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.

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