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Site created 12/15/97.

review added: 9/25/02

Blue Velvet
Special Edition - 1986 (2002) - DeLaurentiis Entertainment Group (MGM)

review by Adam Jahnke of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Blue Velvet: Special Edition Film Rating: A-

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B+/A-

Specs and Features

121 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, Amaray keep case packaging in slipcase, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ???), Mysteries of Love documentary, deleted scenes montage, Siskel & Ebert at the Movies review, photo gallery, trailer, 2 TV spots, Easter eggs, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1), French (DD 2.0) and Spanish (DD 2.0 Mono), subtitles: English, French, Spanish and Portuguese

"I can't figure out if you're a detective or a pervert."

Of all the things I've had to do since I started writing reviews here at The Bits, nothing has been as challenging as trying to extract just one line of dialogue from the infinitely quotable Blue Velvet. Do I go with the obvious choice, "It's a strange world"? How about going profane and using some of Dennis Hopper's dialogue (which, if you've only ever seen this on network TV, you think is liberally peppered with the word "freak")? How about the absurd: "Yes. That's a human ear, all right." Well, I've made my choice and I'm standing by it. Laura Dern's line to Kyle MacLachlan perfectly encapsulates the dichotomy at the core of David Lynch's 1986 classic.

Lynch himself described Blue Velvet as The Hardy Boys Go to Hell and that's not a bad summation. MacLachlan stars as Jeffrey Beaumont, summoned back home to Lumberton, USA, after his father suffers a stroke while watering the lawn. Walking home from the hospital, Jeffrey discovers a severed human ear in the middle of a field. Good citizen that he is, he brings the ear to the attention of his neighbor; police Detective Williams (played by George Dickerson). His curiosity unsatisfied by the cop's evasive answers, Jeffrey teams up with Sandy, the girl next door (Dern), to do some amateur sleuthing. They connect the ear (figuratively, anyway) to nightclub singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini). Through her, the trail leads to Frank Booth (Hopper), an unhinged psycho who carts around a gas mask to take hits of nitrous oxide. Once Frank enters the picture, things rapidly spiral out of control and Jeffrey finds himself in a world more disturbing and dangerous than anything he'd ever imagined.

Blue Velvet marked a major turning point in David Lynch's career. Lynch had followed up the midnight-movie success of Eraserhead and the popular and critical hit The Elephant Man with his disastrous adaptation of Frank Herbert's Dune. With Blue Velvet, Lynch refocused his energies on a project that was his and his alone. The movie polarized the critics but became an art-house smash. It was the cornerstone of Hopper's 1986 comeback trifecta (which also included River's Edge and Hoosiers) and earned Lynch a surprise Best Director nomination at the Academy Awards.

Personally, Blue Velvet has never quite done it for me the way Lynch's more recent films have, and I think I've finally started to figure out why. Lynch would continue to explore the themes and ideas he introduced here, most obviously when he probed the secrets of an idyllic small town called Twin Peaks. But the same off-center feeling can be found in movies like Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive. With these films, the mystery is almost beside the point. The lack of any sort of rational explanation for the events in these films gives them, for me anyway, a greater resonance and much darker feeling. Jeffrey ultimately does "solve" the Case of the Severed Ear, not that the solution gives him much comfort. For me, the best, most memorable sequences in Blue Velvet are those with no rhyme or reason… they just are. Images like Dean Stockwell lip-synching Roy Orbison's In Dreams into an industrial lamp or Jeffrey's discovery of the two eerily posed corpses toward the end of the movie are extraordinarily haunting. And the performances, particularly Rossellini and Hopper, are all top-notch. Nobody but Hopper could turn Pabst Blue Ribbon into a line that's both funny and frightening at the same time. Besides, if you're any kind of David Lynch fan, you must at the very least appreciate this movie. Without Blue Velvet, there would be no Twin Peaks.

MGM has released Blue Velvet twice on DVD, once as a bare bones, movie-only edition and more recently as a handsome Special Edition. I have not had the opportunity to view the original release but the special edition looks as good as I'd hoped it would. The first time I saw Blue Velvet was on VHS back in '87 and let me tell ya, this is one movie that should never be seen in anything other than its original 2.35:1 format. Frederick Elmes's carefully composed cinematography is well represented on this DVD, with deep (sometimes maybe a bit too deep), gorgeous colors and nicely detailed shadows. Check out Laura Dern's entrance from the darkness in Chapter 4 or the textures on Rossellini's blue velvet robe. Very nice work. There are virtually no artifacts or artificial enhancement to be found. The sound, always a key element in Lynch's movies, is pretty good, though not great. The English track is a new 5.1 Dolby Digital mix which, oddly enough, doesn't seem to use the rear channels much at all. Not that the sound is bad. Far from it. It's perfectly appropriate to the film. It just seems that if you're going to go through the trouble of creating a 5.1 mix, you ought to use more than 3.1 of the speakers. French and Spanish language tracks are also included, so if you want to hear Frank and Ben drink a toast "à baiser", now's your chance.

While not overflowing with extra features, what you get is awfully good. Mysteries of Love is an extensive, 70-minute documentary on the making of the film. Now, I know what you're thinking. David Lynch never participates in this kind of thing, so what's the point? Well, apparently he used to participate in this kind of thing, because the documentary has quite a bit of interview material with Lynch from around 1987. It all looks like it was shot on a VHS Handycam but it doesn't really matter. You can see him (usually) and hear what he's saying and that's more than enough for me. Mysteries of Love also catches up with MacLachlan, Hopper, Rossellini, composer Angelo Badalamenti (whose long and fruitful association with Lynch began with this movie), cinematographer Elmes and many others. This is a terrific piece and one of the only making-of features on a DVD I've ever watched more than once.

The remaining extras all seem like small potatoes in comparison to Mysteries of Love, but they're none too shabby in their own right. The deleted scenes montage is an odd attempt at reconstructing several lost scenes through music and still photographs. It's worth a look and it's a testament to Lynch's visual style that you can basically figure out what's going on in each scene even without dialogue or scene descriptions. A photo gallery contains a wealth of very nice behind-the-scenes pictures, plus a handful of international posters. The Siskel & Ebert review is brief but amusing, reminding me of how enjoyable it was to watch those two guys argue. I'm not sure what I think of this new mini-trend of putting Siskel & Ebert on DVD's but if they're going to do it, I'd certainly much rather see something like this where one of them has a dissenting opinion than the clips on Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, which seem awfully self-congratulatory. The original trailer is included (and it too is 16x9 enhanced) along with two bland TV spots. There's a few Easter eggs hidden here and there, not too difficult to find and each one is worth a chuckle. Finally, it's worth mentioning that unlike a lot of Lynch's movies on disc, this actually does have chapter stops. Whether Lynch had a change of heart on this release or he just didn't notice, I don't know… but they're there if you want 'em.

As David Lynch's movies have slowly trickled out to DVD, each one of them has had some minor disappointment. Whether it's Lynch's hesitation to personally participate in the supplemental material, the non-inclusion of some legendary deleted footage (as on Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me) or just the simple fact that Lynch hates chapter stops, it seems like there's always something to keep people from being 100% happy with Lynch's discs. MGM's Special Edition of Blue Velvet should break that streak. If any of his movies really needed to hit a home run on disc, it was this one. Whether or not you think it's Lynch's best film, it's hard to deny that it's probably his most important, both in terms of his own career and in cinema in general. Blue Velvet is dark, funny and challenging and this DVD puts it in its best light. Kind of a cold, flickering blue light suspended on a hook.

Adam Jahnke
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