In celebration of its 25th anniversary, Blue Velvet is being released in a feature-packed Blu-ray edition highlighted by the inclusion of nearly an hour of deleted scenes. That footage hasn't been edited back into the film, instead existing solely as a bonus feature, but it's still intriguing to see the added perspective it offers.
Writer/director David Lynch revisits his recurring theme of the dark underbelly of bucolic suburbia, spinning a tale of a plucky and inquisitive college student named Jeffrey (Kyle MacLachlan) who stumbles across a severed human ear and sets out to learn who severed it. He's joined by good girl Sandy (Laura Dern) as his partner in amateur crime-solving and soon crosses paths with the tortured and possibly insane lounge singer Dorothy Vallens (Isabella Rossellini). That meeting sets Jeffrey on a dark trip to the seedy side of peaceful Lumberton, North Carolina, putting him in contact with the maniacal deviant Frank (Dennis Hopper) and his bizarre gang of cronies.
I haven't seen the film since its original theatrical release, so my principal curiosity aside from the deleted scenes was whether the film has stood the test of time. In a word: yes. It's still just as creepy, unsettling, and effective as ever, anchored by the scene-chewing and unhinged performance by Hopper as the sadistic baddie Frank. Pabst Blue Ribbon indeed, good sir. MacLachlan is also great as the amateur sleuth/white knight, and it's surprising to see just how youthful he looks here.
But mostly, it's Lynch's steady direction that carries the film by fully establishing the serene sense of place and deftly contrasting it with the darkness hiding beneath the surface. That theme is evident right from the opening shots of a white picket fence and flowers, an old man watering his lawn, and a slow camera crawl through that grass and underground to scores of teeming beetles scurrying around while menacing sound emanates. Watching it now in the aftermath of Twin Peaks I recognized so many cues he carried over from this to his later TV series, fully marking this as a precursor of that legendary show. If there's any fault, it's that Lynch may be guilty of overselling the quaint town, as it and its normal residents are so plain, so nice, so Norman Rockweller-ish that they seem more like a product of the '50s than the '80s, even though the poofy perms on the high school girls and MacLachlan's slight mullet and earring completely erase any confusion.
The Blu-ray definition is so fine that you can read the small print on a table menu behind MacLachlan and Dern in a diner. Apple pie was less than a dollar! Audio isn't especially immersive, but Angelo Badalamenti's spooky score and Julee Cruise's ethereal vocals benefit from the DTS soundtrack. The picture doesn't appear to have received any restoration above the 2002 digital transfer supervised by Lynch for DVD, as minor dirt is evident throughout the film, but the image quality is mostly precise and worth the bump above DVD resolution. The packaging is bare bones, with just a standard slim case, one disc, and no inserts.
The deleted scenes mostly expand McLachlan's back story and family life, revealing that he did some sleuthing at college, he had a girlfriend there, and he probably wasn't going to be able to go back to school because his mom used his college funds to pay for his dad's hospital stay. There's only one new scene with Frank and crew, but it's a doozy and it precedes the rest of the footage, so viewers can experience the best first and skip the rest if so desired.
Elsewhere, there's a recycled feature-length documentary (from the 2002 Special Edition DVD)about the making of the film including interviews with Lynch conducted around the time of the film's production as well as more recent interviews with the four principal actors. I enjoyed the inclusion of the original Siskel and Ebert review, where Ebert was completely and uncharacteristically incensed, primarily about the film's exploitation of Rossellini, while Siskel gave an overall thumbs up. There are also a handful of outtakes and vignettes that don't add much to the package.
Blue Velvet 25h Anniversary is available on Blu-ray on Tuesday, November 8th.