A love story in the city of dreams . . . Blonde Betty Elms (Naomi Watts) has only just arrived in Hollywood to become a movie star when she meets an enigmatic brunette with amnesia (Laura Harring). Meanwhile, as the two set off to solve the second woman’s identity, filmmaker Adam Kesher (Justin Theroux) runs into ominous trouble while casting his latest project. David Lynch’s seductive and scary vision of Los Angeles’s dream factory is one of the true masterpieces of the new millennium, a tale of love, jealousy, and revenge like no other.
Criterion makes their 4K UHD debut with David Lynch’s Mulholland Dr., presented here on a triple-layer UHD disc in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The 2160p/24hz ultra high-definition encode (with Dolby Vision) is sourced from a brand-new 4K restoration performed by StudioCanal and The Criterion Collection, scanned from the 35mm original A/B/C/D camera negatives. Criterion includes a second dual-layer Blu-ray disc presenting an SDR 1080p/24hz presentation for the film. This presentation uses the 2015 4K restoration and not the new 2021 one. Criterion is more-or-less reusing the same disc from their 2015 release: the opening switches out the Universal logo with an older StudioCanal one, but the encode appears to be exactly the same. My original comments can be found here, though I will add that the noisy aspects of the presentation are even more evident now, at least on my 4K television.
So, how does Criterion’s first foray into UHD look? In all I’d say it looks quite good, a caveat or two aside. Firstly, it should be pointed out that the presentation found here runs circles around Criterion’s previous Blu-ray edition, looking significantly cleaner and smoother in motion, and those artifacts that became really obvious in the shadows are gone. Grain looks better and cleaner on the whole, though there are a few questionable shots where things get a little bit noisy, like the smoke in the aftermath of the opening car accident or in some of the deep blues in the theater sequence before the film’s climax. I’d say it’s ultimately a minor concern and you’d have to be looking for it, but it’s there. On the whole, I still thought everything was rendered well.
Where the image is most impressive is in its rendering of shadows and colours, which is where Dolby Vision comes into play. The film is substantially darker in comparison to the Blu-ray, and though I initially contributed it all to Dolby Vision, looking at an SDR presentation and then the SDR screen grabs included here, some of that is baked into the base presentation. But with Dolby Vision the wide level of range in a lot of those darker interior shots looks glorious. The shot near the end where Naomi Watts’ character answers the phone by the red lamp is especially gorgeous, range in the shadows being just an absolute knock-out. The reds, too, look especially vibrant in that shot. Other impressive moments include the sequence around the Cowboy—who is illuminated by a single overhead light beautifully—the shots of the mysterious “executive” in that dark, closed off room, the sequence where our two “heroes” venture into a dark apartment, along with plenty more. The depth in these sequences is impressive. Even daytime sequences are surprising in their delivery of highlights and colours, and the pinks from the paint that splatter Justin Theroux’s black suit pop nicely. Another aspect I appreciated is that the brighter aspects are still subdued. Headlights and taillights from cars, single bulbs in dark rooms, the glint off of a bedazzled dress, they all stand out and pop nicely, but not excessively so, making sure it doesn’t come off all that distracting. It’s all nicely balanced and manages to add to the tone of the film. Black levels are also nice and deep, crushing not a concern.
So yes, some aspects could probably be better but on the whole I was very happy with this; it’s sharp, substantially cleaner with more detail compared to the Blu-ray, and range is striking. I think it’s a solid first go.
(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.)
As far as I can tell the DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround presentation here sounds about the same as the one found on the old Blu-ray. On the base of it the track is very dynamic and mixed nicely through the surround environment. Dialogue is clear, the score is incredibly dynamic with nice eerie touches, and the lower frequency is used effectively.
What has always impressed me most about the soundtrack are the subtleties that are found within it, those quiet, almost invisible to the ear eerie inserts that are almost drowned out by everything else, yet not. The one sequence that always sticks out to me is the audition scene where that evil Camilla is singing “I’ve Told Every Little Star.” The music and the singing are both rather loud, and there is some dialogue in there between Theroux’s character and others that is also clear, but there is this barely audible, eerie background sound creeping in there at a lower frequency that just throws the sequence off enough. It’s really something, and the film is filled with plenty of things like this. It’s not an overly active presentation or mix admittedly, but it’s all the subtleties that I think make this soundtrack special.
No supplements are included on the 4K disc and are instead found on the second dual-layer Blu-ray disc that also holds the 1080p presentation for the film. The disc is basically the same one used for their 2015 Blu-ray edition. From that article:
Though it’s not surprising to find that supplements are limited here, as Lynch doesn’t like having his films explained, I must say I’m still impressed with what Criterion has pulled together, all things considered. Unlike Eraserhead, which was made up primarily of older special features (though did included his shorts), Criterion has recorded a lot of new stuff for this edition. Unfortunately, fans of the film will probably find nothing new here.
Making up a large portion of the supplements are new interviews. The first features David Lynch and Naomi Watts talking about the film, sitting in what I believe is Lynch’s screening room (this room is mentioned by others a few times throughout the supplements). Running 27-minutes the two discuss the inception of the project and how Watts came to be cast in the film (and judging by how she showed up at the interview it sounds as though she’s incredibly lucky she got the part). They get into detail about its beginnings as a television pilot and then its move to a feature film after ABC rejected it. Lynch talks about getting the film’s tone and how certain ideas arrived to him, while Watts focuses on her performance and her concerns. Her main concerns were how over-the-top and bubbly she was, Lynch getting her to amp it up a bit (humorously, in another interview, director of photography Peter Deming mentions he knew this meant something bad would happen to Watts’ character). She was gravely concerned around how this would look, specifically about people thinking she couldn’t act, but it of course all worked in the finished product. She also shares how difficult it was to do the masturbation scene, and lets us know that the tears and frustration she was showing on screen were all too real. Though a lot of this material has been covered in other interviews the two have a great working chemistry with each other and it’s an incredibly entertaining and funny recollection on making the film.
Following this is a segment focusing more on the cast and the casting process, featuring new interviews with actors Justin Theroux, Laura Harring, Naomi Watts, and casting director Johanna Ray. Watts’ contribution was done in the same location as the previous interview, suggesting Criterion just did it all at once and everyone has been interviewed separately. Ray and company talk a little bit about how Lynch casts his films (he simply looks at photos and then interviews them to get a feel) and then the actors recall their experiences in getting their respective parts. From here everyone talks about their experience in making the film, sharing a few humourous anecdotes. Theroux recalls shooting his scene with “Monty” Montgomery, who plays the sinister Cowboy. Montgomery could not remember his lines so Theroux had to have the lines stuck to his face and upper body so Montgomery could read them [more or less at eye line]. He also notes how wooden the acting and line reading was on Montgomery’s part, Theroux having deep concerns about how the scene would play out. Ultimately, as he admits, the scene actually works so much better because of Montgomery’s “style.” The cast members also talk about working with Lynch and how accommodating he could be (Harring mentions how Lynch promised her he would protect her nude scene, which is why one sequence is blurred out digitally in all home video releases), while also talking about their reactions to the film (Theroux knew immediately Watts would be a star). It’s a lengthy and engrossing 36-minutes, nicely accompanying the previous Watts/Lynch interview.
Composer Angelo Badalamenti talks about his work on the film, primarily focusing on the film’s score of course. He gives some background on his career in music, from his brother forcing him to keep taking piano lessons when he was younger (and he kept it up once he realized playing the piano got the attention of girls) to a great story about how he got Ossie Davis to use a score he wrote on the side for the film Gordon’s War. His work with Lynch then began with Blue Velvet where he was initially brought in to help Isabella Rossellini sing the title song, and then explains how the two have worked together since, which consists of Lynch simply explaining the film and leaving Badalamenti to write the music. He talks about the various themes he wrote for the film, explaining what he was trying to capture. The best part, though, is when he talks about his actual acting role in the film, as the studio executive that spits out the espresso. Though Lynch told him to do the espresso bit, Badalamenti actually based the character on a person he once met, and he shares this rather odd story here. Running 19-minutes it’s another wonderful addition. [Parts of this same interview also show up in Criterion's edition for Blue Velvet.]
Closing off the interviews portion of the supplements is an interview with production designer Jack Fisk and director of photography Peter Deming. This 22-minute discussion features the two—recorded separately—talking about their work with Lynch over the years and then the work on Mulholland Dr. specifically. Deming talks about planning the movements of the camera in certain sequences and how he pulled off some of the disorienting effects, some of which he feared would be viewed by others as glaring mistakes, while Fisk talks about designing sets for what was supposed to be a television series (ones you could fold up and store) and then goes over the locations used, touching on how Los Angeles has changed in the years since the film was made. They both cover their respective topics well, but they share the same thoughts on one area: when working with Lynch you just go along with whatever he says, no matter how crazy it sounds.
Criterion then closes off the disc with a few other supplements. We first get a 2-minute deleted scene featuring the two detectives played by Robert Forster and Brent Briscoe at the station going over what they found at the accident scene. This is then followed by roughly 25-minutes of on-set footage, taken during shooting scenes at the diner and the various sets used for the dinner party scene at the end. This material, shot in standard def digital with no narration and little context, is fantastic for a few reasons. Firstly it’s certainly nice to see the atmosphere on set, which was very loose, but what’s also great is you get to see Lynch at work: there’s a sample of the director and Badalamenti talking on location about how the music will work for that particular scene, and then you get to see trial-and-error attempts [around the] use of the steadi-cam for the sequence where Camilla is leading Diane up the hill to the house.
Criterion then includes a 48-page booklet featuring an excerpt from Chris Rodley’s book Lynch on Lynch, made up of interviews he conducted with the director. This excerpt of course focuses on Mulholland Dr. and its development. Though some of the material here is covered elsewhere on the disc, Lynch reveals a few more details about where certain ideas came from. [Details around the restoration are the only difference between the 4K and Blu-ray booklets that I can see.]
The lack of anything around the planned television series still proves disappointing, as is the lack of academic material, but since we're talking about Lynch here, we're probably lucky we still got what we did.
Minor issues aside, Criterion has made an impressive UHD debut, the disc featuring a rich 4K presentation.