Dueling Disclaimers: Ganja & Hess (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Ganja & Hess has always had a bit of a tricky time on home video, essentially because it's original film elements seem to be lost to the ages. But at the same time, there seems to be a core group of fans and preservationists that keep holding screenings and taking stabs at it. I mean, the MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) is a credited producer right on the front cover of the latest version - how often do you see that? So I thought we'd have a look at the current blu-ray release from Kino, and the previous DVD release from All Day Entertainment, and see just what we've got here.
Night of the Living Dead's Duane Jones is Dr. Hess Green, a well-to-do west coast anthropologist and an honest-to-goodness modern day vampire. When George (writer/ director Bill Gunn) tries to kill himself on Hess's property, the good Doctor takes him into his home, befriends him and gives him a place to say. But you can only live in the same house with a vampire for so long, and it seems like a quiet little murder that will go undetected until, to Hess's surprise, George's ex-wife Ganja (Marlene Clark) shows up with questions, and she isn't easily put off. In fact, she moves right in.

Ganja & Hess is a very low budget film, not helped by the present state of its film elements. It looks very 70s, grainy and grimy, like so many 70s clunkers. But this one is actually very smartly written with some great scenes and surprisingly modern and naturalistic performances. The pacing is deliberately "arty," which is to say slow without the usual emphasis on exploitation and cheap thrills, and the metaphor for blood drinking as drug addiction is really obvious and heavy-handed. But the good outweighs the bland, and the film really comes to life when Ganja shows up and manages to be a more exciting character than the vampire. Overall, this is a very serious, earnest production, but there are some wickedly funny moments at time to keep you engaged. It's unconventional structure might throw you off at first, plot points are buried and it does steer into some heavy self-indulgence at times (particularly the climax, which will seriously test your patience). But there's just too much great stuff here not to keep returning to it.

By the way, this was remade not too long ago by Spike Lee as Da Sweet Blood of Jesus. That's very faithful and stylish, definitely worth a look. But the new Ganja isn't a patch on Marlene Clark. So the remake's a fine curiosity piece, but the original's the truly compelling film.
So Image and All Day released this film a couple of times, first in 1998 and again in 2000. But I never bit until their 2006 "Complete Edition," which not only boasted new extras, but an exclusive restoration with "3 minutes of footage missing from previous home video versions." Well, glad to have the footage back, but it's still a pretty damaged viewing experience, opening up with a disclaimer about the picture quality. In 2012, Kino gave the film its HD debut with a blu-ray edition restored and "mastered in HD from a 35mm negative." It's still a pretty damaged viewing experience, and this one opens with its own disclaimer.
2006 Image DVD on top; 2012 Kino blu-ray below.
So, both transfers are very grainy and beat up, but they are still pretty distinct. Clearly the same print was used for at least part of the transfer (Kino mentions using several 35 prints, whereas Image used a 16mm copy to fill gaps), as the same damage appears on the same frame (see the first set of shots). But even in those instances, we see the color timing is quite different (Kino going overly green while Image went reddish), the framing is different (Kino opens the film to 1.67:1, while Image crops it to a more traditionally theatrical ratio of 1.78:1), and oops! The Image DVD is interlaced. You know, I would have expected that on the initial 1998 DVD, but the 2006 version? That's disappointing. Anyway, I kind of prefer Image's coloring, but in all other respects, Kino really is a superior viewing experience. I'm glad to see this is more than just the 2006 transfer plopped onto a blu-ray disc; they've really done some serious restoration here.

Image gives us a somewhat hissy but respectable Dolby 2.0 mono track, and Kino essentially gives us the same but in LPCM. The strong musical moments manage to really grab you on both releases. None of the releases offer subs.
Now, extras are pretty interesting. All of the DVD releases from 1998 to Kino's blu feature a strong commentary, that's both fun and informative, by Marlene Clark, producer Chris Schultz, cinematographer James Hinton and composer Sam Waymon. If you consider yourself a fan of this film and haven't heard it yet, definitely check it out. Apart from some stills and a DVD-Rom article by Tim Lucas, that's all the old DVDs had. But the Complete Edition adds a new half hour documentary called The Blood Of the Thing, where Schultz takes you through the film's history. And all of that stuff, even the DVD-Rom bits, are on Kino's blu.

BUT, Kino actually took a step backwards. Because not only did they not produce any new features, but they dropped one other one that debuted on the Complete Edition. It's an 18 minute featurette called Ganja and Hess Reduced, and it's easy to see why Kino dropped it. It's David Kalat, the DVD producer, doing a partial audio commentary over the film. SO it makes sense Kino doesn't want All Day's guy on their disc, I guess - would Arrow have an interview with Cliff MacMillan on one of their discs? But it's a real loss, because Kalat is a bit of an expert on this film, and uses his time to basically fill in all of the obscure and interesting information about this film that the other extras left out. And this film is a treasure trove of obscure trivia and things you'd never pick up on, so this feature was really illuminating and interesting. And it's only on the 2006 DVD.
So this film's not for everybody, but it's really quite good. Apart from die-hard vampire lovers, this film might appeal more to drama fans than horror fans, but anybody who appreciates good movies will at least find something for them in here. And Kino (and MoMA) have given us the best, most definitive version of the film to date and that we're ever likely to see sans a time machine. So this is the version I'd recommend to anyone. But if you're a serious Ganja and Hess fan, you might want to double-dip for that last featurette. You know, get it used and treat it as a bonus disc.

Cat In the Brain's Grindhouse Restoration Now In HD! (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Update 3/28/15 - 7/20/16: Grindhouse returns! They're revisiting their classic Cat In the Brain with a brand new, 2 blu-ray disc set (or 3 disc set if you count the bonus soundtrack CD). An updated transfer, all new extras, more funky collectible packaging. What's not to love? Well, actually, I've heard a few rumblings about the transfer. Best have a look.

Admit it, whenever you first heard the title of Lucio Fulci's Cat In the Brain, you never would've expected this film to actually deliver you the image of a cat in a brain. Whatever criticism you may have of this film, you gotta admit, Fulci delivered. Today's film is a high concept but low shelf entry in the Fulci catalog. It's fun, got of lot of cheesy gore, plus you could say Wes Craven ganked the basic idea for his New Nightmare film years later. And it's been issued a number of times on DVD around the world. But that was capped pretty thoroughly when Grindhouse released a fairly definitive 2-disc set in 2009. But I still hang onto my old, banned Astro-Film DVD, which goes under the title Nightmare Concert. And we're going to find out why as we look back at Cat In the Brain...
So one of the appeals of this film is that Fulci himself stars in it. He's often given himself little cameo roles in his film, as a cop or a coroner with a line or two of dialogue. But here he stars, as essentially himself: a horror movie director played by gruesome nightmares inspired by the scenes of his own films. And what's worse - the murders he's dreaming may actually be happening around him? Is he going insane? Or is some mysterious murderer out there somewhere, copying his films? Find out as Fulci reuses a whole bunch of old movies and stitches them together into one, semi-coherent narrative. That's right, instead of filming new murder scenes for his movie like most people do, he just uses clips of other movies' murders and cuts them into the movie. How cheap! Fortunately, Fulci is charming, and he does put in some genuine effort to match his newly shot footage of himself with the scenes from the old films. So while you'd never rank this anywhere near his best films, it does make for a bemusing watch.

Specifically, the films cut into Cat In the Brain include two directed by Fulci himself: The Ghosts of Sodom and Touch of Death, and one he produced called Massacre. But the other three are films he was less officially responsible for: Bloody Psycho, Never Hurt Children, and The Broken Mirror. Those films were released under the heading "Lucio Fulci Presents," and in two of them, he's listed in the credits as "Supervised by." So it's hard to say exactly how much of those films he was or wasn't responsible for behind the scenes, but I guess enough that he felt comfortable re-purposing them here.

Oh, and did I say the Astro-Film was "banned?" Yes, a bunch of the films they released were banned in their home country of Germany, and the head of the company was even arrested and imprisoned. That's pretty messed up, since they were just releasing old 80s horror movies - bloodier than some, but not exactly shocking snuff films or anything.
German Astro-Film DVD on top; US Grindhouse DVD middle; US Grindhouse blu bottom.
Okay, first the DVDs. Both discs claim to present the film in the correct aspect ratio of 1.66:1, but the Astro-disc is really closer to 1.47:1, so you can see the framing is noticeably different in the second set of shots. Almost as importantly, if not more so, the Grindhouse disc is anamorphic and pillarboxed, while Astro's disc is a smaller, non-anamorphic image floating in a windowbox. The image quality shifts around a bit as the film jumps between film clips spliced from other movies; but the Grindhouse's HD restoration is always substantially superior to the Astro disc. I mean, those comparisons speak for themselves. The colors, the lighting, everything. Even the flecks and scratches (like the white mark on the guy's cheek in the top shot) have been cleaned up on Grindhouse's disc.
But now, seven years later, Grindhouse has upgraded their DVD to a new HD blu. It's, well sharper. Though it looks kinda block-y, not quite like natural grain, but more reminiscent of those old Italian HD transfers companies like Blue Underground and Shriek Show were getting before people complained and the Italians finally got new scanning equipment. And considering this isn't one of Grindhouse's new 4k or even 2k fresh scans, I think that's basically what's going on here. This is an older scan, probably the same one the DVD was taken from in 2008. So yeah, I see what people have been kvetching about. Still, this is a blu-ray, and doesn't have the muddying compression of SD. So it is an upgrade over the DVD (it also squeezes in a pinch more vertical information), just not as big an upgrade as we might've hoped for from Grindhouse. But given that this film is a hodgepodge of old, lesser quality filmstock, I can also understand why they might not've seen much value in paying for a new scan. Even with a new 4k scan, I doubt we'd be seeing much new detail or anything. It's not like there's a button you could push to make this film look like Lawrence Of Arabia that they're neglecting to push.

At least the blu means we've gotten an audio upgrade from Dolby 2.0 (which both the Astro and Grindhouse DVD had), to DTS-HD tracks. And both the Grindhouse discs give you the option of English or Italian audio (Astro only has English and German), plus English subs.
Now when Grindhouse came out with their DVD, they only stepped it up with the transfer, but they brought us a whole second disc worth of extras, mostly in the form of some very in-depth interviews. There are two 40+ minute interviews with Fulci (which are really one long interview split into two parts) and a 46 minute one with Brett Halsey, who wound up in this film only by way of his starring in Touch of Death. There are also three very brief interviews with Jeofrey Kennedy, Sacha Maria Darwin and Malisa Longo, all of which are taken from the Paura: Lucio Fulci Remembered Volume 1 DVD. Besides those and a collection of trailers (including Cat In the Brain's), there are a couple easter eggs with additional footage of Fulci at conventions and clips of Halsey commenting on some of his other films. It also comes with a substantial booklet and a very cool lenticular 3D cover.

But Astro-Film has a 40+ minute unique extra of its own, which is why I hang onto it. Basically, it's a menu screen with links to a clip of all six films that were cut into Cat, showing you a reminder of how it was seen in this movie and then showing you how the scenes played in their original context immediately after. This is a very cool feature, and I'm surprised Grindhouse didn't attempt something like this on their disc. Because the clips inserted into Cat weren't just dropped in as whole chunks that play exactly like they did in the old films. Fulci edits himself into these scenes (well, some more than others), so they're new and different. And even if Grindhouse couldn't actually show you the portions of all six films like this disc does (understandable... something tells me Astro pulled it off only because they were operating outside copyright law), they could've at least done something to talk about the films edited into Cat and talk what films were used and what those films were about. That just seems like a very essential issue for understanding and appreciating Cat In the Brain that really ought to be in a special edition.

Oh, and the Astro-Film disc has the trailer, too.
But while Grindhouse's new blu-ray may've been underwhelming in the transfer department, they did step things even further up in the special features department. First of all, everything from their DVD is back, including the Easter eggs, Paura clips, everything. It has an equivalent booklet (which does a nice job covering each of the film's Fulci inserted into Cat), but instead of a lenticular cover, in comes in a glow in the dark slipbox [right], and also includes the soundtrack CD and a bonus portrait of Lucio. But besides the superfluous, they've also added some substantial new content to the second disc of extras. Because this is such an unusually constructed film, the interview I was most looking forward to was with the screenwriter, Antonio Tentori, and he does not disappoint. He talks for 27 minutes, answer many of our long-held Cat In the Brain questions. Then there are all new interviews with cinematographer Sandro Grossi, Fabio Frizzi, They also uncovered another vintage Fulci interview, this time a 1987 radio one with Tentori. And there's a clip of Frizzi performing Cat's main theme live in Hollywood in 2015. And finally, there's the familiar round of Grindhouse bonus trailers. Interestingly, they again included Pigs, even though that wound up coming out from Vinegar Syndrome.
So the Grindhouse blu is the best way to watch this film, but if you already have the DVD, you could probably live without upgrading, at least in terms of the film itself. For me, the extras made it more than worth double-dipping for, and then, any little extra improvement with the film is like a nice bonus. But while I'm not sure how obtainable that Astro-Film disc is nowadays, I do recommend hunting one down if you can, because their feature looking at all the other films was very cool and a real boost to understanding and appreciating Fulci's oddball experiment. But if you're just looking to buy this film for the first time, you should be quite satisfied with Grindhouse's new blu-ray package.

There's a New Dr. Butcher In Town: Zombie Holocaust (US/ UK, DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Update 8/2/15 - 7/19/16: There's a new Butcher in town! Severin has just released their 2-disc blu-ray set of Zombi Holocaust, including both versions of the film: the Italian original and the US Dr. Butcher M.D. version. They've also got a bunch of new special features. But how does this new blu compare to 88 Films' HD restoration from last year? Is it better, worse, or are they totally indistinguishable? Let's find out.

The rewards of 88 Films' indiegogo campaign have come in... the Zombie Holocaust restoration is here! [Update: 3/6/16: Burial Ground has just arrived, too.] Everyone who supported should have their blus by now, and they're available commercially for the rest of the world. Now it's time to crack these suckers open and see what we've got!
Zombie Holocaust, of course, is the over-the-top 1980 Italian horror flick that had the crowd-pleasing idea to combine the infamous cannibal and zombie subgenres into one nutty film. It also features Donald O'Brien as a mad scientist, hence the American title Dr. Butcher, M.D. Like Umberto Lenzi's Eaten Alive, this one starts out with a little bloody mayhem in a New York City hospital compelling our investigative leads, including star Ian McCulloch, to venture off into the jungles of the East Indies. Only this time they don't just fall into the path of a lethal cannibal tribe, but zombies as well! It all comes to an exciting climax on the set of Lucio Fulci's Zombie, because this film has three tent poles: thrills, exploitation and saving money. I mean, you saw the movie's title, right? So it's pretty much exactly what you'd expect, and whether that's terrible or glorious is all up to you.
a scene only featured in the Dr. Butcher M.D. version
Now, amongst other things, Severin's new set introduces the alternate, US version of the film Dr. Butcher M.D. to the table, which I don't think has been released on home video since the original VHS tape (which I used to own, back in the days). But are these two cuts significantly unique that it's worth getting both versions - what's the difference between them? Well, primarily, Dr. Butcher features some new, introductory footage shot in the US by Roy Frumkes (director of Document of the Dead). He intercuts that with some footage from much later in the movie, to try to establish the whole "mad doctor is making zombies" story-line right from the very beginning. But even with all this extra footage, Dr. Butcher is almost ten minutes shorter, trimming a lot out. Dr. Butcher also has an entirely different all-synth score, although famously, you can still sometimes hear the original soundtrack playing underneath it. Finally, Dr. Butcher includes the scene where Alexandra Delli Colli falls into a pit, and Ian helps her out, which has long been included on discs of Zombi Holocaust as a deleted scene. Interestingly, Severin has also reinstated that scene into the original Zombi Holocaust version of the film.

So yes, we now have two restored Zombie Holocaust blu-rays available now: 88 Films' 2015 release in the UK, and Severin's brand new 2016 release in the USA. 88's transfer had a lot of people looking at a lot of screencaps online, and now that it's got some HD competition, things are getting even more interesting. Well, I've of course got a few .png's of my own, and I've also got Shriek Show's DVD 2002 DVD here, so we can have a look and hopefully make some informed judgements.
Shriek Show's DVD first; 88 FIlm's blu second; Severin's Dr. Butcher third; Severin's ZH fourth.
So let's start by comparing 88 to the Shriek Show DVD. The slightly letterboxed 1.85:1 framing is virtually identical; both editions are in their 100% proper OAR. 88 Film's is a little bit brighter, but there's not exactly a wealth more detail and clarity. Especially since I'm comparing SD to HD. Film grain is much more accurate on the blu, of course, as it's smudgy and compressed on the DVD. There was a Shriek Show blu-ray in 2011, though, that already took care of that. 88's transfer is a fresh scan of the original negative, which is the best you can ask of any DVD label, and they've color graded and cleaned up dirt without messing up the grain. So while it comes off as just a subtle upgrade, I daresay the film can't really get too much better than this. That's all the detail there is to recover. And at least they don't have that awful interlacing issue the Shriek Show DVD had (see the second set of shots). Ey yey yey.

Now, fans holding out hope that the heavy grain factor of 88's blu would be cleaned up in Severin's will be disappointed. That's just how the film look, and the grain is as bountiful and frenetic as ever. I put both versions of the film from Severin's set into the film, but they're clearly using the same transfer of the same elements, and just cutting in the different extra bits. One of the key distinctions, though, is the aspect ratio. Unlike the previous releases, Severin's discs are in 1.78:1, giving us a little more vertical information along the top and bottom. 1.85 is probably the truer, more "correct" theatrical ratio, though, so that's a decision you guys will have to make for yourselves. The bigger difference between the new and old blu-ray is the color timing. Severin have re-time the color completely, and I have to say, their version does look the best and most natural. Skies look blue instead of green, etc. None of these blus feature any more detail or clarity really than the other. They're different scans, because you can see Severin's copy has flecks and damage in spots that 88's doesn't, but it's all completely minor. In future, Severin is the version of the film I'll watch, because I prefer the colors; but neither pulls far ahead, or lags much behind, the other.

Now, 88 had a nice advantage over Shriek Show's DVD and blu-ray, in that both Shriek Show editions only feature the US dub and no subtitle options. 88 has both the English and Italian audio tracks (in DTS-HD 2.0) and English subtitles, so you can watch it either way. Severin, meanwhile, has the English DTS-HD 2.0 and Italian in LPCM 2.0 on the Zombie Holocaust cut, and DTS-HD and LPCM options for the English on the Dr. Butcher cut. But here's the thing: no subtitles on either version! That's right, Severin has no English subtitles when you play the Italian version of Zombie Holocaust. Say what? Hope you speak Italian, I guess. So I said I'll be watching the Severin disc from now on, but obviously that's only if I want to watch the English version, otherwise it's back to 88.
Now let's talk extras! 88 Film's only has a couple, but they're pretty major. First up is a feature length documentary on Italian cannibal films (also included on Grindhouse's recent Cannibal Ferox blu). And this isn't one of those things where they let one or two "cult film extras" pontificate for the entire time; this interviews the biggest cannibal directors: Ruggero Deodato, Umberto Lenzi and Sergio Martino. There are cannibal film stars like Robert Kerman, Antonio Climati, and the delightfully controversial Giovanni Radice. There's Zombie Holocaust's distributor Terry Levine, and there are modern filmmakers like Joe Dante, Frank Henenlotter, Luigi Cozzi and of course Eli Roth. And yeah, the experts are on hand, too; most notably including Kim Newman. This is definitely not the kind of "extra" one skips; they break down each major cannibal movie film by film (though personally I would've included Deodato's Cut & Run, too, even if technically none of the natives quite managed to take a bite out of anybody) and discuss all the signature elements of the genre.

Their other main extra is a Q&A with Ian McCulloch. That's kind of light for being the only Zombie Holocaust-specific feature on here, but it does run about 50 minutes, so it's pretty substantial. The other extras are the deleted scene that's been on past Zombie Holocaust editions, and the trailer. The booklet's pretty cool... even if you're the type to usually forgo reading the books, this one has an interview with McCulloch, so you might want to check that out - that is if there's anything left to be said after the 50 minute Q&A. Oh, and as you can see up top, 88 has also included some cool, reversible cover art.
Unfortunately 88 didn't or couldn't get Shriek Show's extras. Shriek Show (on both their DVD and blu) had some interesting coverage of the whole Doctor Butcher M.D. thing. Shriek Show included that footage as an extra, as well as interviewing its director, Roy Frumkes. They also had a Doctor Butcher trailer and Frumkes' personal photo gallery. Still, if you didn't grow up with the old Doctor Butcher VHS tapes like I did, that Frumkes stuff may of less interest to you anyway. And apart from that stuff, plus the regular trailer and that deleted scene, Shriek Show I guess just had the one notable extra: an interview with special effects expert Maurizio Trani. That was pretty good, and Shriek Show also had a pretty neat fold-out insert with some fairly extensive notes.
Thankfully, Severin did get Shriek Show's extras, you can finally let go of your copies of those. All of that's been ported over, and they've also added a whole ton more stuff. There is a lengthy, 31+ minute interview with Terry Levine, a featurette with Frumkes talking about 42nd St, an interview with the guy who drove a "Butcher Mobile" van around the city to promote the movie back in the day (this one's pretty fun!), an interview with Jim Markovic, the editor who recut the Dr. Butcher version, plus several trailers. And that's just the first disc! Onto disc two, there's a new interview with Ian McCulloch. I think we might've finished mining the depths with him considering the mass amount of interviews we've seen of him on Italian horror DVDs, but it would be disappointing if he wasn't on here. There are also interviews with effects artist Rosario Pretopino, Enzo Castellari (son of director Mario Girolami), and actress Sherry Buchanan. There's also a short but fun featurette looking at shooting locations of the film (I'm a sucker for these), more trailers, and a clip of McCulloch singing a song for us. And in lieu of a typical insert or booklet, Severin includes a charming Dr. Butcher M.D. vomit bag [right].
So it may not look as amazing as we'd hoped for when 88 first put up their indiegogo, but these are the best looking editions we're going to get, even if it's not by such a wide margin. Both versions of the blu have their advantages: Severin their color and having the Dr. Butcher edit, but only 88 has subtitles for their Italian audio. And both having compelling extras... Severin has the most directly about the film, but 88's feature-length documentary on cannibal films is nothing to sneeze at (unless you've already got it on the Ferox blu, then go ahead and sneeze). If I never had any release before, and had to pick one version to own right now, I'd go with the Severin. But if you already have one of the other discs (yes, even the Shriek Show blu), it may not be worth double-dipping unless you just want to collect all the extras. But if you are getting everything for all the extras, remember, Severin has made Shriek Show redundant, so you can skip that release.

Revisiting Blue Velvet (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

I'm always interested in what David Lynch is going to do next (which, as of this writing, looks to be the revival of Twin Peaks), but I'm not sure if he ever has or will topped Blue Velvet. It's sort of the perfect blend point between his conventional side and his self-exploratory art. It's a film that sets up one unreal little world only to poke a hole through it and lure you through into another. But it's all just relatable enough to be absolutely riveting. It's a film I've triple-dipped for (quadruple if you count VHS), with zero regrets each time.
Kyle MacLachlan is an all-American boy in an idyllic all-American small town, who's just beginning a picture-perfect relationship with a beautiful all-American girl, Laura Dern. But his curiosity, spurred when stumbling upon a severed ear in the woods, gets the better of him, and he can't help peaking behind the facade of this ideal life and discovering the dark current of humanity that runs underneath the veneer. He quickly finds himself between a mentally disturbed lounge singer, Isabella Rossellini, and her violent gangster boyfriend, Dennis Hopper. Both of whom pull him deep into their dangerous reality of S&M sex, drugs and murder.

Dean Stockwell, Hope Lange and Jack Nance all fill in highly memorable supporting roles (Stockwell especially), and we feast on just the right amount of surrealistic imagery, beautiful music without ever crossing the line into self-indulgent, or loosening our grip on the story's dramatic tension. One of my favorite scenes starts out very conventionally, when the high school varsity athlete and his pals are chasing after MacLachlan for stealing his girl - a typical 80s Hollywood scenario - but they're all immediately disarmed when Rossellini stumbles out on the street in front of them, naked and beaten. It's an eye-opening wake-up call that the world outside of their protected little microcosm is much larger and more complicated then they'd ever imagined.
Blue Velvet debuted on DVD in 2000 from MGM. No extras or anything, but at least it was anamorphic and widescreen, a particularly important feature for this highly composed 'scope photography. In 2002, MGM reissued it as a special edition with a remastered picture and a substantial 70-minute documentary. And most recently, in 2011, it made its HD debut on MGM's 25th Anniversary blu-ray release, including the notable recovery of almost an hour's worth of footage previously believed lost. I've got all three of those discs here with me today.
MGM's 2000 DVD on top; 2002 DVD mid; and their 2011 blu-ray bottom.
So, what do we see? All three, of course, are anamorphic 2.35:1 images, thankfully free of interlacing or other issues. But despite there only being two years between them, there's a substantial jump in quality between the two DVD editions. The film got a nice, natural re-colorization, and the detail is much less pixelated. Then the blu keeps the general look of the 2002 DVD. They must have struck an HD master at that time, which they were then able to use for the blu in 2011.
MGM's 2000 DVD left; 2002 DVD mid; and their 2011 blu-ray right.
Looking up close, though, the HD really pays off in detail and clarity. Look how much better you can make out the students in the background of the first set of shots. There's a big step up in quality with each iteration; even the 2002 DVD looks far out of focus compared to the blu. But at least the 2002 blu doesn't have the edge enhancement haloing and splotchy compression of the old DVD.

The original DVD had an English Dolby Stereo track and French Dolby mono, plus English, Spanish and French subtitles. The reissue DVD replaced the stereo track with a 5.1 mix, boosted the French mono to stereo and added a Spanish mono dub, plus added Portuguese subtitles to the other three. But the blu-ray trumps them all, not only in adding the obvious, lossless DTS-HD 5.1 track, but also providing DTS 5.1 tracks for the Spanish, French, German and Italian dubs, and additional Portuguese and Spanish Dolby tracks. It also has the most subtitle options with English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese, Dutch, German, Italian and Japanese.
Now the original DVD didn't really have anything in terms of special features. It had a trailer, a nice little insert, and a kooky easter egg that showed a little montage of film imagery, but that's about it. The 2002 special edition, though, finally brought in some real extras. It has that great 70-minute documentary I mentioned, which interviews pretty much all of the key players looking back on their work, plus about ten minutes of deleted scenes, and Roger Ebert's original television review of the film. They also had the trailer, as well as two additional TV spots, a couple photo galleries, and a few easter eggs with interview outtakes from the documentary, plus another insert.
A recovered scene found only on the blu-ray.
Well, the blu-ray doesn't have any inserts, but it does have all of everything from the DVD, including the doc, Ebert interview, easter egg outtakes, trailer and TV spots. But it also expands the DVD's short selection of deleted scenes to almost an hour of recovered footage, also restored in HD like the film. Some of it's pretty cool, some of it's hard to believe Lynch ever really thought could fit into this movie; but it's all fascinating. Some of the lost footage doesn't quite live up to the hype that had been built around it (the "flaming nipple" is here, but it's nothing really amazing), but it's essential viewing for any serious Lynchian. The blu also includes about a minute and half of outtakes, presumably found with the lost footage, which is amusing.
There was never really any doubt that the blu-ray would be the best presentation of Blue Velvet to date, but it's nice to see that the HD boost isn't the mildest increase in compression and clarity we've seen in a few past releases, including Lynch's own Mulholland Drive. There's a new documentary coming out called Blue Velvet Revisted, which is just what it sounds like, so you'll probably find yourself wanting to catch back up with the original film soon. It still holds up.