Blue Velvet (Criterion Collection) 4K UHD Review

5 Stars New 4K edition provides upgraded visual quality while retaining excellent supplements
Blue Velvet 4K Review

Let’s dig into Blue Velvet. While David Lynch’s 1984 production of Dune was considered both a commercial and artistic failure (even if this reviewer feels that it is an under-appreciated work of astonishing ambition), it proved to be a valuable pivot point that would lay the groundwork for the remainder of Lynch’s career. While some directors who miss the mark end up losing their careers as a result, Lynch wound up walking away with three things that arguably changed the trajectory of his career – and pop culture – forever.

Blue Velvet (1986)
Released: 23 Oct 1986
Rated: R
Runtime: 120 min
Director: David Lynch
Genre: Drama, Mystery, Thriller
Cast: Isabella Rossellini, Kyle MacLachlan, Dennis Hopper, Laura Dern
Writer(s): David Lynch (screenplay)
Plot: The discovery of a severed human ear found in a field leads a young man on an investigation related to a beautiful, mysterious nightclub singer and a group of psychopathic criminals who have kidnapped her child.
IMDB rating: 7.8
MetaScore: 76

Disc Information
Studio: Other
Distributed By: Criterion Collection
Video Resolution: 2160p HEVC w/HDR
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, English PCM 2.0
Subtitles: English SDH
Rating: R
Run Time: 2 Hr.
Package Includes: UHD, Blu-ray
Case Type: Digipak
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Region: A
Release Date: 06/25/2024
MSRP: $49.95

The Production: 4.5/5

“Only David Lynch could make Isabella Rossellini look unglamorous.”

One of my most vivid memories of filmgoing wasn’t actually from a movie, but of hearing my mom say that in a conversation I was far too young to be eavesdropping on. I didn’t know who David Lynch was and I couldn’t have picked Ms. Rossellini out of a lineup, but the way that sentence escaped my mother’s mouth, the mixture of admiration, awe and uneasiness it was said with, is something that buried itself in my subconscious. I completely forgot about it until my stepfather took me to see a midnight screening of Blue Velvet in a repertory house some years later. (Thanks, Terence!)

While David Lynch’s 1984 production of Dune was considered both a commercial and artistic failure (even if this reviewer feels that it is an under-appreciated work of astonishing ambition), it proved to be a valuable pivot point that would lay the groundwork for the remainder of Lynch’s career. While some directors who miss the mark end up losing their careers as a result, Lynch wound up walking away with three things that arguably changed the trajectory of his career – and pop culture – forever. The first was meeting the actor Kyle MacLachlan, who has gone on to be the finest on-screen interpreter of Lynch’s unique writing and directing capabilities. The second was establishing a working relationship with famed independent producer Dino De Laurentiis, who was smart enough to understand that Dune’s commercial failure had many reasons, and that sole blame should not be laid at Lynch’s feet. The third was learning to never again take on a feature film project for which Lynch didn’t have complete artistic control, and that it was preferable to work with smaller budgets if that was the cost of keeping said control.

The result? Not only Blue Velvet, but the floodgates that opened up afterwards, including (but not limited to) Twin Peaks, Wild at Heart, Lost Highway, and Mulholland Drive. It was with Blue Velvet that Lynch really found his most fertile ground, the exploration of the mundane reality of suburban existence contrasted against the darker impulses of those who must live in it. In the best of Lynch’s work, there’s always the suggestion that what we perceive as reality may not be all that there is, a notion which often inspires great curiosity and even greater reckonings for the characters that choose to confront it. Characters in Lynch films like Blue Velvet often seem to have a sense that there is more to this life than what lies upon the surface, with some characters, like MacLachlan’s Jeffrey Beaumont, eager to explore for answers, while others seem desperate to deny anything outside their own field of vision. In Lynch’s films, it’s always an open question as to whether reality is real or whether it is a lie, a mutually agreed upon dream or delusion to keep the horror of the world at bay.

I’ve been a fan of the work of David Lynch since before I was old enough to have been allowed to watch the work of David Lynch, and for as long as I’ve been watching, I’ve been asked to provide explanations for the unexplainable. There is something about the way Lynch constructs a story and they layers a mood atop it that is pure magical alchemy to some viewers, dangerous and off-putting to others, and just confusing and pointless to others. Lynch is an artist in the truest sense of the word, and his work (whether it be film, television, music, painting or sculpture) is about more than the literal explanation. The way a Lynch work makes you feel as you observe it is equally a part of what is happening; he creates a space for you to inhabit, creates an environment within which you can have a reaction. Although Blue Velvet is one of Lynch’s most straight-forward narratives (which is probably the reason it’s considered one of his most accessible films), it’s about so much more than its plot summary could ever tell you. Consider one sequence that occurs about midway through the film: Jeffrey (MacLachlan) is being taken, more or less against his will, on a joyride by Frank (Dennis Hopper, never more unnerving), Frank’s trophy/obsession/victim Dorothy (Rossellini) in tow, as they stop at a house belonging to Ben (Dean Stockwell), an inexplicable character if there ever was one. Frank’s reason for visiting Ben is opaque, but while there, Ben delivers a lip-synched performance of Roy Orbison’s song “In Dreams” that moves Frank to tears. I remember showing the film to my wife some years ago, and when it ended, she asked me to explain that specific sequence, why Frank went to visit Ben, why Ben did that song, and what it was all supposed to mean. She was deeply unsatisfied with my answer that David Lynch creates “experiential” films, and that it meant whatever it felt like to her as she watched it. In that moment, we as the audience have lost our bearings, much like Jeffrey; we’ve now entered a world where the rules that keep our world running like clockwork no longer seem to have any meaning. Imagine the terror Jeffrey would have felt, realizing that all of his life experience and knowledge of right or wrong held no answers in this moment, realizing there was no way out, not understanding what was happening and therefore being unable to anticipate or prepare for what might follow. If you are someone who can feel the vibes that Lynch is throwing out into the world, who can perceive and pick up on that wavelength, Blue Velvet is a terrifying fable of a world underneath and adjacent to our own. You can feel it long before you can give voice to it. If you’re not a fan of Lynch, no amount of explanation will satisfy or illuminate. If it makes you feel uncomfortable, that’s the beginning of understanding, and if you can be comfortable with your discomfort, there are few things more thrilling than revisiting the filmography of one David Lynch.

By now you’ve probably realized that I haven’t summarized the film and don’t intend to. With Blue Velvet approaching its 40th anniversary, chances are if you’re reading this, you’ve already seen it, and no summary is required. And if, by some miracle, you haven’t seen the film and are still reading this, I urge you to allow it to unfold as it will, and not to look for a lifeline until after your journey back.

Video: 5/5

3D Rating: NA

Criterion’s new 4K UHD release of Blue Velvet presents the film in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, based on the same 4K master that was used as the basis for their 2019 Blu-ray release. Created under the supervision of David Lynch, that master was beautiful, boasting organic-looking film grain and a rock steady image filled with fine detail. For the 4K disc, that transfer has been given a gentle HDR and Dolby Vision pass that remains faithful to Lynch’s original visual aesthetic. If the 4K disc doesn’t appear to be a huge jump in quality over the Blu-ray, serving more as an incremental upgrade, that speaks more to the incredible high quality of Criterion’s prior 1080p than anything else. If you’re a fan of the film but don’t own the 2019 Blu-ray, this release a no-brainer.

Audio: 5/5

The 4K UHD disc offers the same outstanding 5.1 and 2.0 surround tracks offered on Criterion’s Blu-ray edition. As my colleague Mychal put it in his review of the Criterion Blu-ray, “Two tracks are available on this edition: a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track supervised by David Lynch for the previous MGM Blu-ray and a 2.0 [surround] PCM track representing the film’s original audio mix. Both tracks have strong dialogue and sound mix, with Angelo Badalamenti’s haunting score given great ambiance and fidelity; minimal cases of age-related problems are present as well. Both tracks represent the best the film has ever sounded on home video.”

Special Features: 5/5

While the 4K UHD disc included within the set features only the film itself, the package also includes a copy of Criterion’s 2019 Blu-ray edition, which was loaded with high quality supplements. Best of all are nearly an hour’s worth of deleted scenes, edited by Lynch into what is practically a stand-alone feature; it’s a bit like taking an unfamiliar road to a familiar destination, a wondrous opportunity to re-enter the world of Blue Velvet and see it again as if for the first time.

Additional detail on the special features, courtesy of Mychal’s review of the 2019 Blu-ray:

The Lost Footage (53 min.) – Carried over from the MGM Blu-ray, a selection of deleted and alternate scenes cut from the movie, as edited together by David Lynch.

“Blue Velvet” Revisited (89 min.) – This feature length meditation on the movie consists of behind-the-scenes footage by filmmaker Peter Braatz as well as audio clips from the movie.

Mysteries of Love (70 min.) – Carried over from previous MGM home video releases, a retrospective look at the movie, filmed in 2002. Interviewees include Lynch, Kyle MacLachlan, producer Fred Caruso, Isabella Rossellini, Laura Dern, Dennis Hopper, cinematographer Frederick Elmes, editor Duwayne Dunham, composer Angelo Badalamenti, and an archival interview with sound designer Alan Splet.

2017 interview with composer Angelo Badalamenti (15:41) – The composer talks about his work on the film as well as how he decided that music would be his path in life in this recent interview.

It’s a Strange World: The Filming of Blue Velvet (15:57) – A new featurette on the location shooting of the movie; among those interviewed include filmmaker Peter Braatz, makeup supervisor Jeff Goodwin, 2nd assistant director Ian Woolf, prop man Shaw Burney, stunt man Mark Fincannon and “The Yellow Man” himself, Fred Pickler.

“Room to Dream” audio excerpt (18 min.) – An audio excerpt of Lynch talking about the movie taken from a recording of him reading from the book about his career.

Test Chart (1:15) – A brief montage of behind-the-scenes footage of test charts before certain scenes were shot; this is an Easter egg feature not mentioned on the package.

Booklet – Featuring excerpts from Room to Dream by co-author Kristine McKenna

Overall: 5/5

Blue Velvet remains as hypnotic and haunting as it ever was. Time has been kind to the film, and while it was once a polarizing selection, in the nearly forty years that have passed since its initial release, it. has been welcomed into the canon as one of the finest films of the 20th century and is now widely seen as a high point in David Lynch’s career. For the 4K UHD edition, Criterion has included all of the high quality supplemental material included in their 2019 Blu-ray release along with the visual upgrade. While the difference between that Blu-ray Disc and this 4K UHD disc is not night and day, that speaks more to how well the 1080p version was done rather than being a knock on this edition. For fans of the film and/or Lynch who do not have the 2019 disc, this is an easy recommendation; for those who already have the Criterion Blu-ray and are satisfied with it, this 4K UHD edition is more of an incremental upgrade than major revision.

 

Josh’s fate as a physical media enthusiast was probably sealed the moment he figured out how to operate a top-loading VCR before he even knew how to walk. Since graduating with a degree in film production, he has enjoyed a career focused on the archival and distribution side of film and television. These days, Josh thinks of himself as a proud father of twins first. He would like to thank his wife for her unwavering support, and for every typo she’s ever caught.

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titch

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Kevin Oppegaard
A great review - although for me, this is a modern classic and peak David Lynch and I would have rated the film a straight 5/5 (together with The Elephant Man, Mulholland Dr. and The Straight Story)! I remember very clearly seeing this film with my date, when it was originally theatrically released (in a tiny art-house cinema in Oslo). We were both rather unprepared. Five years later, I showed the film on LaserDisc to my fellow medical students in the anatomical auditorium at the medical faculty. Complete with a large tank of nitrous oxide for "refreshment". It still holds its mesmerising power 37 years later and I look forward to the 4K UHD.
 

Josh Steinberg

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Josh Steinberg
I would have rated the film a straight 5/5

I bounced back and forth a couple times - the numerical ratings are the hardest part of a review for me. I think he’s made better films and I was trying to express that but I wouldn’t argue against a 5 either.

Appreciate your kind words on the review and thank you for sharing that story!
 
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