Release Date(s)2001 (November 16, 2021)
Studio(s)Universal Pictures (Criterion – Spine #779)
- Film/Program Grade: A+
- Video Grade: A+
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: A-
Though it began as a potential pilot for a new series, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive went well beyond its potential 4x3 confines, becoming one of his most celebrated cinematic works. Much of the credit can be laid at the feet of Naomi Watts, who was mostly unknown at the time she was cast in the film, giving a powerhouse performance that launched her career. Like many of Lynch’s works, it’s a film that gives you all of the details, but at the same time, those details aren’t laid bare. Working out what the film is doing and what it’s trying to say thematically is part of the appeal. Lynch would go even further with this later on in the much-beloved third season of Twin Peaks, but Mulholland Drive explores what working in Hollywood can do to someone and how relationships between people in that environment can affect their minds and their souls.
After a sudden car accident while riding in a limousine, a beautiful woman (Laura Harring), lost and dazed with amnesia, wanders into town and sneaks into a vacant Los Angeles apartment. Meanwhile, a bright-eyed woman named Betty (Naomi Watts) arrives in LA for the first time, eager to make her start as a successful actress. Walking into her new apartment, she discovers the woman who identifies herself initially as Rita. She can’t remember who she really is, and when they open Rita’s purse and find large sums of money and a blue key inside, Betty decides to help Rita instead of going to the police. In Hollywood, a big shot director (Justin Theroux) is casting his latest film, but goes down a very destructive path when the studio insists that he cast a certain actress. Eventually, all roads converge as Betty attempts to help Rita unlock the mysteries in her mind, possibly crossing the threshold between dreams and reality.
Plain and simple, the version of Mulholland Drive that we ended up with was not the version that David Lynch had originally planned. Like Twin Peaks, the mystery was to remain open-ended for further exploration in a series. But when ABC passed on it and Studio Canal subsequently put up the money to finish the project by turning it into a feature film, Lynch had to figure out a way to end it. The result is a dual-minded but fascinating study into two women. It’s never one hundred percent clear what really happens between Betty and Rita, or which version of reality is the more truthful. Is the entire first section of the film simply a dream of Betty’s that comes undone when the blue box is finally opened, triggering her to wake up out of it, or is David Lynch desperately trying to find an ending for a story that initially didn’t have one? A little of both is closer to truth, but even so, the story morphed into a study of the psychological effects that an obsessive personality can have in a business where things don’t always end happily—only on the big screen.
The various elements, including love scenes with blatant nudity, were clearly not meant for an ABC audience either, but work surprisingly well in tandem, creating an interesting tableau. That said, there are definitely scenes wherein characters were meant to take part more in the proposed series than they eventually do, such as Joe the sloppy hitman (Mark Pellegrino), two detectives (Robert Forster and Brent Briscoe), Mr. Roque (Michael J. Anderson), the director’s unfaithful wife (Lori Heuring), and her lover (Billy Ray Cyrus). These characters add flavor and, in some cases, give much-needed comic relief to an otherwise dour tale. They could almost be lifted out of the main story without damaging it. Then again, who knows how much involvement a character like Cowboy (Monty Montgomery) would have had in the series.
In the end, all of it worked to Lynch’s advantage as Mulholland Drive was very well-received when it was released, earning him an Oscar nod for best director, but also putting Naomi Watts on the map. Fragmented or otherwise, it’s a great piece of work.
Mulholland Drive was shot by director of photography Peter Deming on 35 mm film using Panavision Panaflex Platinum cameras and Panavision Primo lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the widescreen aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The Criterion Collection brings the film to home video once again with an Ultra HD presentation featuring a new native 4K restoration of the original A/B/C/D camera negatives, with color grading for high dynamic range (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 are available) based upon their previous 2015 color transfer for Blu-ray, and the supervision of David Lynch. It’s a gorgeous and natural presentation that captures the delicate textures of the film beautifully. The image appears natural, with a fine layer of grain and a high bitrate encode that squeezes the most out of each frame. The HDR grade isn’t aggressive, but it doesn’t need to be. Colors and shadows are far richer with newfound detail, particularly in the darker areas of the frame. The nuances found within night scenes and shadowy interiors are impressive. The color palette is lush, with exceptional uses of red, green, and blue, while skin tones are much more accurate. The various hues seen on the LA streets, inside Betty’s apartment, and on the set of Adam’s film pop off the screen. Blacks are incredibly deep with excellent contrast. The image is stable, healthy, and clean. Simply put, this is a remarkable presentation of the film that improves upon its high definition predecessor ten-fold.
The audio is provided in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio with optional subtitles in English SDH. This is the same audio track from the previous Blu-ray release, but it’s more than satisfactory. What it captures the most is the nuance and depth found within the sound design, particularly in the latter half of the film when sound becomes a much more important factor. Sound effects and Angelo Badalamenti’s score play a key role, and this mix delivers the kind of fidelity you’d want out of both. Dialogue exchanges are perfectly discernible as well. It’s an outstanding audio presentation, and while a new Dolby Atmos mix might have improved upon it, it still offers an enormous amount of dynamic range.
Criterion’s 4K Ultra HD release also comes with a Blu-ray of the film in 1080p. The following extras are included on the Blu-ray only:
- David Lynch and Naomi Watts Interview (HD – 26:44)
- Laura Harring, Johanna Ray, Justin Theroux, and Naomi Watts Interviews (HD – 35:38)
- Angelo Badalementi Interview (HD – 19:29)
- Peter Deming and Jack Fisk Interviews (HD – 22:09)
- Deleted Scene: Int. Hollywood Police Station – Day (HD – 2:16)
- On-Set Footage (Upscaled SD – 24:44)
- Trailer (Upscaled HD – 1:42)
David Lynch and Naomi Watts have a wonderful conversation about working together, Watts’ audition, the struggle to get a feature made, and celebrating each other’s talent. In the interviews with actors Laura Harring, Justin Theroux, Naomi Watts, and casting director Johanna Ray, they discuss the casting process, Ray’s history with Lynch and how they work together, Lynch’s process, Harring’s experience of being cast after being in a real car accident, having to actually audition Theoroux and his subsequent meeting with Lynch, working with Monty Montgomery, dealing with ABC, Betty and Diane, the fate of the pilot, dealing with nudity, David’s direction, seeing the film for the first time, not giving the audience any information, how Naomi Watts’ life changed, and the public reaction to the film. Angelo Badalamenti plays selections from the film’s score and discusses becoming a musician at a young age, getting his first film job, meeting with Lynch for the first time, working with Lynch, the themes of the film, appearing in the film, and background on his character. Director of photography Peter Deming and production designer Jack Fisk discuss meeting and working with Lynch, his love of Los Angeles and wanting to capture it on film, location scouting, various places that they shot, thoughts on what might have been had it gone to series, and Lynch wanting to do more than just direct on the set. The deleted scene features Robert Forster’s and Brent Briscoe’s characters discussing the wallets found at the scene of the car accident and dealing with a Dr. Scott. The on-set footage features scenes being filmed at Winky’s, in the limo, at the pool party, and during the dinner scene, as well as a brief on-set interview with Angelo Badalamenti.
The discs sit inside custom Digipak packaging with a 48-page insert booklet containing cast and crew information, an excerpt of an interview with Lynch from the 2005 edition of filmmaker and writer Chris Rodley’s book Lynch on Lynch, and restoration details. Everything is housed within a slipcover featuring new artwork. A number of releases overseas include additional material not found on this release. The StudioCanal 4K Ultra HD release includes additional featurettes and interviews; the StudioCanal Region B Blu-ray release in Australia includes EPK materials; various German Region 2 DVD and Region B Blu-ray releases include additional featurettes, trailers, and TV spots; the Optimum Releasing Region 2 DVD release in the UK includes Cannes Film Festival press conference footage; and a Starmax Region 0 DVD release from South Korea includes a music video for Linda Booth’s I’ve Told Every Little Star. Granted not all of this material could be carried over, but it’s a shame to see the majority of it absent.
On a personal note, I love David Lynch’s work, but I’m in love with Mulholland Drive. It’s one of those films that grabs hold and never lets go once it has its claws in you. The Criterion Collection’s Ultra HD upgrade of the film is remarkable. The picture quality of their Blu-ray release was top of the line, but the 4K UHD is nearly definitive. Highly recommended.
- Tim Salmons