(Review by Mark McLeod, 4/6/02)
Like a roller coaster the year 2001 was full of ups and downs for myself as a person. At the beginning of the year I was working as a software developer and slaving away at a desk doing the Monday to Friday grind. The company I worked with happened to design a Movie related website and in the last months of 2000 I had found myself with the job of staff reviewer at the site. It gave me the opportunity to spend a couple of my work hours doing something I enjoyed and that was reviewing movies. In February of 2001 with the downfall of the high tech industry I found myself without the job and began to turn to movies more and more. Over the coming month’s I’d review the odd film but it wasn’t really until June that I found myself reviewing motion pictures on a semi-full time basis. In the months that followed I’d see some great films, some terrible films and some that shouldn’t have been made. It came to a point where it was just becoming tedious and the fun was gone. It was at this lowest moment that I discovered a film that re energized and showed me I was doing what I loved. That film was “Mulholland Drive” a film described by it’s director David Lynch as a “Love Story set in the City of Angels”. It’s hard to believe that my feelings for the film may have been completely different had I visited “Mulholland Drive” when I initially planned to.
On the surface the day the film was released in Canada was just another Friday. I had read a number of advance reviews as I often do and I had decided the night before to wake up early and head downtown to catch the early matinee screening. I had a number of things to do later that day but the film was one I wanted to see as soon as humanly possible. Luck wouldn’t be on my side that day as I woke up late, missed the screening thus setting the day into a downward spiral. Nothing would go right for the remainder of the day. So determined to set Saturday off to a better start, I woke up, got dressed and made it downtown just in time for the early matinee. Within mere minutes I was captivated, forty minutes later I was glued to my seat and by the end of the two and a half hour film I had found a new reason to continue my love of film. Now I can experience this again and again as “Mulholland Drive” comes to DVD.
I usually like to start off the actual movie comments section of any review with a brief yet detailed summary of the plot of the film. For most films this is a rather easy task but for a David Lynch film this otherwise straightforward section becomes somewhat daunting. I run the risk of over simplifying things or losing my readers with a highly theorized take on the events. “Mulholland Drive” starts out with a number of seemingly separate story lines that over the course of the film begin to intertwine or do they?. In the opening moments of the film we are introduced to Rita (Laura Elena Harring) a tall brunette who’s riding in a limo. The limo driver get’s into accident and she ends up being the only survivor. She walks away unharmed and makes her way to a nearby Hollywood apartment complex. Elsewhere Betty (Naomi Watts) winner of a small town Jitterbug contest makes her way to Los Angeles in hopes of becoming a movie star. Our third main character is Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) a hot shot up and coming director with more then a passing resemblance to Steven Soderbergh who is in the process of casting the lead female in his upcoming motion picture. It’s inevitable that all our characters will meet but in true Lynch fashion the fun is in how they get there.
David Lynch’s “Mulholland Drive” began as a pilot for the alphabet network who aired his monumental series “Twin Peaks” for two seasons back in the early 90’s. Anyone who is remotely interested in this film has probably at least seen an episode of that series and was blown away by what they saw. I remember reading about the pilot a few summers back but like so many others it never made it to air. The fact that this project never aired on television doesn’t surprise me in the slightest as it’s deep and contradicting story line would have been lost on the uneducated masses. The film like all things Lynch is offbeat, sexy, mysterious and bizarre. The narrative is anything but straightforward with flashbacks, dream sequences and odd scenes that don’t seem to fit in with any sort of standardized explanation making up the film. It takes place in a world much like our own but with a sinister edge to it. “Mulholland Drive” moves all over the place from comedy to extreme drama and yet it never feel’s disjointed.
One of the reasons David Lynch pictures work as well as they do is the group of people he casts in the primary roles. A Lynch character can probably best be described as unpredictable and it certainly takes a special breed of actor or actress to bring them to life. In general he hires very talented and unique people to play his roles. In casting “Mulholland Drive”‘s two females leads he has stumbled upon two extremely talented actresses in Laura Elena Harring and Naomi Watts. Laura Elena Harring plays Rita an actress who has an aura of mystery surround her. She appears to be a hot up and comer and yet due to the car accident she is unable to remember anything about her identity. Harring plays the confused actress which such real realism that you could have told me that she really lost her memory and I would have believed you. The real star of the picture is Australian actress Naomi Watts who has been working in a bunch of “B” type films for the last 10 years. Watt’s plays Betty, the star struck girl from a small town in Canada who dreams of stardom in LA. I’m not sure what it is about her but her presence just lights up the room and that is a quality not too many young actresses have nowadays. Her portrayal of the conflicted and dreamy Betty shows an immense amount of talent and a range of emotions larger then Julia Roberts. I can’t wait to see her in future projects as it’s a sheer pleasure to watch her in this film. There are so many moments with her in this film that nearly brought me to tears. This is the best performance from a female that wasn’t nominated for an Academy Award. In the male department we have Justin Theroux an actor who apparently was also in one of my most hated films of 2000 “Zoolander”. It must have been a blink and you missed it type role because I don’t remember him in that film. Theroux plays Adam Kesher the director who doesn’t have total control over his film. Theorux is generally good but doesn’t have the charisma or chemistry of the female leads. Also appearing in colorful supporting roles are 40’s screen legend Ann Miller, Billy Ray Cyrus, Micheal J. Anderson and Monty Montogomery as The Cowboy in a scene which can’t be missed.
“Mulholland Drive” is a long picture at nearly two and a half hours but it feels like an hour and a half. Once you get wrapped up in the mysterious world you will never want to let go. The film is always moving and refuses to let up. It has it’s concept and it’s story arch and while viewers are left in the dark it’s clear that David Lynch knows exactly what he’s doing. “Mulholland Drive” like the films and television series that proceeded it is another fine example of the uniqueness of David Lynch. His films lend themselves to viewing after viewing and hours of analyzing the smallest of details in hopes that you might unlock the key to the mystery. The film is open to interpretation and while you might not get it the first time around it’s almost more fun that way. “Mulholland Drive” was by far one of the best pieces of cinema I saw all year and is something I can see myself revisiting regularly for years to come. It’s not for the faint of heart or those wanting mindless entertainment but for those looking for a good thinking man’s film it doesn’t get much better then “Mulholland Drive”
Movie Rating : 9/10
VIDEO: I remember seeing “Mulholland Drive” theatrically back in late October, early November and being amazed at the film. However that same amazement didn’t carry over to the presentation quality at the two different theaters I visited. The first theater had a problem with sound drop outs while the second and my personal favorite theater complex had the worst looking print I’ve ever had the displeasure of seeing in their otherwise fine establishment. The print was dirty, scratched, poorly spliced and it had only been playing one week. It also just so happened that not five minutes before the film started I learned that the admission price had once again been raised. You could say that I was in a bad mood to start with and I’m not going to debate it though regardless of the price increase and my state of mind there was no hiding the fact that this was a bad presentation. When the film returned to town for a limited run at a local rep theatre I decided to skip it due my past experiences. Now with this DVD I can finally leave the horror of those screenings behind me and view the film as it was intended.
Universal presents “Mulholland Drive” with a 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer approved by David Lynch. Before the film’s theatrical release David Lynch sent a note to projectionists asking them to allow for a little more headroom in the 1.85:1 framing. Although I’m sure this note was followed in some areas it wouldn’t come as a surprise if it wasn’t during my two screenings. This DVD is however framed accurately and is yet another in a long line of excellent transfers from the boys at Universal. The image has a nice sharpness to it with a nice amount of detail. Brightness is at a good level with just the right amount of light in the bright scenes and just enough in the dark scenes to keep the image from becoming muddy. Just like “Twin Peaks” Lynch’s use of color is important to the film and thankfully they are accurately recreated on the small screen. Most of the scenes have a more subdued color palette consisting of a lot of browns and beiges however there are a few standout sequences that use vibrant reds and blues. In terms of problems I was really hard pressed to find anything other then the occasional speck of dust as the print was in exceptional condition as one would expect for such a recent release. I didn’t notice any pixelation or shimmering and there’s only a slight hint of grain but it looked to be intentional. Flesh tones are accurately captured matching up with the production stills on the back of the case and on the official website. This transfer is right up there with the best transfers I’ve seen in recent months and beats the work New Line did on their recent Lynch release ” Fire Walk With Me” hands down. I feel as if I’ve finally seen the film as it was meant to be seen.
Video Rating : 9/10
I’ll often see a movie more then once during it’s theatrical release either because of a presentation problem the first time around but more often because I enjoyed the film immensely the first time around. Then there are times when the reason for a second screening is a combination of the two. You’d think that by going to two different theaters that I’d be able to see an acceptable presentation but that just wasn’t the case. Although I would not know of the horror of the destroyed print the first time I saw the film, there were problems with the sound during my initial viewing. Now I’ll be the first one to admit that the Capitol 6 Theater in downtown Vancouver is not one of my favorites but I’ve never had any real problems with their presentation quality until “Mulholland Drive” which had a number of audio drop outs through the two and a half hour film. These weren’t digital dropouts either, the sound dropped out completely during what I’d consider key dialogue passages. The second viewing at a different theater didn’t suffer from these audio problems but it came as a complete shock when I popped in DVD and the audio just took over.
Universal presents “Mulholland Drive” with 5.1 mixes in both Dolby Digital and DTS and let me say that for most people it probably never sounded this good theatrically. Listening to this soundtrack accompany the trademark Lynch visuals it was like I was experiencing the film for the first time. “Mulholland Drive” as a film contains a number of different type of scenes which all lend themselves to a different style of audio mix. All these styles are blended together to create an audio experience unlike most I’ve ever heard. It’s hard to really choose a place to start as the track contains so many standout elements. The mix goes from being very simplistic and just part of the background to dominating the on screen action. The many exploratory dialogue scenes sound as if you were standing right next to the actors during their conversations. The musical score by the always stellar Angelo Badamalenti fills the room with it’s haunting melodies and beautiful orchestrations. This is not a passive sound experience as the surround speakers play an important role throughout the feature whether it be for simple ambience or pulse pounding music. There are so many cool uses of sound in this film that I could go on listing them forever. Instead I’ll just list of a couple of scenes I felt were especially noteworthy. “Club Silencio” is not only an intense moment in the film but it’s an example of “Mulholland Drive”‘s audio at it’s best. Without ruining the magic of the scene the multi-layered approach to sound from the deep rumbling bass to the unique placement of music and the vocals of the club singer bring to life this extremely emotional and powerful scene. Also impressive in a totally different way is my favorite scene “Sixteen Reasons” where the director of the film within a film is holding auditions for the lead role in a 60’s period piece. The use of music and vocals in this scene while being simplistic has a natural quality to it which captured this viewers heart. Before I get overly reminiscent of the film’s scenes I should also mention that while on the surface “Mulholland Drive” doesn’t lend itself to room shaking bass there are a number of instances where the bass has sort of rolling through the room effect to it which sounds great. That’s about covers the large things but there are also small nuances in the sound mix like the sound of doors being knocked that sound as if the knocking is occurring on your door. Those small touches really bring this well rounded mix to another level. As for the inevitable DTS vs DD comparison for this review I did listen to the DTS track and sampled the Dolby Digital. There’s nothing wrong with either mix and both should blow you away but the DTS mix is just that much better. Just be careful about the volume level if your watching this one late at night as while some scenes are quiet things do get louder really fast. Having said that. This is one film that needs to be played loud and I can’t imagine how this film would play without digital sound. Turn it up and crank it Universal and Lynch have a winner here.
Audio Rating : 9/10
EXTRAS: David Lynch has never been one to participate heavily in the creation of bonus materials for his films. Although he oversees almost every other aspect imaginable his philosophy is that the work should stand on it’s own. So right off the bat that limits the amount of bonus material right there. At this point your probably saying but look at all the extras on the “Twin Peaks” box set well if you take a closer look you’ll see that Lynch’s presence while felt in the background is never seen or heard at all. The same goes for “Fire Walk With Me” though Lynch did want to contribute some deleted material but only if it was fully restored. As for his latest theatrical feature which started as a Pilot for the ABC television network “Mulholland Drive” fans aren’t so lucky as this disc is truly barebones.
The extras on this disc consist solely of the films US theatrical trailer (1.85:1/DD 5.1) and a set of cast and crew biographies. The biographies are fairly standard stuff with the exception of the master himself which contains nothing more then his city of birth and the fact that he was an Eagle Scout. This doesn’t surprise me as it comes across as typical Lynch.
Also included and what some could call a bonus feature is a list of 10 clues to unravel the mystery that is “Mulholland Drive” from David Lynch himself. After reading these over you’ll quickly guess that Lynch is just joking around with you as some of these are just so out there. These tips can be found in place of the chapter stops on the flip side of the disc insert.
As is the case with many David Lynch DVDs this disc does not contain chapter stops either in the form of a scene selection menu or as encoded chapters accessible by using the chapter skip feature. This is one of those aforementioned things Lynch likes to control on his DVDs. He disapproves of the chaptering system as he wants the audience to see the film as a whole and not be able to skip around. Lynch does have a good point and I agree that a movie should be viewed from start to finish but I think the “Fire Walk With Me” disc nailed things by using chapters but not having them selectable from a menu. Oh well. The feature is encoded as one big chapter.
Now, I’m willing to accept the lack of extras because I respect David Lynch but I would have been interested in some sort of documentary containing interviews with the stars and dealing with the changes made from the Pilot version to the feature film. What’s done is done though and I doubt Lynch will allow Universal to double dip for an Ultimate Edition.
Extras Rating : 7/10
Final Thoughts: Considering I felt “Mulholland Drive” was one of the years best pictures. It doesn’t come as a surprise that I’m recommending this DVD. Universal’s DVD offers excellent video quality, amazing audio quality and while it’s lacking in bonus materials that’s alright with me. Fans of the film and David Lynch’s work will no doubt want to add this film to their collections. Due to the disc’s high cost people who haven’t seen the film should first visit “Mulholland Drive” as a rental. However once you fall in love with the film you’ll find yourself wanting to own a copy.
Note : Mulholland Drive is being released by Universal on 4/9 in the US. TVA International hold the Canadian rights to this title and will be releasing it on 4/16. The discs will be identical with the exception of the Canadian release including an additional 5.1 audio mix in French. In the event that there are differences in the audio or video quality of that disc. I will either edit this review or post a separate review depending on the severity of the differences.
Disc Rating : 8/10