Blue Velvet appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though this DVD apparently offered a new transfer approved by David Lynch, my feelings about the two seemed fairly similar, though I still preferred the old version. Overall, the presentation seemed good, but it contained a few problems that kept it from greatness.
Sharpness seemed solid for the most part. Occasionally some scenes looked slightly soft, but those occurred infrequently. Most of the film appeared nicely detailed and distinct, with good levels of clarity and detail. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no concerns, and I saw no signs of edge enhancement.
Print flaws led to the most significant issues here, though they didn’t seem terrible. Some light grain appeared at times, and I saw a few small marks, but the biggest distraction came from speckles. Little specks cropped up quite frequently throughout the movie. While they weren’t oppressive, they did appear more frequently than I’d like.
Colors appeared very good, which was important for a film with such a wide and bright palette such as this. From the bright reds of the roses at the start to the blues of the titular velvet, all the hues looked quite rich and vivid. Black levels seemed appropriately dark and deep, and shadow detail was fine; the movie exhibited a nice balance within dark scenes. Ultimately, Blue Velvet offered a fairly positive viewing experience.
How did this version differ from the old one? The new edition seemed a little softer, and the colors appeared less intense. I also noticed slightly heavier instances of print flaws, especially in regard to the speckles. Ultimately, both transfers seemed pretty similar, but I gave the edge to the old one.
Although I thought the two images looked fairly similar, I can’t say the same for the audio. The special edition DVD features a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, whereas the old one provided Dolby Surround 2.0 audio. As was the case with MGM’s re-release of The Silence of the Lambs, I felt the new mix seemed moderately inferior when compared to the old one.
For the most part, the audio provided a good forward soundfield. The presentation seemed fairly broad and engaging, with nice stereo imaging for music and a reasonably wide range of effects elements. However, I thought those parts tended to pan a little roughly, and the localization appeared off at times; occasionally it sounded as though elements came from the wrong side of the front spectrum. Those occurrences weren’t frequent, but they could become distracting.
In addition, the surrounds seemed very passive. Most of the time almost no audio emitted from the rear speakers. Occasionally they contributed some light music or ambience, but for much of the film, you’ll likely not notice them.
Audio quality seemed acceptable but not great. Dialogue sounded distinct and intelligible at all times, but speech also came across as a bit unnatural, mainly due to a heavy level of dubbing featured in the film. Some edginess occasionally interfered as well, mostly during Dennis Hopper’s shouted lines. Music seemed clear and reasonably rich, but effects suffered mildly from a lack of punch. Those elements appeared acceptably clean and accurate, but they failed to deliver substantial depth at times.
In general, the new 5.1 mix of Blue Velvet seemed decent given the age of the material. However, I’d been quite impressed by the original DVD’s audio. It showed greater involvement from the surrounds as well as stronger localization and better dynamics. Had I never heard the other track, I probably would be happier with this one, but as it stands, I found the 5.1 mix to seem like a disappointment.
One note about both the picture and sound of the new version of Blue Velvet. Apparently director David Lynch approved them. This means that while I found the old DVD to present stronger image and audio, the new one may more closely represent the director’s desires.
An odd thing I noticed about the soundtracks: if you check out the Spanish one, someone actually reads the names of the film and the lead actors. Why? I have no idea - he doesn’t narrate the director, the supporting characters, or any of the crew. This doesn’t appear during the French track.
So far my comparisons between the old DVD and the special edition release favor the former, mainly due to its stronger audio. However, the new package trounces the original in one area: supplements. The prior package included very little, while the new one adds a nice mix of features. We start with a documentary entitled Mysteries of Love. Since director Lynch apparently doesn’t care to participate in DVD supplements, we don’t find any new information from him here, though he does show up in archival footage. However, this excellent program works tremendously well even without his presence.
“Mysteries” uses the standard format for this kind of piece. We get a mix of film footage, shots from the set, and interviews. In addition to 1987 clips with Lynch and sound designer Alan Splet - which died in 1994 - we find new material from producer Fred Caruso, cinematographer Frederick Elmes, editor Dwayne Dunham, composer Angelo Badalamenti, and actors Kyle MacLachlan, Laura Dern, Isabella Rossellini, and Dennis Hopper. The show covers a terrific amount of information. We learn about the movie’s roots and how the actors were cast and then move through Lynch’s early influences and education, what it’s like to work with the director, anecdotes from the set, the real Lumberton, set design, character development, creating the music, reactions to the flick, and much more. I think the documentary provides too many movie snippets, and the footage from the set isn’t terribly useful, but the interviews seem uniformly excellent, even without new participation from Lynch. “Mysteries of Love” is a very fine piece of work.
Next we get a Deleted Scenes Montage. Apparently no one can locate all the cut footage from Velvet. To recreate this material, the DVD includes still photos from the excised segments and runs them in continuity during this 10-minute and 10-second piece. The pictures run with music in the background, but there’s no speech or attempts to convey the appropriate dialogue. That factor makes the “Montage” only moderately useful. It’s interesting to see the photos, but without the lines, they don’t make a lot of sense. The DVD should have shown subtitles or script pages to allow us to better understand the action.
Very interesting is the 1986 Siskel and Ebert At the Movies clip. During this 90-second bit, the two famed critics offer their original reviews of Velvet. Actually, it appears we only hear part of the TV segment, as the pair focus on their reactions to Rossellini’s part. Siskel supports Lynch’s treatment of the actress, while Ebert’s badly offended. It’s fun to see this little tidbit.
After this we find an extensive Photo Gallery. It splits into three different sections. The first of these - “Lumberton, USA” - further breaks down into another six domains: “Lumberton, USA” (17 stills), “David and Kyle” (nine pictures), “David and Isabella” (11 images), “Blood and Guts” (eight photos), “The Eagle Scout” (eight snaps), and “It’s a Strange World” (two shots). In addition, “International Posters” shows four of those pieces of art, while “Peter Braatz Photos” offers 19 examples of his work from the set. The collection seems reasonably interesting; I must admit I especially like “Blood and Guts”, as it focuses on the gruesome effects work done for the film.
A few other pieces round out the main part of the DVD. We find the movie’s theatrical trailer as well as two TV spots. In addition, the DVD’s “collectible booklet” contains some short but very rich production notes.
Blue Velvet packs a few Easter eggs as well. From the main menu, click down. This will highlight a picket fence. Hit “enter” and the row of movie images will change. You can now go to the left, where you’ll see a robin. Highlight it and press “enter” to find a 91-second interview clip with cinematographer Frederick Elmes. In this short bit, he chats about the use of the robin in the film; it’s entertaining and informative.
For another egg, go to the “Special Features” menu and highlight the word “Special”. Click “enter” and you’ll get a 1987 chat with Lynch. In this funny 20-second clip, he relates his feelings toward McDonald’s. Next, enter the “Mysteries of Love” menu and highlight the title. Press “enter” and you’ll discover an insightful 43-second chat with Rossellini as she discusses her character and misogyny.
Many regard Blue Velvet as a perverse and unsettling classic. I, however, do not, largely because little in it seemed genuinely creepy or scary to me. As for the DVD, I preferred the picture and sound quality of the prior movie-only release. However, I must note that this one’s transfer has something the 2000 DVD didn’t: the approval of the director. It also included a nice roster of extras, highlighted by an excellent documentary. Though I continue to think the old DVD offered somewhat superior picture and sound, that program helps tilt the balance. If you want to own a copy of Blue Velvet, the special edition is the one to get.