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  Directed by
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 1.85:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 69.53)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  Subtitles
    English
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Animated menus
  • Interviews - David Lynch, Cannes Press Conference - 15 min total

Mulholland Drive

Studio Canal/Roadshow Entertainment . R4 . COLOR . 141 mins . MA15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

There’s something perfectly amusing about watching the reaction of film fans to Mulholland Drive. From the first screenings at Cannes, people were left doing a real-world version of a cartoon quadruple-take, quietly murmuring to themselves the mantra “what’s all that about?” as they tried to make sense of what they’d just experienced. Within no time, the internet was rife with theories, opinions, analysis, counter-analysis, questions and clues. Every minute detail, every unconventional camera move, every prop, every nuance of expression on the actors’ faces was the subject of scrutiny, almost as if Lynch was some kind of modern-day riddler hiding the meaning of life inside puzzles inside movies like a bad heavy metal band giggling to themselves over recording the word “satan” backwards on their latest album. It wouldn’t be at all surprising to find out that David Lynch was sitting in front of his computer, watching all the fuss and laughing quietly to himself with that trademark “don’t ask me” expression on his face.

His movies might puzzle you, bore you or annoy the crap out of you, but if you’ve spent any length of time with a David Lynch film you’ll know all too well that you have to acknowledge the craft – and the craftiness - of what he does. In an era of major-studio mediocrity and endless remakes of things nobody liked in the first place, Mulholland Drive is a handy reminder that in the right hands movies can still be utterly unpredictable, emotionally confronting and, well, wantonly strange.

It’s often mentioned as having been based on a TV show pilot that was rejected by the American ABC network, but in fact Mulholland Drive basically is that pilot, reportedly almost identical aside from a handful of minor changes. Scoring some money from France’s Canal Plus to adapt the pilot for the big screen, Lynch essentially left it as it was and simply shot another 45 minutes or so to serve as an extended “ending” to a story that had left a lot of plot points unresolved (as is the nature of the TV series). Unlike the video version of his Twin Peaks pilot, though, this one was not going to be a quick tidying-up job. Quite the opposite, in fact. What Lynch serves up in the final section of Mulholland Drive is, in fact, so radically and completely different to what’s come before it – and so seemingly unrelated at first – that it leaves many people utterly confused and unsettled. It’s like the projectionist has inadvertently lined up the wrong reel of the film – or at least, it seems that way until you look (and listen) closer.

Mulholland Drive (or, to be title-accurate, Mulholland Dr.) does, believe it or not, make perfect sense. It’s important to note, though, that like Lynch’s other films of this type, “perfect sense” is to some extent a personal thing. You don’t have the signposts that a mainstream movie shoves in your face to guide you – you’ll have to figure this one out for yourself, and the conclusions you come to will vary depending on your take on what you see. Sure, some of it’s just pure logical plot masked by stylised filmmaking, but there’s so much in here that’s open to personal interpretation that it really becomes moot what “Lynch intended”. You don’t need to decipher what was in the creator’s head to enjoy a fine piece of music, for example. It means what it means to you because of the way you react to it – there’s no instruction manual saying “feel this”. So it is with David Lynch’s films.

He knows this all too well, of course. And we’re willing to bet that a lot of the “clues” in Mulholland Drive are actually big obnoxious red herrings (as indeed are many, if not all, of the ten “clues” Lynch provides on the inside DVD cover). You can take the quest for “meaning” too far; Lynch is a detailed filmmaker and a perfectionist, but he’s also one that puts a lot of stake in exploring simple ideas via the full broad canvas of cinema, painting a picture of what’s in his head to make something tangible out of what was previously just a concept, a notion. How you choose to react to and interpret all of this within the framework of the plot that’s there, well, that’s up to you. You are, after all, not David Lynch.

You’ll have noticed by now that we haven’t mentioned the film’s plot. That’s deliberate, to an extent. In many ways, it’s best to go into this film without any idea where things are going to head; if you’re one of those people who needs someone to tell you what a movie is all about, though, then this probably isn’t the movie for you. Even revealing the basic details of the story seems like spoiler behaviour with this film, so we won’t. Suffice to say that the acting is uniformly excellent, particularly leads Naomi Watts and Laura Elena Harring, who both click into Lynch’s working method effortlessly and give the first section of the film (the telemovie) enough resonance to let the latter section work.

The best thing about Mulholland Drive - like Lost Highway or Blue Velvet or Fire Walk With Me before it - is not the fact that it gets film writers excited to the point that they can meander on for several pages about what the film is “supposed to mean” or otherwise deconstructing it. No, the best thing about Mulholland Drive is that it gets people thinking, and thinking hard. The movie has a life way beyond its 140 minutes in a darkened room. It makes you rethink what you expect a movie to be. It pops back into your head at the strangest of times. It poses questions to which there are no answers. It screens in a constantly-shifting form in your head for weeks.

In a world where people exist who actually think it’s a good idea to turn Scooby Doo into a feature film, we need movies like Mulholland Drive. And we also need people like David Lynch – people who open up a door into their world without ever once feeling the need to take you by the hand and feed you candy, computer-modelled villains and Britney Spears records.

  Video
Contract

The first thing to remember when it comes to the video quality of Mulholland Drive on DVD is that unlike Lynch’s previous theatrical films, this was not originally made with the cinema in mind. The bulk of what’s here was shot for television, and while TV production standards are undeniably high in the US and almost everyone shoots on actual film (yes, even the sitcoms!) there are certain compromises that have to be made for the small-screen medium. The lighting of shots tends to be more “flat”, for one thing, and extreme use of contrast or colour is rare. Scenes are composed with compromises, too – everything has to have a 4:3 safe area for non-widescreen broadcast, and the use of carefully-composed wide shots (something Lynch is famous for) becomes problematic. It all adds up to an undeniable “TV look” that, even with David Lynch in the director’s chair, is easy to spot.

Of course, for Mulholland Drive Lynch would have been able to take more risks with the colour timing (and eventually with the video transfer) when it turned into a theatrical feature, and the last third of the film was shot with the big screen in mind. The end result is a picture that doesn’t take anywhere near as many visual chances as other Lynch material, though make no mistake, there are still some immensely powerful visuals to be found here (one of the final scenes in particular). It’s worth noting that this is only the second Lynch film that hasn’t been shot in some sort of Cinemascope format; Fire Walk With Me was the other one, deliberately shot “flat” to stay in visual step with the TV show that inspired it. Here we’ve got a 16:9 frame because the material itself was a TV show, and while we miss Lynch’s usual widescreen flamboyance, the format does seem to suit the material.

Mulholland Drive is presented at what is effectively just under a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, though closer examination of the image encoded on the disc reveals that it’s actually closer to being at a 16:9 ratio, with small black bars on either side of the picture that will never been seen by most people thanks to TV overscan. The anamorphically enhanced image is accurate, stable and reproduces the look of the film well – however, it also shows up the technical limitations under which much of the film was made. Those used to highly refined feature film transfers will probably wonder what the missing ingredient is here; our guess is simply that it looks a bit “television”. But then, we can’t be sure - especially given the subject matter of the film - that this wasn’t Lynch’s intention anyway! Grain is quite noticeable, especially in the “original” section of the film, and that comes very close to undoing the MPEG compression on a couple of occasions early on, though only over-attentive reviewers will likely notice; when we get to the shot-for-cinema material later the technical quality improves noticeably. Don’t get us wrong, this is a very good transfer overall, and a very accurate one of this particular film. Just don’t go in expecting jaw-dropping clarity.

Not surprisingly, given the length of the film, this one comes on a dual-layered DVD; the layer change near the 70 minute mark is perfectly placed and will go unnoticed by most people. Subtitles for the hearing-impaired are provided in Roadshow’s usual excellent style, with the position of screen text reflecting the location of the person who’s speaking. It also offers some wonderful descriptions of what’s going on, our favourite being “LOW RUMBLING SOUNDSCAPE”!

Oh, and for those who have been wondering about the digital “blurring” of a shot of Laura Elena Harring that’s been causing a miniature controversy amongst fans online, wonder no longer. Not at all surprisingly (considering that this is the same Lynch-approved video transfer used on the US disc) that director-ordered “blurring” is also present on this disc. And if you even vaguely notice it while watching the film, your TV is not calibrated properly. It’s a non-issue.

  Audio
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A director who truly understands the importance of sound in a movie – and also the absence of it when required – Lynch is always heavily involved in his films’ audio, and once again on Mulholland Drive he is responsible for sound design as well as being part of the team responsible for the final audio mix. And while there are some key sections of typically startling sound, it’s a very restrained mix that is one of the most subtle Lynch has done so far.

Presented in its original Dolby Digital 5.1, this is a front-heavy mix that is happy to leave the dialogue in the centre channel (though it’s not as discrete as usual, with a good deal of dialogue “bleed” into left and right) and to spread various subtle effects across the front soundstage along with Angelo Badalamenti’s often haunting music score. Fidelity is predictably excellent, though there’s an unusually large amount of hiss throughout – something that’s probably more noticeable thanks to the frequent use of almost-silent passages in the audio. Aside from being used for some very minor ambience, the surround channels are virtually silent throughout. In fact, while encoded as a discrete 5 channels this mix behaves very much like an old-style Dolby Surround one. During the “Club Silencio” sequence the centre channel is removed completely at one stage, something that was probably deliberate – it makes sense it the context of what’s happening.

But then there’s the LFE track. Those with powerful subwoofers are probably almost inured by now to the over-use of LFE in modern Hollywood films – the “everything goes WHOMP” syndrome. Lynch has other ideas, and uses the subwoofer extremely sparingly but exceptionally well. It’s mainly used to create an unsettling, subtle rumble under scenes that need a little bit of creepiness support, and it’s all the more effective for having been absent from much of the rest of the film. This is a rare example of the LFE track being used intelligently – though even Lynch can’t resist enhancing a punch with an over-the-top WHOOMP on one occasion!

There is some very noticeable distortion during some of the film’s loud passages, but don’t panic and think your amp’s clipping – it’s recorded that way on the disc, and it appears to be an intentional mix decision.

The US disc, released by DTS pioneers Universal, included a DTS 5.1 audio track along with the standard Dolby Digital one. It’s a shame the R4 doesn’t also offer DTS (there’s certainly room, with over a gigabyte of spare space on the disc) but the Dolby Digital track does not limit the fidelity of the film’s sound in any way.

  Extras
Contract

Released in the US as a bare-bones disc with only a trailer and cast/crew bios to keep fans happy, Mulholland Drive actually scores some extras for its region 4 release. There’s only a couple of things here and we’d love to have seen more, but it’s one occasion where those who waited for the Australian release are rewarded with some bonus material. Included on the disc are:

David Lynch Interview: Unintentionally (or perhaps intentionally) hilarious, this sees an unnamed French interviewer attempting to get Lynch to help him understand Mulholland Drive while Lynch remains polite and tries not to laugh. Running just under four minutes, this is like a real-world version of an interview by the Borat character from Da Ali G Show; you know the interviewer’s not going to get anything much more than “this film is about ideas” out of Lynch, but he cheerfully keeps trying. Video is pristine 16:9, audio is 2.0-encoded mono.

Cannes Festival – Press Conference – Highlights: If you thought the interview segment highlighted the absurdity of Cannes, this 11-minute tape of the Cannes press conference the day after the movie’s screenings there will be the conclusive proof. Lynch, his principal actors, producers and Angelo Badalamenti are lined up behind a long table and grilled by the world’s media, who seem to be competing to see who can ask the dumbest question. Naomi Watts offers some comments about working in TV soap operas (she was in Home And Away some years ago) while Lynch, who looks like he’d rather be anywhere else, points out once again that his film is about... ideas. Once again, the 16:9 video is of broadcast quality, and audio is 2.0-encoded mono.

Theatrical Trailer: Universal’s 95-second US theatrical trailer, 16:9 enhanced with surround-encoded audio (but no surround flag set). It has the impossible task of selling the movie in a minute and a half, and very nearly succeeds by not telling you anything at all. However, don’t watch it before you’ve seen the movie.

Dolby Digital Egypt Trailer: One of the better Dolby efforts, and the most suitable of their batch of trailers to be stuck in front of this movie.

The disc menus have nicely animated “intros” and are soundtracked by Angelo Badalamenti’s reflective main theme; all menus are in 16:9 format. Like the US disc, the movie is not divided into chapters at the director’s request; therefore there is no scene selection menu, and hitting the next-chapter button during the movie takes you to the Roadshow logo then back to the main menu. While Lynch’s desire for people to watch the film from start to finish is understandable, the lack of chaptering could be annoying for those who have to interrupt playback for some reason. Thankfully, searching within the video stream has not been disabled.

  Overall  
Contract

If you’re one of those people who watches a movie and then has to have everything explained to you until it all makes sense in a linear way, then don’t watch Mulholland Drive. But those who are tired of formulaic big-screen entertainment will find it a breath of fresh air and a rare chance to think for themselves. Lynch fans, of course, need no convincing. While it’s not the best of the man’s films - and does borrow ideas (!) from his earlier work on occasion – it’s still a deliciously fascinating return to everything out-there from the master of the craft. It’s a film that stays with you long after the end credits have rolled, and one which gets better with each subsequent viewing.

Roadshow’s DVD offers the same transfer as the US disc (with the same visual limitations) but goes one step further - and probably creates an instant export market for itself - by offering a quarter hour’s worth of amusing extra material that, as well as being a nice surprise for fans, is an oddly appropriate companion to the movie itself.


  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=1526
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      And I quote...
    "A film that stays with you long after the end credits have rolled - on a DVD which, unlike the US version, has actual extras."
    - Anthony Horan
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Sony DVP-NS300
    • TV:
          Panasonic - The One
    • Receiver:
          Sony STR-DB870
    • Speakers:
          Klipsch Tangent 500
    • Centre Speaker:
          Panasonic
    • Surrounds:
          Jamo
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          Monster s-video
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