“We’ve met before, haven’t we?” A mesmerizing meditation on the mysterious nature of identity, Lost Highway, David Lynch’s seventh feature film, is one of the filmmaker’s most potent cinematic dreamscapes. Starring Patricia Arquette and Bill Pullman, the film expands the horizons of the medium, taking its audience on a journey through the unknown and the unknowable. As this postmodern noir detours into the realm of science fiction, it becomes apparent that the only certainty is uncertainty.
The Criterion Collection presents David Lynch’s Lost Highway on 4K UHD in the aspect ratio of 2.39:1 on a triple-layer disc. Presented with Dolby Vision and a 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition encode the new master is sourced from a 4K restoration scanned from the 35mm original A/B negatives. This new set also includes a 1080p high-definition presentation on a standard dual-layer Blu-ray disc that also houses the release’s special features.
The 4K presentation on this disc improves upon Kino’s lackluster Blu-ray edition in all of the same areas that Criterion’s standard Blu-ray presentation does while also stepping things up a notch by cleaning up the very minor issues that are still present on Criterion’s Blu-ray. Like that disc the 4K is nowhere near as murky as Kino's presentation with details looking far stronger if still limited in a few areas due to how the film was originally shot (I’ll touch on that). Dolby Vision and HDR of course help immensely in this area allowing the blacks to come out looking deeper on the whole, with smoother shadows delineation. One shot where Pullman’s character looks down a darkened hallway, as though he's peering into a void, looked especially flat and murky on the Kino disc whereas Criterion’s Blu-ray bettered this shot thanks to improved contrast and range, even if that blackness at the end of the hall still looked a little washed. That same shot as its presented here delivers a void with purer blacks while the shadows along the walls blend far more cleanly into it. The scene looked strong on the new Blu-ray but it's quite striking here.
HDR also helps in the area of highlights with the most notable moment possibly being the bright, blown-out sex scene near the end. The standard Blu-ray also renders this sequence better than Kino’s but HDR helps to really pull out more details in Arquette’s hair and face in this presentation. The scene is also intensely bright to the point where I did catch myself squinting, which feels entirely appropriate. A few lightning strikes and strobing effects are also brighter and cleaner thanks to the wider dynamic range.
Grain comes out looking better here in comparison to the Criterion Blu-ray, despite that presentation already improving upon Kino’s in the same area. I didn’t and won’t fault Criterion's Blu-ray presentation much because it’s still fairly clean and looks fine on a television, at least outside of a couple of scenes that are laced in red light where things can look a little noisy against the blacks. But again, it's all rendered in a more natural manner in 4K and those same “red” scenes don’t feature the same issues that the Blu-ray delivers (HDR/Dolby Vision could also be playing into that).
There are a handful of scenes that can look a little fuzzy or soft around the edges, though this more than likely is a byproduct of the original photography and the filters used. This gets touched on in the features while this article gets a bit more into it, but Lynch had a specific look in mind for the film and “chocolate” filters were used throughout most of filming. These filters ended up causing issues in other areas, including limiting the shadows in places and smudging things a bit, but it sounds like Lynch got the look he wanted with very few blues while boosting the yellows, reds, and browns. Though the colour scheme is ultimately a bit drab because of it the colours that are present still look great with excellent saturation, the reds especially.
In all this is almost certainly the definitive presentation for the film. The restoration has cleaned things up wonderfully while the digital presentation and wider dynamic range help in delivering a cleaner film-like image with richer, deeper shadows and blacks. It really looks marvelous.
[Screen Captures Added: Oct 20th, 2022]
(All SDR screen grabs have been taken from the source disc and have been converted to JPG files. They are presented in full resolution and may not properly fit some monitors. While the screen grabs should offer a general idea of quality they should not be used for reference purposes.)
Criterion presents two English audio options: a PCM stereo soundtrack and a DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround soundtrack. I only listened to the surround presentation.
The notes mention that the soundtrack here is a near-field remaster, which I would assume was done to better optimize the audio presentation for home theater systems. As I’ve noted before I’m not great at picking out differences between audio tracks, and there are times where I know I can delude myself into thinking there is a clear difference between tracks when there isn’t, but I really did find the audio presentation here so much sharper and varied in comparison to the Kino disc.
As with a lot of Lynch’s films audio plays an important role and there is a lot going on in this one. Lynch loves his lower frequencies and there are many low-key rumblings throughout, causing that unease that I assume Lynch is going for yet it’s all still so subtle you barely notice. Range is incredibly wide going from quiet whispers to loud bangs with the greatest of ease, and the audio spreads out naturally to the surrounds, from music to thunderclaps to squealing tires and more. One of the most effective sequences (I thought) was during the scene where Bill Pullman’s character first meets Robert Blake’s Mystery Man, where he’s both talking to him in person and another version of him over the phone at the same time. When the two versions of Blake's character laugh in unison there’s a terrific, unnerving “stereo” effect that adds a delightful little punch to the whole sequence. It all sounds just wonderful and is just one of the small pleasures to be found in this presentation.
If any one of Lynch’s films deserves a thorough deep dive into its themes and possible interpretations it’s likely this one, yet that sadly won’t be in the cards since Lynch is hesitant in having such material appear on any releases for his films (Tim Lucas had recorded a commentary for Kino’s previous Blu-ray edition only to have it pulled at Lynch’s insistence). That said, despite the features here being primarily about the film’s production and its director, there are still plenty of hints to be found around what many of the elements in the film represent, or what they possibly mean to Lynch.
Some of this first comes up in this release’s biggest inclusion, a 1997 documentary by Toby Keeler entitled Pretty as a Picture: The Art of David Lynch, running around 80-minutes and found alongside the release’s other features on the standard Blu-ray disc that has been included (no features are found on the 4K disc). Made around the time Lynch was filming Lost Highway the documentary does work to a certain degree as a behind-the-scenes making-of, complete with on-set footage, coverage around specific aspects of the production (like the creation of the score) and interviews with members of the cast and crew. Yet it’s ultimately all just part of the documentary's larger framework in covering and exploring Lynch’s work and craft as a whole, venturing all the way back to his early shorts and his first feature, Eraserhead. Even his paintings and photography even come up. Through all of this the documentary explores many of the subjects that fascinate and interest the director, and how it all comes back into his work. 14-minutes’ worth of outtakes from the documentary are also included and feature a discussion between Lynch and artist Bushnell Keeler, who sounds to have been a sort of mentor to Lynch. Additional footage featuring Jack Fisk (expanding on the story shared by Lynch and Keeler about Lynch first moving out on his own), Peggy Reavey, Barry Gifford, Mel Brooks, and Lynch himself (the director talking about the Log Lady from Twin Peaks) is also included.
Also covering the film’s production is a new audio recording of Kristine McKenna and Lynch reading the chapter entitled “Next Door to Dark” from their 2018 book Room to Dream. How the idea for the film came to Lynch and how he expanded upon it (with writer Gifford) comes up elsewhere but this 40-minute clip manages to probe deeper into what Lynch was trying to create with the film, which sounds to have been a way to explore what it would be like for someone to enter a fugue state (or a “psychogenic fugue state” as he calls it in another interview on this disc) after committing a horrible act, the O.J. Simpson trial being a major influence for Lynch. Various story elements are covered here, most of which sound to have started out as an inkling of an idea, as are details around casting. Lynch pops up 28-minutes in to talk a little about the period before he made Lost Highway, which included his attempt to make a film called Dream of the Bovine that he hoped would star Marlon Brando. He did actually meet with Brando and, despite the actor calling the script “pretentious bullshit,” it sounds as though the two struck up a bit of a friendship and Lynch shares some wonderful stories about the man.
Criterion then creates two new features incorporating archival interview footage: The Making of Lost Highway, running about 13-minutes and featuring Lynch and actors Patricia Arquette, Bill Pullman and Robert Loggia, along with a separate 11-minutes’ worth of footage from a 1997 interview with Lynch. Between the two featurettes there’s more about Lynch’s intentions with the film, Lynch explaining how the film represents a mind tricking itself in order to keep living after doing something horrible, and Arquette talks about what fascinated her most about her role, which entailed playing a real person and then a figment of a man’s imagination. Loggia also appears to be having great fun in trying to interpret what’s going on and how his character plays into things (though it’s clear he’s just ecstatic to be there). Interestingly, it also comes out here that the house that appears in the first half of the film was bought for the production and since they owned it Lynch had it repurposed exactly for what he needed.
Sadly, no music video for Nine Inch Nails’ The Perfect Drug has been included—which I figured would have been a gimme—but the disc does close with the film’s re-release trailer that simply presents a chat window on an iPhone that features images related to the film. It has a real Lynchian vibe and only runs about 50-seconds.
The included booklet then features another excerpt from Chris Rodley’s book Lynch on Lynch, which Criterion has been referencing through their booklets for all of their releases for Lynch’s films so far (Arrow even included excerpts in the booklet for their release of Dune). As expected this excerpt presents Lynch talking about Lost Highway. Lynch is again surprisingly open about the film, and he’s insistent he wasn’t trying to confound audiences at all but was simply telling the story the only way he felt it could be told. It’s a wonderful read, especially for people coming to the film for the first time and are just not sure what to make of it.
I would have loved some scholarly or academic material obviously but the material that Criterion has put together pulls off an admirable job in both covering the film’s production and delving into possible meanings for the film, thanks to Lynch being quite open in talking about what inspired him and how he developed the story. Honestly, there's more here than I was initially expecting.
Criterion's 4K presentation offers the best viewing experience yet for the film. [Updated with Screen Captures]