Release Date(s)2001 (October 17, 2015)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Criterion – Spine #779)
- Film/Program Grade: A-
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A-
Like a lot David Lynch projects, Mulholland Dr. is a film that totally mystifies you when you see it, but you’re drawn to it like a fine piece of art as it opens itself up for interpretation at every turn. There is no concrete analysis of the film that sticks; one viewer may have a completely different theory and reaction to it than the viewer sitting next to them. A film shrouded in mystery, color, and performances, it makes for an interesting viewing experience, to say the least.
Whether it’s a piece of abstract filmmaking or a cobbled-together afterthought is entirely up for conjecture. It’s been thoroughly noted elsewhere that the film started out as a TV pilot for ABC. Once it was rejected, Lynch sought out to shoot new footage and re-edit it all to function as a feature film. Some have put forth that it’s one of Lynch’s most fragmented works, with scenes and characters that seemingly have no relation to each other. Others have noted that the fragmentation works in the movie’s favor, speaking more to the overall narrative, which is very cryptic in nature.
Mulholland Dr. has only the most minimal of main plots, and the events take place are simply a catalyst for the film’s aesthetic more than its story. It functions much like an art film, but sometimes finds itself confused with the story elements. That very thin plot involves a newly-arrived actress in Los Angeles (Naomi Watts), who discovers a mysterious brunette named Rita (Laura Harring) in her new apartment. Suffering from a case of amnesia due to a car accident, Rita sets out with Betty to find the truth about the events that caused her to be where she wound up. Along the way, we meet a variety of different characters, including a policeman (Robert Forster) investigating Rita’s car accident and a movie director named Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux), who is trying to keep his film from being taken over by the mob.
There’s no concrete evidence to support the argument that the film is a mess of various pieces of footage rather than a carefully constructed piece of avant-garde filmmaking. Obviously, there are moments that were clearly not a part of the original TV pilot version, such as the love scene between Betty and Rita, but there are also characters that never seem to have much bearing on each other from scene to scene. It might be that these characters were left open-ended for the original pilot to be included later in further episodes had it gone to series. As is, no solid answers are ever given and Lynch doesn’t bother coddling his viewers with any sense of comfort. You basically have to figure it out for yourself.
All of it worked out to Lynch’s advantage as Mulholland Dr. was very well-received when it was released, earning Lynch an Oscar nod for best director, as well as putting Naomi Watts on the map. It’s a darkly comic and twisted tale (not unlike Twin Peaks or Lost Highway) that confounds its audience as to its true meaning. A world filled with quirky and interesting characters set within the moody, noir-ish world of Los Angeles is time well-spent, again and again.
Criterion’s long-awaited Blu-ray release of the film features a newly-restored 4K transfer, which has been personally supervised by David Lynch and his director of photography Peter Deming. The result is spectacular, and is likely to be regarded as the finest presentation of the film available. Both depth and clarity are remarkable, and the thick grain field appears completely natural and unobtrusive. Fine detail is through the roof, with everything from clothing, close-ups, and background details just ripe with it. The color palette is also quite lush, popping with every major primary. Black levels are quite deep with terrific shadow details, and both contrast and brightness levels are perfect. There are no signs of digital augmentation to be found, nor are there any major film artifacts leftover. The only audio track available is an English 5.1 DTS-HD track. While it isn’t particularly bold in terms of rear speaker activity, all of the sounds have an enormous amount of fidelity and nuance to them. Dialogue is always clean and clear, of course, but sound effects and Angelo Badalamenti’s score play a major role in the sound design. Dynamic range (albeit a bit partial) is also terrific with wonderful depth. It’s an outstanding presentation of the film. There are also subtitles included in English for those who might need them. It’s also worth noting that there are no chapter stops, as is usual with Lynch’s films on disc. His preference of insisting that viewers watch the entire film from beginning to end every single time is in full effect here as well.
For the supplements, you get a nice array of some newly-included material. There is a set of various interviews (David Lynch and Naomi Watts; Laura Harring, Johanna Ray, Justin Theroux, and Naomi Watts; Angelo Badalamenti; Peter Deming and Jack Fisk), a deleted scene, bits of on-set footage, the original theatrical trailer, and a 48-page insert booklet containing an interview with Lynch from the 2005 edition of filmmaker and writer Chris Rodley’s book “Lynch on Lynch”. Missing from this release is most of extras from the U.K. release of the movie, included copious amounts of analysis of the film. Knowing how Lynch feels about things like that, I’m not surprised to see it missing.
If you own a region-free player, I’m sure you’ll want to import this title from elsewhere for the extra material not found on this release, and I can certainly understand that. However, you’re doing yourself a disservice if you do not also pick up Criterion’s release of Mulholland Dr. as well. It’s one of their finest releases on Blu-ray, most assuredly, and is likely to be the definitive viewing experience of the film for years to come. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons