Let's Get Extra, Super Serious About Inland Empire

Inland Empire is the David Lynch film that even puts some David Lynch fans off.You could say perhaps because it's his most self-indulgent film. It's certainly his most "abstract" since Eraserhead, without the more conventionally Hollywood story elements films like Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway at least had to anchor them. But on the other hand, that can be a strong reason to prefer it. It certainly holds more mystery than a lot of his films, and will draw some people to keep revisiting and studying it, whether or not they particularly prefer it.
Update 5/27/15 - 4/12/22: It's been seven years since we got serious about Inland Empire, and the world's caught up with us.  Now, Criterion has taken it to the next level with a (sort of) 4k restoration of one of the earliest shot on SD films ever.  Illustrated above is the seemingly ludicrous process they put it through (leaving out the final step of down-scaling it one last time from their 4k master to a 1080p blu-ray disc).  Although, to be fair, about half those steps are just what the filmmakers did before Criterion took the baton.  Honestly, based on reports I read pre-release, I thought I might've been buying this release just to dunk on it; but now, well...
If I were to try and break it down to a quick, one sentence pitch, I suppose I'd say: an actress (Laura Dern, who also produced) lands a role in a cursed film. But that's where the straight forward accessibility ends. The film within the film turns out to be a remake of a film that was never finished the first time around, because the two leads died during the filming. Meanwhile, everyone is warning Dern and her costar (Mulholland Drive's Justin Theroux), not to have an affair with each other, which seems easy and silly, since neither are particularly interested in each other. But as they embark on the film, time seems to collapse, worlds cross into each other, and people start inhabiting other peoples' lives. At one point Dern is talking to Theroux and remarks, "this sounds like dialogue from our movie," only to suddenly be surprised and discover that she IS on set, acting in front of the cameras. But even that makes it sound a lot more simple to understand than it, as mysterious characters come and go, and Dern seems to take on more than just the two personalities. Sometimes the characters are in LA, sometimes they're in Poland (and speaking subtitled Polish), and sometimes they're inside the world they've seen on television with the rabbit people. Yes, there's rabbit people.
Still, if you're familiar with Lynch's filmography, the world of Inland Empire is a little more navigable. Recurring themes and concepts from past work can help clue you in faster to what's going on here. You could certainly watch this film and never even begin to grasp that Dern's actress is taking on the life of the in-film character. But remembering similar switcharoos in Lynch's earlier films will probably push you along to figuring that out. On the other hand, though, I don't think even the deepest Lynch scholar could definitively tell you what every strange clue and moment mean. And that's partially because I don't think everything has a direct one-to-one, this-means-that correlation. Lynch is following deliberately stylized threads, and emotional plot lines more than strictly logical ones. Something could easily be in this movie because it came to him in a dream and it felt right; so at a certain point cogent analysis breaks down. But that doesn't make it any less relatable or powerful if you let yourself take the ride, and accept that your subconscious can follow the film down paths your rational mind might get stuck in.
It helps that Lynch is a master of creating vibrant images and sounds, and is able to manipulate music and pictures to create moods and atmosphere better than almost any director out there. If he wants to make a scene creepy, he can outdo any fancy horror director. Combine that with the cast he's assembled - including Harry Dean Stanton, Jeremy Irons, William Macy, Grace Zabriskie and of course Laura Dern, who gives the performance of a lifetime - and you'd be a fool to write this one off.

Now, Inland Empire has been available as a 2-disc, anamorphic special edition DVD since 2007 from, of all companies, Rhino. This is the film Lynch shot on digital video - and standard def video at that, so it's often been postulated that it's the one film of his that there's no point in upgrading to blu-ray. Still, somebody did it. In 2010, Studio Canal (who routinely manage to release these great special editions of his films overseas because they're the company that made the movies with him in the first place) issued it on blu in the UK with a bunch of exclusive extras. But can the film actually look any better? Criterion thinks so, because they've had a go at doing a 4k restoration of this film, which Criterion's booklet informs us involved upres'ing it to 4k "via numerous algorithms" in AI software.  They downscaled it back to SD, then blew it back up again because, we're told, "footage upscaled directly from the HD was less noticeably '4K-looking'," which sounds bloody crazy to me.  But let's look at the results.
1) 2007 Rhino DVD; 2) 2010 Studio Canal BD; 3) 2023 Criterion BD.
Well, even just moving from the DVD to Optimum's blu, we do see a little more detail, but that's largely because the darks have been lifted a bit. We can make out Stanton's ear, for example, when we couldn't before. There's a very slight vertical squeeze on the DVD that the blu corrects, tweaking the aspect ratio from 1.84:1 to 1.85.  Colors have shifted slightly to the cooler/ light side and some artifacts have diminished thanks to the better compression. But it's all very minor and if you're not really scrutinizing the image, it could be entirely lost on you.

And you can say the same for Criterion's new restoration.  It pushes the colors even a pinch further into the cooler and brighter side, and keeps 1.85:1 AR.  And you could make an argument for their new AI tweaking being a possibly revisionist process, but I have to admit, it kinda actually improved the image.  Look at Laura's eye in the first set of shots... you can actually make out her eyeball and brow in what is just more of a dark socket area on the Optimum.  And look at that candle on her table.  On the blu-ray, there's this dark echoe-y haloing effect around it (as it's all over everything in this movie), but it's significantly reduced on the Criterion, leaving more of just the actual edges.  And that's where you see most of the effect: not so much in faces or fine detail we're using to hunting for improvements in, but in straight lines.  Look at the lamp post behind Laura - it's much cleaner and more defined on the Criterion than the Optimum (let alone the Rhino).  Between this and the color/ brightness adjustments, it looks like someone used the "Clarify" tool in photo editing software.
ltr: 2007 Rhino DVD, 2010 Studio Canal BD, 2023 Criterion BD.
It kinda makes Stanton's face look skull-like in the second set of shots.  But it also makes him stand out more, though the actual hard line of his profile looks a little artificial.  That may sound a little 50/50, but in motion, when you're not zooming into the screenshot at 500+%, it's more of a net positive.  Raised gamma levels bring out his ear area, too.  Plus, we know this is Lynch's preference.  By accounts he's was fairly hands-on in the decision making during this process.  So I can only really conclude that this is another improvement, albeit another one so marginal most viewers will still never notice the difference.

The sound is a more distinct upgrade, and an area very important to Lynch's work. The Rhino DVD was pretty good in this regard already, with its two 5.1 mixes (near-field and far-field monitor playback) and Dolby stereo option, but fans will definitely prefer the lossless DTS-HD 5.1 and LPCM 2.0 tracks.  Both are included on both blu-rays, though they've been again remastered for the new Criterion.  Subtitle-wise, Rhino offered full English (burnt in during the Polish scenes) and French ones, which Optimum sadly chucked, instead only subtitling the Polish dialogue (though they're no longer burnt in).  Criterion doesn't burn in anything and gives us the choice of full English subtitles or just the Polish parts, though the menu just shows a basic On/ Off choice.
But even if you've upgraded, definitely don't throw away your DVDs! The blu-rays have some great stuff, and we'll be digging deep into all that; but the DVD's extras are plentiful and as essential as any special features ever have been. The biggest deal by far is "More Things That Happened," which, in the vein of the massive collection of restored deleted footage to Lynch's Fire Walk With Me and Blue Velvet blu-rays, is almost 80 minutes of additional Inland Empire footage. A few scenes are stretching things a bit, but most of it's almost as gripping as the film itself. There's a really impressive collection of monologues Dern recorded with "Mr. K," that could almost be a project onto themselves. And there's one more of those monologues tucked away on the first disc as an easter egg.
That rabbit is the easter egg,
and that "4:3/16:9" option refers to the on-screen subtitle placement.

There's also Lynch (Two), a roughly thirty minute behind-the-scenes documentary which is made up entirely of on-set footage. Its a totally fun and enlightening look at Lynch's process, and can give you some stronger insight into the film by seeing ideas come up with - and actors directed - in the moment. And there's an over forty-minute interview with Lynch where he talks about the origins and making of the film, starting with the original rabbit shorts he made for his website and going through pretty much everything. The rest are odds and ends, a short film by Lynch of a ballerina dancing, Lynch showing you a recipe, a stills gallery and three trailers.
Studio Canal, has a collection of interviews with Lynch recorded at different festivals and places. They do get a little redundant at times, with Lynch telling the same anecdotes to different audiences; but each has at least some original material. There's also an audience Q&A in there to spice things up, and one piece focuses on his paintings at a gallery showing (though he does touch on Inland Empire a bit here, too). That's it, except for the trailer. It's pretty decent stuff, but doesn't compete with what the old DVD already had. It compliments it alright, minus some repetition in the interviews; but together they made a neat little package.  And devotees of this film will probably want to get every possible tidbit they can get their hands on.

And for those Lynchians, there's more of everything to get.  Before I delve into Criterion's new extras, let's look at what else is floating around out there.
Avid's exclusive scene.
Room To Dream: David Lynch and the Independent Filmmaker was a freebie DVD you could get just by contacting Avid in 2005. That's because it's essentially a glorified ad for their editing software.  And there's a lot of tutorial footage showing you how to edit using their bells and whistles.  But there's also a 20+ minute featurette starring Lynch himself, which gives us a chance to "take a journey through David Lynch's creative process." For serious Lynch fans, it's kinda neat. And oh, but wait! Also on this disc is a sneak peek at the film he was working on at the time... which of course was Inland Empire. And the material we see turns out not to have been in the final cut of the film. So it's essentially an exclusive deleted scene. No, it wasn't in "More Things That Happened" or anywhere else in the other discs' extras. It's just over 6 minutes long with characters from the barbecue scene (where Dern was with her "other" husband). So another tiny piece of the puzzle. Helpfully, all these things are listed separately on the menu, too, so you don't have to ever watch the Avid guy pitch his software unless you're interested.

No, you can't get it from Avid anymore, but a lot of these were floating around back in the day. So if you hunt about online, you can probably still find a copy. Amazon has a listing for them.
And if you still want to see more about the film, you should definitely check out Lynch (One). Lynch (Two) was the 30-minute making of on the Rhino disc, but Lynch (One) is a full-length documentary made while Lynch was making IE. So, no, (One) isn't entirely about IE. A lot of it is about his artwork and the rest of his life. But a good 50% of it is looking at Empire directly or indirectly. We see him on set, we see him talking to the cast and explaining scenes. We see him first announcing the film to his website subscribers before it was made public. It's not the greatest documentary... the filmmakers seem a little too under Lynch's thumb, and enamored with showing us everything from his directing to how he likes his coffee.

It's an interesting peek into his life, though, that's for sure. We have one scene where he's giving instructions to his intern: "You can make short work of it. Meditate per usual. And when you've finished meditation, you write on a piece of paper three names. An actor in his forties, probably, that is a leading man with an edge, like a bad boy of Hollywood leading man. And you write those names on a piece of paper and present them to me on our power walk." How'd you like to work for him? So anyway, there's a lot of good stuff in here, especially about Empire.
A DVD extra of Lynch talking about his floor sander.
And Absurda's 2008 Lynch (One) DVD has its own extras. Most of it is kind of for die-hard Lynch fans only. More footage of him, his art... there's a gallery of one of his photo collections. Not much about Inland Empire, except for the trailers for the other Lynch docs. Yes, there's a Lynch (Three), and the whole trailer is just a clip of him working on the song "Strange" from Empire. Now, the doc is from 2008, so a lot of people might've given up on (Three) ever actually materializing. When I looked it up their kickstarter in 2015, they'd posted updates saying the film was finally finished. And in 2017, Criterion finally put it out on DVD and blu.
Yes, The Art Life is Lynch (Three).  I guess after a decade, they decided not to market it as the third in a long-stalled series, which was probably wise.  But this is that project.  "Our aim is to make a film that deeply explores the influences and experiences that have helped shape one of the most distinctive voices in modern cinema," they wrote; and that's what they've done.  It's better than I was expecting, honestly.  I'm generally less interested in hearing about a filmmaker's childhood and personal life than his actual filmmaking, but they tell a good story here.  And it feels more polished and professional than Lynch (One) and (Two) (again, probably why this is no longer titled (Three)).  For the purposes of this page, though, I have to point out that they don't get into Inland Empire in this one.
1) 2017 Criterion DVD; 2) 2017 Criterion BD.
Criterion presents the film as separate 1.78:1 DVD and BD releases.  Of course it's the same master used for both discs, with the BD looking naturally sharper and clearer being in HD.  Surprisingly, given that they're concurrent releases, the DVD has a slight vertical pinch that the BD corrects, revealing extra slivers of picture along the top and bottom.  The film has a 5.1 audio track, which is in DTS-HD on the blu, and both discs include optional English subtitles.  The DVD and blu both also include a 16+ minute interview with the director (of this doc, not Lynch).

So okay, now let's finally get into Criterion's 2023 Inland Empire special features, because there's a lot to talk about there, too.  Did I mention this is a 2-disc set?
1) 2007 Rhino DVD; 2) 2023 Criterion BD.
For starters, yes, they've included "More Things That Happened," and while the booklet doesn't get into whether they put it through the full AI up and down re-scaling process, they have noticeably restored it to HD, too.  On Rhino's DVD, it was slightly window-boxed, and this time vertically squashed, and distinctly more than the other discs were stretched.  So the geometry shifts from 1.94:1 to 1.78:1.  But discs just offer lossy audio with no subtitles, unfortunately.  And no, neither the easter egg deleted scene or the Room To Breath scene are included with these.
1) 2007 Rhino DVD; 2) 2023 Criterion BD.
What is included?  For a start, there's that 2007 Ballerina short film, which they've also boosted to HD and looks much better.  The framing has shifted from a slightly windowboxed 1.85:1 to 1.78:1, but it's just much clearer and attractive now in HD.  The DVD had some nasty combing to it.  Both just come with lossy stereo audio, though.  There are no subtitles, because there's no dialogue to transcribe.  It's barely a movie, just footage of this ballerina dancing in and out of focus to dark, Lynchian music, with a few camera moves. It's primarily just of interest because he wound up using a few frames of this in Inland Empire.
Lynch (One): 1) 2008 Absurda DVD; 2) 2023 Criterion BD.
Lynch (Two): 1) 2007 Rhino DVD; 2) 2023 Criterion BD.
They've also included both Lynch (One) and Lynch (Two).  These are technically both also upgraded from SD to HD, but they feel essentially like upconverts, showing very little improvement.  It doesn't help that both films use such low-fi imagery and often intentionally degrade the picture quality as part of their style.  Lynch (One), though, does fix a super slight horizontal stretch, adjusting the AR from 1.73:1 to a slightly pillar-boxed 1.75:1.  Lynch (Two) benefits a little more, since Rhino left a little windowboxing in the overscan area, which Criterion corrects in its 1.78:1 framing.  Criterion also brightens (Two) up a little, though I'm not sure if that's an improvement or just an arbitrary adjustment.  Both films only have lossy stereo audio on their DVDs and blus.  Disappointingly, Lynch (One) had optional English subtitles on the DVD, but doesn't on the new Criterion.  And no, none of the Lynch (One) DVD are carried over to the Criterion.

On the other hand, Criterion's come up with two new extras, a roughly half-hour conversation with Laura Dern and Kyle MacLachlan (who, no, you're right, was not in Inland Empire) and an audio-only excerpt of David Lynch reading from his book, which is also titled Room To Breath.  The trailer's back, too, and they include a full-color 28-page booklet featuring another interview with Lynch.
So the good news is yeah, the opportunity is out there to really gorge yourself on Inland Empire if you want to. Even more so now than before.  And honestly?  I recommend it.  It's a fascinating film that doesn't stop rewarding you as you delve deeper into it.  But if you want to really dive deep, it gets frustrating, because every release contains different pieces of the puzzle.  I'd say Criterion has (perhaps surprisingly) nailed it in terms of the definitive presentation of the film itself.  Militant purists may prefer the Optimum on principle, but I'd say Criterion has the superior PQ.  It's the only one with full subtitle options, though.
The bad news is, as you've just read, this situation is a sprawling mess.  Each of the three releases has substantial amounts of unique content.  Even the Lynch (One) DVD has exclusive goodies.  I understand Criterion couldn't realistically make this a 4-disc set and jam everything in, but some stuff, like the easter egg deleted scene, seems like an important and easy inclusion to have dropped the ball on.  The Avid scene would've been sweet, too, if they could've swung it.  Honestly, since they haven't really improved on Lynch (One), or even rendered the DVD fully obsolete, I would've much preferred if they left it alone and instead included the rest Inland Empire Stories from the Rhino disc, so fans don't have to buy ALL of these.  And if you have an older release, is anything Criterion did enough to justify a double or triple-dip?  For most viewers, probably not.  You're either the kind of fan who needs everything, in which case this new release just adds a little bit extra value to what you've already got, or you're the kind that'll still be fine with the old DVD.


  1. Does the DVD has english subtitles? Not only for the polish scenes, but for the entire film? Great review btw! I love the film as well

    1. Thanks! Unfortunately no, neither disc has English subs for the English dialogue (though the DVD does have French subs).

    2. I see. Thank you for the response! And I'm sorry for saying late, I didn't got the notification 🤦🏻‍

  2. The new Criterion with a 4K upscale (and then downscaled to 1080p) ought to be an interesting addition to this article.

  3. I'm looking forward to your update on the criterion too. I've been wondering if the deleted scene easter egg from the dvd is on the new disc anywhere. with the handful of missing stuff (from both Lynch(one) dvd and INLAND EMPIRE 2dvd) i doubt quite strongly that it was included. i thought perhaps it was reintegrated into "more things that happened", but that was just a quick passing thought. I'd guess everyone involved figured that no one would miss it, even less so than the previously mentioned supplements that weren't carried over. as great as the criterion set seems to be, I'm still forced to (deep down & quite in-vain) dream of a definitive package including all of the extras from lynch (one) & the 2 dvd set of IE as well as rabbits and the 6ish minute short "room to dream" which clearly exists in the same universe/s. Anyolhoooo...my rambling aside, I'm looking forward to your take on it all. you never disappoint.