Mulholland Drive (Criterion Collection) – Blu-ray Review
The Movie (5/5)
David Lynch often experiments with different ways to tell stories, but of all of his films, Mulholland Drive is the one I can most clearly identify as the film where he decided to make a movie that is essentially a nightmare. Over the course of two and a half hours, Lynch and his creative team deliver a film that twists, turns, and defies all rules when it comes to standard storytelling methods. Reality melts, inverts, and nothing is what you think it is, especially as the credits roll.
Mulholland Drive drops us into the middle of a mystery, as an unknown woman escapes murder through an unexpected car accident. Stranded in the middle of Los Angeles, and unsure of her own identity, she sneaks into a nearby apartment. Parallel to this, a different young woman makes her way to the same apartment, fresh off of a plane, with hopes of becoming a Hollywood actress. Having found the amnesiac woman in the apartment, they join together to unravel the mystery of who she is, and how she ended up where she is. Their journey leads them to cross paths with a struggling director whose film has fallen into the hands of a mafia-esque crime syndicate, and a restaurant where a man earlier in film recounted a nightmare he frequently has about the place, and various other places, as they follow the clues through the dark alleys of Los Angeles.
To understand the second half of the film, whose summary I have chosen to withhold because I believe I couldn’t do it justice, it’s important to realize that Mulholland Drive started its life as a television pilot. Developed by David Lynch for the 1999 television production season, it was rejected by ABC television executives, who felt it was too strange and impenetrable for network television. Left with a 90 minute production that he was incredibly proud of, Lynch shopped the project around and was given a significant sum of money from the French production studio StudioCanal to resume work on the film. He spent quite a long time hammering away at what he conceived to be an appropriate way to wrap up the open ended TV pilot and all of its plot threads that were to be explored over the length of a television series. In his attempt to conquer an impossible task, he just sort of let traditional storytelling go, resulting in the film pulling a complete 180 as the pilot’s story ends, and the conclusion kicks into full gear. Characters change names, relationships change, and reality just sort of melts away as both the film’s characters, and we as the audience try to figure out just exactly what is going on. It becomes a mystery film in more than once sense – not only were our characters investigating the mystery behind the amnesia inflicted woman, now we’re trying to investigate what exactly Lynch is trying to do here.
I believe that this is where the brilliance of Mulholland Drive lies. I’m sure that whatever Lynch and his television writing staff wanted to pull off with the TV version of this story would have been excellent, but in passing on the show, Lynch was forced into a corner. In an attempt to save his project, he unleashed his full capabilities and created one of the greatest guessing games ever committed to film. He’s spent the last fifteen years refusing to comment on the film, which has left the film infinitely open for dissection by critics and film fans. The film touches lightly on the devastation that results from unrequited love, the vapid, yet dark underbellies of the Hollywood system, and the nature of dreams and even reality itself, making itself a fascinating Hollywood meta film, even for those who cannot piece together the story sort of jumbled together before them.
The film is brilliantly acted out by the two primary leads, Naomi Watts as Bettie, and Laura Elena Harring as Rita, as they stumble through a dark and strange world to figure out what’s going on together. Watts plays both the wonderfully naïve and optimistic Bettie, and her later characters with enthusiasm, while Harring brings a great sense of disorientation and detachment to her respective roles that draws you into her mystery quite easily. The film also features a great supporting cast, with actors such as Justin Theroux playing into his role as a picky Hollywood director on the edge of disaster with gusto, and Monty Montgomery as the mysterious and creepy Cowboy character, who unfortunately doesn’t get enough screen time to explore the character.
The story and acting is complemented by a classic Angelo Badalamenti score that just feels mysterious and entrancing. It’s the kind of eerie calmness that he brought to Twin Peaks, but magnified twofold, only serving to disorient you more. The production does a great job of recreating the darker aspects of the Hollywood lifestyle, and features some great costume design work and some of my favorite establishing shots of the greater Los Angeles area as a cherry on top of the confusion laced movie sundae.
Mulholland Drive is a juicy movie that will be dissected for years to come. One that we’ll never truly get a good handle with on who’s who, what’s what, and why everything clicks the way it does on screen. And for that, it’s probably the most interesting product that Lynch has ever committed to film. It’s a nightmare, but probably the most engaging nightmare I’ve ever been a part of.
The Video (4.5/5)
Mulholland Drive was shot on 4-perf 35mm film, and cropped to the 1.85:1 aspect ratio for its original theatrical presentation. For this Criterion release, the film’s original negatives were scanned in 4K resolution, a process overseen by the film’s cinematographer Peter Demming, and director David Lynch. It is presented here in 1080p, in the original 1.85:1 aspect ratio.
Mulholland Drive had its start as a television pilot in the late 90s, and as a result, it looks very much like something you would have seen on television from that time period. The image is on the soft side of the spectrum, and has a natural grain structure that looks lovely on screen. Color is excellent, if not a little subdued due to Lynch’s preferred style which pushes more for realism than most feature films. The image has excellent detail, and its lack of sharpness helps give the film a dream-like aesthetic. The presentation is incredibly clean, and overall looks excellent. Mulholland Drive has been given the star treatment by Criterion for this release, and it shows.
The Audio (4/5)
Mulholland Drive is presented on home video with a 5.1 DTS-Master Audio soundtrack, restored from the original analog sound masters used to create the soundtrack for previous releases of the film.
I probably sound like a broken record by now, but Mulholland Drive started as a television production, and boy does it sound like one – that doesn’t mean that it sounds bad though. Mulholland Drive features a lovely Angelo Badalamenti score that lingers in the front left and right channels beautifully. Sound effects and dialogue register clearly in the front soundscape, but surround activity is pretty much nonexistent as is typically the case with television productions. As long as you can live with a front oriented presentation, this 5.1 soundtrack sounds fairly good.
Special Features/Packaging (5/5)
Mulholland Drive, released to Blu-ray by The Criterion Collection, is packaged in a beautiful cardboard fold out case, within a full color cardboard sleeve. The outer sleeve features a beautifully fuzzy composite of our two female leads composited over a landscape shot of Los Angeles on the front, while the back is consumed entirely with text, featuring a paragraph about the film, notes on the transfer, and list of features and technical info, as well as various credits. The outer sleeve is cataloged under spine number 779. Pulling out the inner fold out packaging, we are greeted by a blurry, out of phase of sorts picture of the key featured prominently in the film. Opening the package reveals a split image of the cowboy character from the film, and opening this one layer further reveals two other minor characters from the stage act sequence from the film, as well as the disc itself. Also included is a beautiful full color booklet that features the two leads on the front and back, as well as full color images from the film, a detailed list of cast and credits, and a full length interview from Chris Rodley’s book titled Lynch on Lynch. Absolutely outstanding work from the Criterion Collection on this film’s packaging. It’s one of Blu-ray’s finest.
Onto the features:
David Lynch and Naomi Watts – a 26 minute interview with the director and one of the stars, in which they discussed Watts’ casting process, the production of the pilot, shooting different scenes, and the emotions and thoughts that went into making the film.
Laura Harring, Johanna Ray, Justin Theroux and Naomi Watts – a 35 minute interview between some of the major cast members and the David Lynch’s preferred casting director. It goes in depth on how Ray and Lynch worked together on casting films, how each member felt during the auditioning process, and various other interactions and anecdotes from the film’s production.
Angelo Badalamenti – a 20 minute interview with the film’s composer, who describes a brief history of his musical career, and goes on to discuss in depth his career with David Lynch
Peter Deming and Jack Fisk – a 22 minute interview with the film’s production designer and cinematographer in which they discuss working with David Lynch, and their work on the film
Deleted Scene – a single deleted scene featuring the policemen who investigated the crash from the beginning of the film about a strange doctor and a survivor of the crash.
On Set Footage – 25 minutes of standard definition video footage of the production of Mulholland Drive, from various sets featuring raw performances and great insight into how Lynch and his creative team put together a movie.
Trailer – the film’s original theatrical trailer, as seen before the film’s original release in 2001.
With some absolutely incredible packaging, a fantastic full color booklet, and nearly two hours of new interviews and footage from the set as well as a deleted scene, Criterion’s release of Mulholland Drive absolutely knocks it out of the park.
Technical Specs (click for technical FAQs)
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
DTS-Master Audio 5.1 (English)
Runtime: 147 Minutes
Mulholland Drive is a surreal experience that turns everything you know about cinema on its head. It is a work of art of the strangest kind, finding comfort in twisting and contorting your expectations, only to leave you startled and confused as the credits roll. With this film, Lynch and his team have created the perfect mystery, one that works on a level where trying to explain what makes the film work is sort of a mystery in and of itself. Even if they couldn’t easily explain the film for us, The Criterion Collection has provided the definitive home video release of Lynch’s masterpiece. It features a great 4K mastered video transfer that is faithful to the source material, decent audio, beautiful packaging, and a satisfying collection of features to sweeten the deal. This stands as one of my favorite Criterion releases so far, and is absolutely recommended.