MGM // 1986 // 120 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // November 28th, 2011
It's a strange world.
Over 25 years after it first blew audiences' minds, David Lynch's Blue Velvet arrives on Blu-ray with a stunning transfer and some must-see bonus features. It's like the movie is brand new again.
Jeffrey Beaumont (Kyle Maclachlan, Showgirls) returns home to his quiet town from college after his father's health fails, and isn't home for long at all before making a chilling discovery in the field near the hospital: a severed human ear laying in the grass. After taking the ear to the police, Jeffrey and wholesome teenager Sandy (Laura Dern, We Don't Live Here Any More) drawn into a mystery involving a damaged nightclub singer (Isabella Rossellini, Wyatt Earp), a psychotic criminal (Dennis Hopper, Speed) and, of course, the owner of the ear.
David Lynch's 1986 film Blue Velvet might just be the most important movie in his very impressive filmography. Though Eraserhead helped announce him and both Dune and The Elephant Man found him attempting to mesh his very particular sensibilities with a commercial aesthetic (one more successfully than the other), it was Blue Velvet that really provided his breakthrough and helped establish what we mean when talking about a "David Lynch movie." It's the mixture of squareness mixed with the surreal that he would become known for, and marked the first time he couched his bizarre imagery in a mystery. It introduces nearly all of the elements that would make Twin Peaks a cult phenomenon when it premiered on TV just a few years later, and the one-two punch of Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks is most likely what Lynch will be remembered for. The rest of his body of work is a series of variations on similar themes.
Twenty-five years after it first premiered, Blue Velvet remains a masterpiece. While it's now become old hat to examine the seedy underbelly lurking beneath the plastic facade of suburbia (or something profound like that), it's never been done darker or better or more explicitly than it is here -- look no further than the opening shots, in which the camera pans from rows of perfect houses and lush, green, manicured lawns down into the grass, where we find a severed human ear swarming with ants. That's the beauty of David Lynch: he's interested in the ants, but he loves the lawns, too. There's a tendency to read some of the sunnier aspects of Lynch's movies as irony -- that he's somehow making fun of optimism or sweetness, and that it's in the dark stuff where his heart really lies. Maybe some viewers are unable to accept the dichotomy at work in a movie like Blue Velvet, and in order to make sense of Lynch's world, they assume that half of it is satire (those are the viewers not already turned off by the darker stuff, which they'll dismiss as weirdness for the sake of weirdness). What I've always loved about David Lynch, though, is that he's utterly sincere about all of it. He means it. Watching Kyle McLachlan's Jeffrey navigate the two worlds existing in Blue Velvet is like watching Lynch himself at work -- he's a sweet, clean-cut guy who is inextricably drawn to his own dark impulses.
While it's not without its eccentricities -- I can't imagine how some audiences must have reacted in 1986 -- Blue Velvet is one of the most accessible of Lynch's films. The introduction of the mystery element may be the movie's masterstroke, as it allows us to suspend our disbelief and go along with some of the more bizarre detours; we're OK with not always knowing what's going on or why we're seeing what we're seeing, because Jeffrey is in the same boat. And though he wouldn't find his signature role until playing Special Agent Dale Cooper until Twin Peaks, his third collaboration with Lynch (following Dune and this one), MacLachlan's work is excellent here, too. He has to seem so normal and all-American, while at the same time be believable as a guy who's willingly drawn into a dark underworld and masochistic relationship with Isabella Rossellini's Dorothy (who is good and fearless in the movie, but who has always been my least favorite thing about Blue Velvet). Then, of course, there is Frank Book, the villain played by the late Dennis Hopper, without whom I'm not entirely sure we would still be talking about the film a quarter of a century later. There is nothing subtle or layered about Hopper's performance: he is pure, crazy evil, and he's a blast. In a movie filled with memorable scenes and moments (like all of Lynch's movies), there is nothing more memorable in Blue Velvet then Frank Booth.
MGM's new Blu-ray of Blue Velvet is stunning, offering a full HD AVC encoded 1080p transfer that brings the movie to new life: Lynch's vibrant color palette pops like never before, dark sequences are clear and maintain their definition and fine detail and textures are noticeable like never before. Though the image is a little soft in some spots, it can mostly be attributed to the source and Lynch's artistic decisions. The lossless DTS-HD master audio track is also terrific, which is a relief -- the importance of sound in a David Lynch film cannot be understated. Though Blue Velvet isn't as sonically dense as some of his later films (namely Mulholland Dr. and Lost Highway), there is a great deal of care and subtlety that went into this track. Dialogue is clear and audible throughout, the songs and gorgeous score (by frequent collaborator Angelo Badalamenti) is always well-balanced and many of the surround effects are effective and, at times, even ominous. No one knows how to unsettle with sound quite like David Lynch.
By now, you probably already know the main reason why you should upgrade to the Blu-ray of Blue Velvet: nearly an hour's worth of never-before-scene deleted material has been uncovered and included for the first time. Though much of it doesn't work and deserved to have been cut from the finished movie, the material provides a fascinating look into the movie that Blue Velvet could have been, reminding us just how fine a line there is between timeless masterpiece and forgettable mess, and how that line is so often drawn in the editing room. Fans of the film and of Lynch will eat this stuff up, but students of film could actually learn a lot from going through the deleted scenes as well. The discovery of this footage, crazy as it may be at times, is a gift that we must not take for granted.
But it doesn't stop there. Also included is an excellent hour-long retrospective documentary called "Mysteries of Love," previously included on the Special Edition DVD, some very short "vignettes" (each runs under a minute), some amusing outtakes (presented in HD), a clip of Siskel and Ebert reviewing the movie on At the Movies (Ebert notoriously dislikes the movie, and even more so in '86) and a gallery of trailers and TV spots.
Between the A/V upgrade and the hour of deleted material, the Blu-ray of Blue Velvet isn't just the best version of the movie ever released, it's almost a complete reassessment. Whether you've never seen the movie or if you already own it on DVD, watching it on Blu-ray is like seeing it for the first time. Especially if you've never seen it. What I'm saying is this: the movie is great, and the Blu-ray comes highly recommended.
Don't you look at me.
Review content copyright © 2011 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 1986
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes