Criterion Breaks Into 4k UHDs with David Lynch's Mulholland Drive

a little pilot-only scene and character
Mulholland Drive seemed to be a comeback film for David Lynch. He got an Academy Award nomination as Best Director for it, despite or perhaps partially because of its long and painful birth process. It was originally shot as a ninety-odd minute television pilot for ABC. A sort of second Twin Peaks. But the network ultimately declined it, and it never aired. A year or two later, Lynch teamed up with the French film company Studio Canal to buy it from ABC bring back the cast, and film all new material to flush it out into a feature film and a complete, self-contained story (the pilot, naturally, was left open-ended, as it was meant to lead into an entire series worth of events).

So it played well theatrically, and eventually in 2002, Universal gave us the slightly controversial DVD. Thanks to Lynch's eccentricity and probably a slight misunderstanding of the medium, it is presented without chapter stops, as per his wishes. As a pleasant surprise, however, it turns out the DVD does have chapter stops, a lot even, they're just not indicated by a chapters menu. But they're there. It also doesn't have any special features (despite some good, on-set interviews being available, as we'll come to later) except for a single page insert with "10 Clues to Unlocking This Thriller." And finally, Lynch personally censored one scene from the film for its home video release. A brief shot of Laura Herring, featuring some below the belt nudity, was optically fogged despite playing uncut in theaters, apparently to prevent nude photos from circulating on the internet.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Studio Canal released a 2-disc special edition. And in 2010, they even upgraded it to blu-ray, something which has yet to happen in the states. So, not for the first time, Lynch fans were compelled to import.

Update: 4/30/15 - 4/6/17 - 5/8/17 - 6/8/17: There is no end!  The Criterion blu did come out, so I updated this post with that.  Then I updated it with the Concorde blu, and now I'm updating it yet again with the new Studio Canal blu (not to be confused with the previous Studio Canal blu).  This one creates even more new special features and uses the updated 4k scan that debuted on the Criterion disc.  Is it the ultimate, definitive Mulholland Drive release?  Is it worth replacing an older edition for?  Let's solve the mystery.

Update 11/17/21: I'm about fed up with updating Mulholland Drive editions, but how could I say no when they've updated an entire format?  Yes, Mulholland Drive has finally been released as a 4k Ultra HD disc (with a standard BD as well).  And it's from Criterion.  They've finally caved to fan demand and started releasing UHDs.  This is an exciting day!
Mulholland Drive is pretty great, but even as a big Lynch fan, I do have minor issues with it. They mostly boil down to what I see as the more conventional characters and story points: like the stuff with the hitmen and the director's subplot. I can't say what was in the writers' heads, of course, but I suspect these elements are concessions for more mainstream television viewers who wouldn't appreciate Lynch's usual work, and as such is more archetypal and less humanistic and compelling than, say, his next film, Inland Empire, even though it's a far less popular work of his. At any rate, even if that's not true about why that material is in there, those points give that impression, which comes down to the same thing. But even accepting all of my quibbles, it's still a smart, creative and gripping drama, with all of Lynch's strengths here in force.

So how does it look on blu-ray and how does the DVD stand up against it? And how does each subsequent blu-ray (and UHD) release stack up against its predecessor?  We've got a lot of comparing to do!
1) Universal 2002 DVD 2) Studio Canal 2010 BD; 3) Concorde 2011 BD;
4) Criterion 2015 BD; 5) Studio Canal 2017 BD; 6) Criterion 2021 BD;
7) Criterion 2021 UHD.

So, not a huge difference, but there is an incremental improvement with each release.  Well, except the 2010 Studio Canal and the Concorde.  They're virtually identical.  In fact, Concorde's encode is slightly worse; so it's a tiny step down.  But the older SC blu-ray clears away all the standard def smudginess of the DVD, and Criterion's 2015 4k scan of the OCN smartens up the image with a touch more clarity and noticeably deeper colors.  They'll be slim upgrades to casual viewers, but aficionados will appreciate each generation's step forward.  All seven releases feature a slightly letterboxed 1.85:1 aspect ratio, but the 4k updates have ever so slightly shifted horizontally and vertically.  And then, again, Studio Canal's 2017 blu uses the same 4k scan as the Criterion, so I have to say I'm surprised how distinct it turned out.  There had been rumblings that perhaps Criterion's encoding could be slightly better, and indeed, I'd say it is on the 2017 SC.  Criterion's encoding does leave things like a hint of horizontal lines running across Naomi's upper lip and cheek, for example.  And areas of grain seem patchy, like little pixelated blocks.  This is real magnifying-glass-to-the-monitor stuff, but it's there, and SC does do a better job of not having that problem.  However, what's much more obvious is how much grainier the 2017 SC blu looks.  It looks like Criterion tried to de-grain the image a bit, whereas SC let it all hang out, which perfectionists always prefer.

But anyone who's looking that close, or whose screen is big enough, can forget all about which BD is better.  Because the UHD obviously boosts the resolution to a whole new level.  It's a new Dolby Vision transfer, made in conjunction with SC and, according to the booklet, "based on the 2015 color transfer."  So it's boosted to HDR and in true 4k now (you can really see jagged edges turned smooth and natural when you zoom in close), but still holding to the spirit of the previous restorations, as supervised by Lynch.  Therefor, it's interesting to note that the BD in the new 2021 set doesn't even use the new 2021 transfer at all; it's still their 2015, even in terms of how it captures/ retains grain.  So SC's 2017 BD is actually still better than Criterion's 2021 BD; and if you can't play UHDs, the SC is still the blu to stick with.  But of course, if you can play it, Criterion's UHD is the best this film has ever looked.
2010 Studio Canal blu-ray on top; bootleg DV-R of the pilot below
So now there's nothing to be gained from noting that the blu-ray trumps the DV-R of the TV pilot. That's just a low quality bootleg. There is no legit release of the pilot version, so don't run yourself ragged searching. It's no great loss, anyway, since there's very little in the pilot that's not in the film... It's mostly the other way around: there's a lot in the film that's missing in the pilot. But I thought it was worth posting the comparison because we see that, naturally, the 90s television image is full-frame. And since it was shot for TV first and converted to cinema second, Lynch clearly matted the 4:3 image down. So that means in the lower image you're seeing the image open matte, with a lot more picture on the top and bottom; and that's the way it was originally composed to be viewed. It's the OAR, at least for the footage that wasn't added later.

Speaking of interesting, alternate presentations of the footage, The 2015 Criterion release is the first uncensored presentation of the film, and yes, Studio Canal's 2017 blu follows suit.  As you may've already been familiar with, Lynch himself blurred a scene of full frontal nudity for the home video release (that played uncensored in the original theatrical run) around the 99 minute mark.  It was already a heavily shadowed scene, so casual viewers wouldn't even notice, but a distinct blur was put over Jeanne Bates Laura Harring in one bedroom scene, and that was on the original US DVD, the 2010 Studio Canal blu, the Concorde blu and pretty much every other version.  But by going back to the original film elements for their new 4k scan, Criterion bypassed it (sorry, no screenshot, kids).  And yes, it's still uncensored on the UHD.

As for audio options, the Universal DVD gave us a choice between DTS 5.1 and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes, but all four blus and the UHD simply give us uncompressed DTS-HD 5.1 tracks.  Well, Concorde also has a German DTS-HD 5.1 and 2010 Studio Canal gives us Spanish and French DTS-HD 5.1s (2017 SC keeps the French, but drops the Spanish).  They also include Dutch, French and Italian subtitles, while Concorde just have German subs and the original DVD has French and Spanish subtitles.  Only the Criterions and new Studio Canal actually give us (optional) English subtitles... at least for the main feature.
But what about the extras? Like I said, the DVD had nothing, not even the trailer. Just that insert with "clues." The Studio Canal blu-ray trumps even the insert by including a 20 page booklet, which, yes, includes the clues. But there's also some real, meaty extras on the blu as well:

• Introduction by Thierry Jousse - A ten minute lead in by filmmaker Jousse. This, like several of the extras, are in French, but everything's fully subtitled for English viewers.

In the Blue Box - A 28 minute featurette where a bunch of filmmakers (the guy who directed Donnie Darko, the director of Colt 45, etc) talk about the film and their experiences with it.

On the Road To Mulholland Drive - a 24 minute 'making of' documentary, primarily based on interviews with Lynch, Naomi Watts and Laura Herring, inter-cutting between them with some nice behind the scenes B-roll footage. This one's been around a while, even my pilot bootleg DVD has it on there, and was mostly or entirely shot during filming. One wonders why this was left off the Universal DVD. I guess Lynch just didn't want there to be any extras on that?

• Interview with Mary Sweeny - A short but interesting talk with the film's co-producer and editor.

• Interview with Angelo Badalamenti - A little under twenty minutes with the film's composer, who also plays a small role, from around the time of the film's release.

• Interview with Angelo Badalamenti - Yes, another one. But this one's newly recorded, and it's audio only. It's about 17 minutes and unfortunately repeats a lot of anecdotes nearly word for word from the previous interview. There are some unique bits, so it's still worth watching, but one wishes Studio Canal would've edited out all the duplicate material.

Back to Mulholland Drive - A 24 minute featurette that focuses on the mysteries of the film and decoding its more symbolic meanings. It includes some additional interview footage of Lynch, and explains the 10 clues, which is nice, because as written they're not illuminating at all, even when you pretty much get the film. Overall, it's a pretty compelling extra, but it's a little silly and I think they arrive at precisely the wrong conclusion about one of the clues. But for the most part, it pretty much explains and clarifies everything for people who saw the movie and felt they didn't understand any of it. And even if you feel you've got everything worked out, you probably didn't catch all of the little hints and touches they point out.
That was pretty awesome, but now Criterion is here to enter the races!  They've got a healthy collection of special features, too; and they're mostly all new.

• Interview with David Lynch and Naomi Watts - Finally, a proper interview with Lynch on this film besides those vintage promo clips. And here he's alongside star Watts for a really engaging talk.

• New interviews with Justin Theroux, Laura Harring, Naomi Watts and casting director Johanna Ray - A substantial featurette with several of the stars that runs well over half and hour.

• Interview with Angelo Badalamenti - Yes, this is different than the two on the Studio Canal discs, running just under 20 minutes, though he doesn't really say anything he didn't say before.

• Interviews with Peter Deming and Jack Fisk - We get to hear from a couple key people we haven't yet, the cinematographer and production designer.

• On-set footage - About 24 minutes worth of behind-the-scenes footage.  We saw a lot of this in On the Road To Mulholland Drive, but this is basically just the raw, B-roll footage without the framing interviews.

• Deleted scene - Robert Forster at the police station.  I'm surprised they didn't put in all the other material from the pilot - it would've been great to see it restored from film elements, too - but maybe Lynch didn't want it included?

• Trailer

Criterion's release also includes a 48-page booklet, with an interview with Lynch from the book Lynch on Lynch.  And it comes packaged in a stylish fold-out digipack that fits inside a sturdy slipbox.  Overall, both blus have some nice, exclusive stuff.  But overall, I definitely have to give the win to Criterion's collection.  Or I did at the time.
Concorde?  That's the whole reason I tracked this blu down and, well, it's pretty disappointing.  I mean, taken on its own, it's okay.  It sure trumps the DVD.
• Making of featurette - This is actually the On the Road To Mulholland Drive doc.  Still a good little doc, but nothing new if you have any of the other releases.

• Interviews - Interviews with Watts, Lynch, Harring and Theroux.  These are actually the exact same interview clips that appear in On the Road.  That's right; it's the same stuff on the disc twice.  I guess the benefit is this lets you jump right to certain interview clips without watching the whole, 23 minute doc?  Meh.

• 3 TV spots

• Trailer - Surprisingly, only this and the Criterion disc have this.  The old DVD and both Studio Canal releases are missing it.

• German trailer

And it has a couple of bonus German-dubbed trailers.  Pretty disappointing.  I figured the 'making of' doc would turn out to be On the Road again.  But I figured the interviews had to be some exclusive press junket clips or something.  Who knew they'd have the audacity to just reuse the same footage twice?  Oh well.
Studio Canal really went for it this time.  They've got new extras, previous Studio Canal extras, they've got Concorde extras and they've even got Criterion extras.  But they still don't have everything...

• Introduction by Thierry Jousse - As carried over from the previous Studio Canal disc.

• Interview with David Lynch and Naomi Watts - I was surprised to see this one here; it's the one Criterion made for their release.  Sweet!

• New interview with Laura Harring - Even sweeter, some brand new content.  A nicely edited, 14-minute on-camera piece.

• Interview with Mary Sweeny - This is from the previous Studio Canal disc, still quite good.

Back to Mulholland Drive - The look at the mysteries from the previous Studio Canal disc.

In the Blue Box - Again, this is from the previous Studio Canal disc.  But don't take that as dismissive comment.  I'm glad they kept all these goodies.

On the Road To Mulholland Drive - This is the vintage 'making of' that's been on every release except the original DVD.

• EPK Interviews - These are the same, short interview clips with Watts, Lynch, Harring and Theroux that were on the Concorde disc; basically the remaining soundbites that weren't heard in On the Road.

• Interview with Angelo Badalamenti - This is the one from the older Studio Canal disc; the video one.  The audio-only one was not ported over.

• On-set footage - About 24 minutes worth of behind-the-scenes footage.  We saw a lot of this in On the Road To Mulholland Drive, but this is basically just the raw, B-roll footage without the framing interviews.

• Deleted scene - The same Robert Forster scene from the Criterion disc.

So, this may well be the best collection of extras, but even though they brought over the Lynch/ Watts talk, they're still missing a couple featurettes from the Criterion: the interviews with cinematographer Peter Deming and production designer Jack Fisk, the cast featurette interviewing Justin Theroux, Laura Harring, Naomi Watts and Johanna Ray, the on-set footage featurette and their interview with Badalamenti.  And they've dropped the audio-only interview with Badalamenti from their own previous release.  Given how redundant it was, that makes some sense, but it seems odd they'd lose one of their own special features.  Frankly though, the biggest losses are the interviews with Fisk, Deming and Ray, as their voices aren't included anywhere else.  Also, bizarrely, it's missing the trailer.  Why do so many releases of this film keep forgetting the trailer?  But still, the trailer's just the trailer.  In 2017, Studio Canal's assembled a very strong mesh of the best of all the previous releases that's tough to beat.  Also, this release comes in a slip cover and includes six cardstock art cards that you can see in the photo above.

And Criterion's 2021 UHD/ BD set?  Finally a simple answer: exactly the same extras as their 2015 release.  The same book, slipbox (albeit with UHD markings, natch) and everything.
What was once a tough call has been made easy.  Criterion's UHD is the best presentation of this film.  But fans will probably want to hang onto their SC discs for the (mostly) unique set of extras.  Yes, there's some overlap and redundancy (how many Badalamenti interviews does one need?), but SC and Criterion both have some compelling, unique stuff.  You won't need any of the older releases after that, unless you're a real completist and want to hold onto the old Studio Canal release for the audio-only Badalamenti interview (but, like I just said...).


  1. as I'm sure you know, the "distinct blur" in question was on laura harring, not jeanne bates (now THAT would have been a different film entirely!)

  2. Thank you for all that information, much appreciated.