Blu-ray Review: Blue Velvet

It’s always fascinating to see how important films age over time, especially those that elicited strong, visceral reactions from audiences and critics when initially released. David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986) is all that and more: the career peak for one of the era’s true auteurs, and probably the single piece of work that best symbolizes the entire aesthetic of American independent film as it first came to life in the 1980s.

Twenty-five years later, Blue Velvet has lost none of its otherworldly power. It still ranges from deeply disturbing to laugh-out-loud funny in its depiction of what lies just beneath the surface of small-town American life. That’s never going to come across as dated or irrelevant. In fact, it feels more timely than ever before.

Still, the film itself isn’t what makes this disc the most extraordinary Blu-ray release of the year. Exclusive to the 25th Anniversary Edition is a 51-minute extra modestly called “Newly Discovered Lost Footage.” Over the course of our disc-watching lives, we’ve all trudged through hours of scenes rightly deleted from movies, but this is something else entirely. True, it won’t change the minds of those who find Blue Velvet distasteful, and there’s not one minute that belongs in the finished film. But for those of us who carry around every moment of this movie in our heads, the extra footage — long presumed to be lost forever but recently discovered in a Seattle warehouse — is a shock to the system and a treasure of epic proportions.

It fleshes out various aspects of the story, such as the college life that Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) has to give up when his father falls ill in the movie’s opening sequence. And it’s a thrill to see the late Dennis Hopper roar back to life in a few new scenes as the evil Frank Booth, even if he’s just threatening and abusing people as usual. More important, though, is the mountain of satirical detail that could only have come from David Lynch in his prime. To top it off, the lost footage has been painstakingly color corrected and transferred to high-def by the director. Some scenes even include finished music.

Back to the film itself: It’s equally stunning in its new life on Blu-ray. The rich colors and surreal textures of the 2.35:1 picture come through as never before, taking us deeper into Lynch’s alternate universe. It’s hard to say if even the original film prints could have carried as much immersive detail. Another revelation: the vividness of the dense sound effects and Angelo Badalamenti’s score, so crucial to the film. The original stereo mix has been expanded to DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 with a keen ear toward balance and space instead of merely relying on showy directional cues.

Beyond the lost footage, extras are solid if not spectacular. An 80-minute documentary from 2002 blends film clips with cast-and-crew interviews — featuring MacLachlan, Hopper, Laura Dern, and Isabella Rossellini — and it does an admirable job of tracing the production history and illuminating Lynch’s peculiar world. A remarkable vintage clip from Siskel & Ebert affords the latter a chance to embarrass himself, objecting to the film’s very existence because it’s somehow disrespectful of Rossellini. Such a reaction is a fitting reminder of how disturbing Blue Velvet really is.

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