BLUE VELVET - Blu-ray review

One which David Lynch fans will love to watch over and over in HD, and which non-fans ought to see at least once.

James Plath's picture

David Lynch = Weird.

It's a simple equation, but true in almost all of his films. What the director has to say about something is often grandiosely outstripped by his style, which is best described by the W-word--especially with "Blue Velvet," the film that many think his best. The 1986 film earned the director his second Oscar nomination (coming after "The Elephant Man" (1980) and before "Mulholland Dr." (2001).

You can analyze this kinky murder mystery to death and come up with all sorts of pronouncements about what Lynch has to say about the human psyche and the dark undercurrents that run beneath small town life. But because Lynch relies on surrealism to make his points, "Blue Velvet" has always struck me as more fantasy than reality. From the heavily stylized depiction of iconic images like white picket fences and flowers to an equally iconic presentation of familiar drug-associated imagery, Lynch relies on a pictographic system of storytelling even more than he does standard narrative action.

As John J. Puccio wrote in his DVD review, "It may be extravagantly excessive, but it's brilliantly alive and innovative, too."

Witness the opening, which shows a man watering his lawn and then falling to the ground after suffering an apparent stroke. A dog comes over quickly and takes the opportunity to try to drink from the garden hose he still clutches in his hands, but then the camera zooms in on the blades of grass beneath him and black carrion beetles scurrying about underground. Such sequences are typical of Lynch, and they typically invite viewers to follow the camera . . . wherever it takes them. In this case, "getting" the suggestion of something beneath the grass, beneath the surface of idyllic life is crucial to understanding where Lynch is coming from . . . and where he's going. And he relies on such visual cues throughout this 120-minute film.

It's the imagery that's convoluted, more so than the plot, and it all begins with the image of a human ear that clean-cut college student Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle MacLachlan) finds in a field near his house. Like any squeaky-clean upstanding citizen he takes it to a neighbor (George Dickerson) who happens to be a police detective. But that's almost a false start, because while he says he'll investigate, it's the detective's daughter, Sandy (Laura Dern) who seems in need of an adventure of her own and suggests to Jeffrey that she might know something that would lead them to understand where the ear came from.

Here's where the fantasy catches fire, as the closest thing I've seen to anything seedy in a small town is a strip club or adult-themed truck stop. I don't know of any small town that has or is within striking distance of a nightclub and seedy-looking exteriors that are populated by psychotic hoodlums and kinky weirdos (Dennis Hopper, Dean Stockwell), a troubled and sexually charged singer (Isabella Rossellini) who's behavior is just as erratic, and people who get into torture, sado-masochism, mega drugs, and random beatings.

I mean, it's like a small-town version of the myth of Persephone, in which the daughter of Zeus was abducted by Hades, king of the underworld, and rescued by Zeus via Hermes, his messenger. Except that if Jeffrey is the Hermes counterpart, he gets sucked into the lifestyle of the underworld throughout the course of his "investigation." And the more that Sandy and Jeffrey investigate, the more everyone in town starts to seem like a suspect to them. Lynch, ever seduced by the power of images, creates scores of striking scenes and sequences, using light and shadow to suggest values and moods in neo-noir fashion.

See? Now I'm doing it. This film invites you to speculate (or pontificate), because it's just so . . . weird. I'd talk about performances, but you get the feeling that all of the actors are like their characters: caught up in this underworld that we're to understand lies beneath every small town. Or at least Lumberton.

"Blue Velvet" is rated R for . . . well, just about everything.

Fans of this film are going to want to upgrade to Blu-ray, because the picture looks stunning in day- and brightly-lit scenes. Colors and depth and black levels are strongly represented. Even in the films myriad dark scenes the detail holds fairly well--though the dark scenes do have more grain and display some crush. Overall, the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer is a good one, with no other artifacts visible. There's a nice sense of clarity and texture without the film looking overscrubbed with DNR. "Blue Velvet is presented in 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 that mostly comes alive with Angelo Badalamenti's score, with just enough rear-speaker action to create a nice sense of atmosphere. "Blue Velvet" is driven as much by mood as it is dialogue, and fans should be happy with this transfer. Dialogue, effects, and music are nicely balanced. Additional audio options are French, DTS and Spanish Mono, with English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles.

The film begins to play right from the get-go, so whether this was Lynch's idea or a cost-saving measure, I have no idea. There aren't many bonus features, but what's here is eclectic enough to please fans. The big draw? Fifty-two minutes of "newly discovered lost footage" in HD, including a number of scenes with more nudity. But just as much of a treat is a two-minute clip of "Siskel and Ebert At the Movies" trading barbs over the film that one of them loved and the other . . . well, not so much. Then there's "Mysteries of Love," a standard behind-the-scenes feature with cast and filmmaker interviews cobbled together with clips from the film. Included here is Lynch talking about the background of the project, and lots of behind-the-scenes shots. It runs 70 minutes. Rounding out the bonus features are several vignettes that feel like brief promos ("I Like Coffee Shops," "The Chicken Walk," "The Robin," "Sita") and three trailers/TV spots.

Bottom Line:
"Blue Velvet" is a strange trip of a film—one which David Lynch fans will love to watch over and over in HD, and which non-fans ought to see at least once, it's that iconic.


Film Value