Forever Revisiting Blue Velvet

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.

Update 7/18/16 - 5/31/19: Okay, so now I've quintuple dipped for this flick, this time for Criterion's new 4k restoration, with a bunch of new features, most notably the feature documentary Revisiting Blue Velvet.  Am I still regret free?
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, Brad Dourif, 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. Then 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. And most recently, just this week, Criterion has restored released a new 4k restoration on blu with even more special features.  I've got all four discs here, so let's get into it.
1) MGM 2000 DVD; 2) MGM 2002 DVD;
3) MGM 2011 BD; 4) Criterion 2019 BD.
So, what do we see? All four, 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.  But that said, 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 of MGM's iterations; 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.
1) MGM 2000 DVD; 2) MGM 2002 DVD;
3) MGM 2011 BD; 4) Criterion 2019 BD.
But now we come to the new 4k master, and it's mostly good news.  The AR is still 2.35:1, but this new scan pulls out a little further to reveal more information, most noticeably along the sides.  The colors have been re-timed, too, this time going for a more subtle, less contrast-y palette, which feels more natural, the result of a higher quality scan (and no, it's not green).  Speaking of higher quality scan results, this 4k transfer finally sets to work on capturing fine grain, with a sharper, closer look at the negatives.  But, unfortunately, this brings us to the bad news.  Looking closely at that grain makes it obvious there is some chunky macro-blocking going on, the result of less than stellar encoding.  It's not terrible, but it's definitely, but it's the kind of thing you wouldn't see from Sony or Arrow.  The pros still outweigh the cons, this is definitely not a "stick with the older disc" situation.  This surpasses the old blu even without taking the special features and other stuff into account.  But it's definitely an imperfection that would take some points off of its final grade for sure.
The original DVD had an English Dolby Stereo track and French Dolby mono, plus English, Spanish and French subtitles. The reissue DVD replaced the original stereo track with a new 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.

And the new blu?  Actually, it scores back some of those fumbled points here.  Criterion restores the film's original stereo track, now in lossless DTS-HD, but gives us the lossless 5.1 as well.  So that's a win for the purists and the home theater kingpins.  And yes, it has optional English subtitles as well.
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.

And, well, the blu-ray doesn't have any inserts, but it does have everything else 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 it could fit into this movie; but it's all fascinating. Not all of the lost footage quite lives 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.
A recovered scene found only on the blu-rays.
And Criterion's blu?  Well, it sure does have an insert.  More like a 30-page booklet with notes by Kristine McKenna, which excerpts heavily from Lynch's book, Room To Dream.  And almost everything from the previous discs are here: the complete collection of deleted scenes and outtakes, the documentary, including even an extra minute or so of outtakes with a white balance test chart... the only thing missing is the Ebert review, and actually, we see the most of that review footage in the documentary, anyway, so it's no big loss.  Oh, and we lose those little easter egg outtakes.  And the trailer for some odd reason.  But we get some pretty major new stuff to replace those odds and ends.

First and foremost is the feature documentary Revisiting Blue Velvet.  This film played theatrically in 2017ish, and happily Criterion licensed it for their blu.  It's very different from the other doc that comes from the DVD.  That one's a pretty traditional 'making of' retrospective, but this one was made by a German filmmaker who filmed the whole thing on location as Blue Velvet was being shot.  It's all super 8 and photos, though, so a lot of it is silent, except for the original score.  There are interviews and fun on-set exchanges in it, too.  But I'd say four fifths of it are silent... Hardcore fans will be delighted for all of the behind-the-scenes exploration, but casual viewers should make sure they're in the mood to watch something ethereal and artsy if they're going to make it through to the end.  It's definitely a unique take.
Besides that, there's a great new featurette that revisits the filming locations and interviews the "little guys," that the other special features overlooked: the props guy, the steadicam operator, the non-actor who played The Yellow Man, etc.  It's a lot of fun, moves at a brisk pace, and shares stories we haven't heard anywhere else.  There's also a long interview with Angelo Badalamenti that does rehash some of his interview from the doc, but also expands into more detail and new territory as well.  And finally, there's a roughly 15-minute audio-only clip of Lynch reading from his book about the making of Blue Velvet, which basically plays as a standard director interview, and a pretty good one at that.  Criterion's put this out in a nice little digibook package with an other slipbox that, for whatever reason, opens from the left as opposed to the standard right-hand side.  One last little quirk for the pile, I guess.
So, it's pretty much all for the win column here.  The 4k scan is a nice upgrade over everything that's come before it, despite some questionable encoding.  The recovered stereo mix and all the new extras, including the complete Revisited documentary, help make this an easy recommendation.  I suppose you could hold out hope that a foreign label will put the new 4k scan out in another region with better encoding, like how Studio Canal managed to out-do Criterion's 4k release of Mulholland Drive.  But this is still going to be a tough release to top, and nothing's been announced... unless we start seeing Lynch classics getting released on UHD, this may be the peak.

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