Wild At Heart Is Weird On Top (DVD/ Blu-ray Comparison)

Wild At Heart's a movie I've swung back and forth on over the course of my life.  I mean, I've never gone so far as to totally dislike it; but I've definitely swung from thinking it's terrific to flat out ambivalence and back again.  Having finally spent a little time reflecting on it, I think the reason's simpler than I would've guessed.  I'm a huge David Lynch fan - and this movie is an incredible showcase of everything Lynch - but I don't think I'm a fan of the book it's based on.  I say "think" because I've never actually read it.  But from everything I've gathered from the movie, interviews, and so forth, just makes it seem like a lot of unappealing, arch macho melodrama I really wouldn't care for.  But just taking it as a string of wildly indulgent Lynch moments strung together?  It's a hoot!
Now, if any Barry Gifford fans read this, please don't take offense.  As I said, I haven't actually read Wild At Heart: The Story of Sailor and Luna, or any of his work, so this really isn't intended to be any kind of criticism of his work, just a relation of my response to this particular film.  It's interesting; compared to the bewildering puzzles that much of Lynch's later work has become, this story couldn't be simpler or easier to follow.  Nicholas Cage and Laura Dern are a pair of hyper-romantics being chased across the country by agents of Dern's mother (both in real life and in the story), Diane Ladd.  That's pretty much it; over the course of 2+ hours, the lovers drive through one eccentric encounter after another, none of which manage to effect the plot in any way until the ending.  Cage and Dern meet Freddie Jones (Dune, Elephant Man) at a bar, where he speaks in a bizarrely high-pitched voice about pigeons, and then they leave.  What did it have to do with anything?  Nothing!  No connection to the plot, no affect on the characters.  Cage and Dern meet Sherilyn Fenn, dying on the road after a car accident.  It's a sad and powerful moment on its own, but as soon as they leave, it's completely forgotten and irrelevant to the rest of the film.
But that's not even necessarily a criticism, because it's a great scene and we're richer for having seen it.  The fact is, there's about fifteen minutes of story here that acts as a bare framework for Lynch to hang a million self-indulgent set pieces on, and they rock.  Cage and Dern meet Jack Nance at the trailer park, and he gives a menacing career highlight of a monologue, and then is never seen again.  Dern reminisces about her crazy cousin just because it's fun to see Crispen Glover wig out for a hot minute.  Just about everyone from Lynch's troupe gets a chance to shine: Laura Palmer's mom Grace Zabriskie, Harry Dean Stanton, David Patrick Kelly (Jerry from Twin Peaks), Laura Palmer herself Sheryl Lee, Isabella Rossellini... eventually Willem Dafoe gets to actually influence the plot just by virtue of appearing near the end of the film when they needed to wrap up.  It's a delightful showcase; Ladd was even nominated for an Oscar (and should've won!) for her over-the-top freakout of a performance.  The only problem is that it's ultimately a pretty hollow story.
It's sweetly romantic with a crazy punk rock counterpoint to it all, but there's no substance to it all.  Laura Dern's character hints at an interesting exploration of a survivor of child abuse, but they never really delve into it.  And everybody else's backstory is just cheesy noir cliche.  Cage was a driver for a powerful gangster and accidentally witnessed a murder, which is sort of a motive for their pursuit, until it stops mattering and they're just being pursued because Ladd is overly protective of her daughter.  But she's so otherwise uncaring, it's really like the film is hoping two half motives will add up to one complete motive, which it doesn't.  No, this is the kind of film you're not supposed to really think about.  If anything, it feels like Lynch might be poking a little fun at Gifford.  Cage stops just about every character he meets to explain to them that the snake skin jacket he wears is a symbol of his individuality and his belief in personal freedom.  It's like a parody, but of what?  The original novel?  I like to think Wild At Heart is just Lynch riffing on Hollywood, equal parts pastiche, parody, subversion, homage... it's just classic cinema through his creative lens.  And the source material was just employed to keep everything focused.  That's more than enough to make a film worthy of all of our collections, but can you imagine if the root story had been a masterpiece, too?
So Wild At Heart debuted on DVD in 2004 with a pretty decent special edition from MGM.  Well, technically there were barebones imports the year before, but you made the right choice if you held out for MGM's release.  That held the fort until blu-rays started popping up in various regions... first in France with forced French subtitles, then from Paramount in most foreign territories and Twilight Time in the US, all using what appeared to be the same master and special features.  But this summer, Shout Factory has come out with a new Collector's Edition as part of their Shout Select line.  It had a bit of a tortured release, where it was recalled and pushed back for months, but now it's finally here.  Excited?  Let's have a look.
2004 US MGM DVD top; 2018 US Shout Factory blu bottom.
Well, disappointingly, we still seem to be using the same old master.  Of course, don't let that confuse you.  That doesn't mean this is an upconvert or anything.  This is a genuinely HD 1080p transfer that shows a very welcome increase in crispness over the old DVD.  Click to see the images full size and oh yeah, nice improvement.  It slightly corrects the 2.37:1 aspect ratio to 2.35:1, revealing just a sliver along the top and bottom of the frame.  Fine detail that was lost to compression and artifacting is sharpened right up, and grain is... mostly there.  And perfect focus still feels a bit elusive.  Yeah, a fancy, new 4k scan this is not.  It's absolutely a missed opportunity to go back and really make the image sing, we instead seem to have been given the same HD transfer we've already had on every other blu-ray edition.  Still a decent HD release, especially by slightly older standards, but a real disappointment if you double-dipped from a previous blu.

Both the DVD and blu give the choice between the original 2.0 stereo mix and a 5.1 remix, bumped up to DTS-HD on the blu.  Both editions also include subtitles, with MGM's old disc also throwing in a few extra language options (a Spanish dub and French and Spanish subtitles) to boot.
deleted scene
Still, there's good reason not to regret double-dipping when it comes to special features.  Let's start with what was on the DVD, all of which has been carried over to the new Collector's Edition.  The biggest feature is a half hour 'making of' documentary, which goes above and beyond the standard promo featurette, with solid interviews with Lynch, Gifford, and most of the cast, plus plenty of behind-the-scenes footage.  Then there additional, extended interview clips that for whatever reason are presented separate from the doc, all of which really adds up to a solid hour-long doc.  Speaking of promo featurettes, though, that's on here, too, as well as a rather informative little interview with Lynch on the process of re-coloring the film for DVD.  And there's the trailer, TV spots, a stills gallery, bonus trailers, a 4-page insert with notes and an attractive, embossed slipcover.
deleted scene
That's all still here, and to be fair, it was all on the Twilight Time blu, too (and they also have their exclusive isolated score track).  But Shout's added some very compelling additional features as well.  First, there's a new, thirty minute interview with Gifford.  He does start out by telling the same anecdotes he did in the documentary, but he soon delves into all new things, including differences between the film and book, his many follow-up novels to Wild At Heart, his favorite scene that was cut from the movie.  And speaking of deleted scenes, they're the real prize of this collection.  There's over an hour and sixteen minutes worth of deleted scenes, that were previously only available in the rare and exceedingly pricey "Lime Green Box" set of Lynch films.  Griffon's favorite scene with Tracey Walter is here, fans of the book will be glad to finally see the character of Beany on screen, and the infamous monologue by Zabriskie that made preview audiences walk out of the theater is back.  We learn that Stanton originally had a much larger role, and cut a different way, this film could've had a much fuller, less disconnected plot.  A lot of the scenes are pretty thin, though - including five full minutes dedicated to Dern switching cars at the beginning - and unfortunately, while Shout does present them in 1080p, they seem to be upscaled from 480 or so at best and reveal considerable print damage.  But still, they're essential viewing for serious fans.

The only other new extra is a brief, uncensored version of a violent shotgun scene that was obscured by smoke in the theatrical cut.  Now you can see it in all its gruesome glory, and in full HD quality, as opposed to the deleted scenes shown above.  Shout's release also comes in a nice slip cover and features reversible artwork with original poster art, and one of Shout Select's usual inserts cataloging their entire collection.
So, look.  I know fans wanted more and were hoping for a fresh scan.  I'm right there with you.  But this is the best release of the film going by virtue of all the new special features.  If you really don't care about extras and already have a previous blu, you can save yourself a couple bucks and pass on this one.  But I imagine most Lynch fans will be happy enough, and since this just came out, I'd be very surprised to see this film get any further restoration in a long time.  It's a solid "B," and those deleted scenes sell themselves.

1 comment:

  1. thanxxx man for another great post, really appreciate it

    ReplyDelete