA - a traditional American small town with all the traditional trimmings - Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle McLachlan) is bored. All his friends have long left town, and with his father in hospital after a heart attack and unable to run the family hardware store any longer, Jeffrey has no choice but to help out. But his boredom turns to fascinated curiosity one afternoon when, wandering through a grassy field, he discovers something unexpected on the ground - a human ear. Not repulsed in the slightest, he brings the ear to the attention of the local police, and keenly follows the progress of the case. But when he’s bluntly told by local detective Williams to forget the whole thing, Jeffrey becomes determined to solve the mystery - aided to no small extent by the detective’s daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern). Before long, a dark, seedy and repellently evil side to the town begins to surface, as Jeffrey meets failed lounge singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini), the out-of-control Frank Booth (Dennis Hopper) and a series of other characters that are far removed from small-town sweetness.

Of Lynch’s “modern” films (with the exception of The Straight Story), Blue Velvet is undoubtedly the most linear in terms of story; Lynch plays out the first act as though he were doing a charmingly edgy ‘40s film noir pastiche, and it doesn’t take long to get drawn in to this quirky but warm world and its characters, and the sheer mystery of it all. But Lynch has other plans; the level of tension is slowly, inexorably ratcheted up as Jeffrey brazenly gets all Famous Five about his investigations, and crosses the line into voyeurism. And then Frank Booth enters the picture, and everything goes to hell in a handbasket.

Despised by some, feared by those who haven’t seen it and notorious for its explicit sexual content, Blue Velvet is not easy going for those who like their movies polite and huggable. But the confrontational material is an intrinsic part of the story and mood here - nothing’s gratuitous, nothing is exploitative. It’s one of the most exquisitely perfect movies ever made, but you only really see how perfect from a distance - it’s a film that rewards multiple viewings, one which gets better with age (visually and stylistically, it’s timeless) and an experience that stays with you long after the end credits have rolled. And 16 years on, it’s as riveting, exciting and immersive as the day it was released - a genuine masterpiece.

  Video
Contract

The video transfer used for this first-ever region 4 release of Blue Velvet is, we’re pleased to report, the one supervised by Lynch himself for the recent US re-release. Unhappy with the transfer on the original US DVD (released in 2000, it was still light years ahead of the laserdisc quality-wise), Lynch started from scratch and finally captured his movie on video the way it’s meant to be seen. And what a transfer it is! It’s not just that the movie now looks better than it ever has - yes, better than even its original theatrical run. It actually looks, sixteen years after it was filmed, as though it was a brand new release. The transfer is that good.

Presented at about 2.3:1 - just a fraction under the original ‘scope ratio, but nothing to be concerned about - the 16:9 enhanced transfer slightly “windowboxes” the image to ensure you see everything in the frame, that nothing is cut off by the overscan on your TV or display. That’s something that’s hugely important in the case of this movie - Frederick Elmes’ cinematography is seriously widescreen, taking full advantage of the frame in a way that few do these days (it was his first ‘scope film, and he appears to have been having fun, calling it “a fun shape, a neat shape to use” in the accompanying documentary). This movie must be seen in its full ‘scope ratio; it is composed throughout specifically for the wide frame. The old pan-and-scan home video release bordered on comical, and if you’ve never seen Blue Velvet in all its widescreen splendour, here’s your chance.

Detail is precise and clean without resorting to digital enhancement, a wise decision that allows the film to retain its deliberately diffuse look. Colour saturation is excellent where required, but bear in mind that Lynch intentionally desaturates many of the scenes here. That’s just his visual style at work; rather than try and light night scenes moon-blue, he embraces the darkness and lets shadows and details collapse into a murky brown or grey. That’s what night-time is actually like, after all. But don’t be fooled into thinking they just wound up the brightness; when Frank Booth says “now it’s dark”, it actually is (a nice change from the VHS tape of years ago!) It’s all wonderfully evocative, and perfectly handled throughout this transfer, just as a similar visual approach was handled on the Mulholland Drive DVD.

Video compression problems are non-existent, with the movie’s wide visual range perfectly captured throughout. The layer change at the three-quarter mark is noticeable, but quickly enough handled. The disc is full nearly to capacity, though the actual feature takes up a little more than a layer’s worth in itself.

  Audio
Contract

Since he was supervising a new video transfer anyway, Lynch decided to remix the movie’s audio for the Dolby Digital age. The original Dolby Surround soundtrack was undeniably excellent, but leaps and bounds have been made in sound fidelity and technology since 1986 and Lynch obviously wanted to bring this film’s audio up to the quality of his more recent work.

It’s quite remarkable to note, from many overseas reviews of this transfer, the amount of complaints about the lack of surround activity in this audio mix. Now, Lynch is not a particular fan of excessive surround use anyway, but that’s beside the point; the intention here is not to remake the movie’s audio. That would be akin to re-editing the movie. Rather, Lynch has effectively remastered the soundtrack that he and sound designer Alan Splet (who passed away in 1994) created. It now has the benefit of increased frequency response, substantially less hiss, crisply clear dialogue and effects and, of course, discrete channel separation. The surrounds are used, but only for the most subtle of atmospheric effects. There’s nothing invalid about this at all; too many modern film sound mixes scream “look at all my channels” at the audience when they should be serving the on-screen action first and foremost.

The LFE track is extensively used for Lynch’s trademark menacing-rumble effect as well as to bring added depth to the bass end of some of the music; as with Mulholland Drive (which this mix has a lot in common with) it’s a marvellously balanced and effective use for the eternally over-abused subwoofer.

It’s a remarkable restoration job, this; the dialogue is so present and clear, the audio so faultless and enveloping, that you have to remind yourself that this is a soundtrack recorded in the analogue era. Blue Velvet has never sounded better.

  Extras
Contract

There’s nothing worse than finally being able to get a DVD of your favourite movie, only to discover that it’s loaded to the gills with piecemeal extras that test the boundaries of boredom and pure hype. Or to finally see a region 4 version of that special-edition disc you’ve been coveting, only to find that half the extras are missing.

There’s no such problem on either count here; Blue Velvet fans that waited for the R4 disc will be happy to learn that what Fox has delivered here is identical in every way to the R1, right down to the fully animated-with-audio menus (all of them) and the “Easter eggs”. And rather than go for the quantity approach, the disc’s producers have opted for quality. Real quality.

Interestingly, the default language of the disc is French (also in 5.1, unlike the US version), though this isn’t a particular hassle as language selection is the first screen that you get on inserting the disc. The reason for this is simply that this is a DVD made for European release; the UK version, released by Castle (and briefly available in some stores here recently) is notoriously terrible in both picture and sound departments.

Documentary - Mysteries of Love: Produced especially for this DVD, this 71-minute retrospective documentary is stunning, an absolute must-see for fans of the film and of Lynch in general. While the man himself opted to speak his piece via archival interview and press conference footage, the principal cast and crew members have all returned to be interviewed afresh about what turned out to be one of the most important movies of their careers. Isabella Rossellini in particular is fascinating here; it may have been one of her first films, but this former model obviously had acting in her blood (indeed, her mother was Ingrid Bergman); she thought her character through thoroughly when shooting the film, getting inside the role with the kind of commitment few Hollywood actors can muster; today, she is even more insightful about her time doing the film and the character of Dorothy Vallens. Dennis Hopper offers some insight into the particular importance of the film for him at the time, and everyone here has fascinating stories to tell (did you know that the song Mysteries of Love in the movie was specially written because Lynch couldn’t afford to use his favourite - This Mortal Coil’s Song to the Siren - and was forced to emulate it instead?) This could be the only extra on the disc and we’d still be giving it 10 out of 10. Video is 4:3 full frame with letterboxed film segments (which appear to be from the earlier transfer, incidentally) and as well as being chaptered, the eight individual sections can be played individually if desired.

Deleted Scenes Montage: While rumours have abounded for years about scenes that were included in script drafts but were missing from the final cut of the film, none of those scenes have ever been found; that’s probably the way Lynch prefers it. However, production stills did surface from those scenes, and in this ten-minute section the stills (there’s quite a few of them) are set to Angelo Badalamenti’s music and presented as they might have flowed on screen as part of the story. This actually works really well; the last thing this movie needs is a “special edition” re-edit, but it’s interesting to see glimpses here of unused elements for the first time. 4:3 full-frame.

Siskel and Ebert - At the Movies: The infamous moment on American TV where Roger Ebert savaged Blue Velvet by leaping to the defence of Isabella Rossellini (who states for the record, in the documentary, that she needed no such “defending”). Siskel, thankfully, got where the film was coming from. 4:3 full-frame.

Original Theatrical Trailer: As advertised. Grainy and scratchy (but 16:9 enhanced!) it’s an historical artefact, nothing more.

TV Spots: Two 30-second TV ads for the movie, obviously not showing too much of what really goes on.

Photo Galleries: While this reviewer’s not a big fan of photo galleries, these ones are at least self-powered, requiring the user to hit “pause” if something interesting comes up. Three sections are included: Lumberton, USA (production photos, with plenty of fascinating images), International Posters (have a guess) and Peter Braatz Photos (some terrific black and white production shots).

Easter Eggs: There are four of them to be found here (see the site’s Easter egg section for details).

  Overall  
Contract

A stunning movie that’s one of the great moments in American cinema, Blue Velvet is (along with the ever-divisive Lost Highway) David Lynch doing what he does best, and what no other filmmaker can. It’s a unique vision of the world and all of its darkness, yet it’s also uniquely funny and immeasurably moving. It’s one of a kind, and deserves to be a part of any collection.

Fox Australia has done the right thing by Lynch fans and given Australia the same special edition that US customers got, right down to the last detail. That, combined with the superb picture quality (which is better than the already-excellent R1 disc) and pristine audio, makes this a no-brainer. Buy it.


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  •  DVD NET Gold Review List 
      And I quote...
    "A stunning movie that’s one of the great moments in American cinema... The same special edition that US customers got, right down to the last detail."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
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    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Centre Speaker:
          Panasonic
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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