Twin Peaks - Season 1 Review

The story


Twin Peaks, near the Canadian border, seems like your average American small town. The diner sells some wicked cherry pie, the Great Northern Hotel takes care of the occasional tourist and the Sawmill employs the vast bulk of the local population. But when the dead body of the young Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee) is found wrapped in plastic on the lake's banks, the entire town begins to be turned inside out. FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle McLachlan) is brought in to shoulder the local police squad which has been overwhelmed by the events unfolding in their midst. As the investigation gets under way a great deal of secrets that were best left uncovered start to surface. What exactly was Laura involved in? Who would have gained from her demise?

Twin Peaks was the brainchild of Mark Frost, writer of Hill Street Blues and the wild and weird David Lynch - a man who has a knack for putting his subconscious onto the screen. TP made its way onto our TV sets in the early 90s and was pretty much an overnight sensation trailblazing the way for the likes of the X-files and consorts. Sadly TP was probably a little too avant-garde (and still seems to be) and was cancelled after its second season. (Lynch did revisit TP later with a prequel to it, the famed and oft-derided Fire Walk With Me but in his usual way managed to offer more questions to the viewers than answers... ). Despite the somewhat classical plotline, TP was much more than a whodunit as the series had an uncanny ability to seamlessly straddle genres, often mixing melodrama, soap, thriller and comedy within the same episode. Add to that the great soundtrack put together by Angelo Badalmenti, probably one of the best soundtrack composers of the last decade, Lynch's ability to make the mundane fascinating and unpredictable, and you've got the recipe for a fantastic TV series.

TP in my opinion probably marked one of the highest points of television drama: it may be the last time we'll see a great director being given full artistic control over as wide a canvas as a TV series and the result is flabbergasting. The characters are fully developed yet unusually interesting; the setting - the true lead character IMO- becomes so familiar to us it seems like our back garden (albeit a very scary one) and it features some of the most memorable scenes ever committed to celluloid: who can erase the Red Lounge and the Man from Another Place from their memory?

The DVDs

:What we get is the entire first season minus the pilot due to an issue of rights. This may be made available in the US when Paramount get round to releasing it or one can opt for the Taiwanese release instead. The good news for Region 2 is that rumours are that our region will get the pilot included in the boxset which will be an undeniable plus.

The packaging:The four DVDs come in a gatefold pack similar to the X-files boxsets. The outer sleeve is made out of transparent plastic with in the middle of it the prom-queen photo of Laura Palmer. Slide that sleeve off and you have a pale green photo of Laura "wrapped in plastic". There's a little booklet featuring a short interview with Sheryl Lee and a synopsis of the missing pilot. The packaging makes this boxset look really nice and demonstrates the care that was taken over the conception of these DVDs.

The image:For those who have been watching TP on VHS for the last decade, this is an unbelievable improvement. The transfer keeps the unusual reddish tones but everything is razor sharp. I didn't detect much softness throughout the series and really it's amazing to see how much care they took over this. Grain is at times slightly apparant but only on close inspection whilst artifacting is virtually inexistant and all episodes seem to be equal in image quality. I suppose the fact TP was filmed on film and not video has probably helped it survive this well but even so this is a really good piece of work. Of course, it's full frame but that's how it was filmed so no quibbles there at all!

The sound

:We get the option of the original 2.0 mix, as well as a Dolby 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mix. This is more than welcome and the DTS track comes out tops in my opinion coming out slightly punchier and vivid is some of the key sequences but the DD track is only marginally worse. The use of surround is not excessive and doesn't denature the spirit of the series - the inclusion of the 2.0 track is also welcome for the purists who wish to remember how it was meant to sound like in the first place...

The menus:Made up from sequences of the film, they are simply superb. Transitions between the menus are tastefully eerie as is the music that plays in the background. One slight problem with them is that they can be slightly unintuitive but I suppose that can be seen as keeping with the spirit of TP!

The extras

:The extras are spread over the discs and come in many forms:
- Commentaries:
Each episode features a full commentary track by the following:

  • Ep. 1: Duwayne Dunham (director)
  • Ep. 2: Frank Byers (director of photography)
  • Ep. 3: Tina Rathbone (d)
  • Ep. 4: Tim Hunter (d) & Robert Engels (writer)
  • Ep. 5: Lesli Linka Glatter (d)
  • Ep. 6: Caleb Deschanel (d) & Harley Peyton (w)
  • Ep. 7: Richard Hoover (Series production designer)

Globally, the commentaries are very interesting and insightful - the fact they chose such a different array of people to do the commenting means that each one has something different to say about the episode they're watching so everything, from the sets to the acting passing by the lighting and the writing, gets talked about at great length. Although not all the commentators are equally articulate, I found all of them had something worthwhile to unveil about the series. All the commentaries are introduced by the inimitable Michael Anderson (aka the Man from the Other Place) and if you look carefully you'll be able to find some Easter eggs in the form of some footage of the commentators getting ready for the commentary!
Sadly Episode 2 (directed by Lynch) and Episode 7 (directed by Mark Frost) don't have them commenting on it but as Lynch is quite cagey about talking about his work it comes as no surprise.

- Script notesThese are quite detailed notes regarding deleted/altered scenes and deleted/changed dialog which can either be called up with a "white rabbit" option during the episode or can be viewed alongside the chapter selection in the menus - a worthwhile addition but sadly none of the deleted scenes made it onto this DVD.

- Log lady introsThese were originally filmed AFAIK for the US network introductions to TP (maybe they were used in the UK but I can't remember seeing them). Each one is about 30 seconds long and features the log lady rambling on in metaphors and proverbs about the episode to come but so obscurely you wouldn't be that sure! You've got the option to start the episode with or without them - their quality is pretty rough as if they have been lifted from a video (and possibly were). Still all credit to them for digging out another interesting extra.

On the final disc there's also some notable stand-alone extras:
- Mark Frost phone interviewThis is a 12 minute interview conducted over the phone by Craig Miller & John Thorne from the TP fanzine Wrapped in Plastic - the talk mostly focuses around the production of the first season and their dealings with the networks that aired TP. Despite being a phone interview, both parties are filmed.

- Learning to speak in the Red Room:Hosted by Michael Anderson again, it takes us through how to speak backwards - for those who haven't seen the series this one is too hard to explain. Probably not something that you'll watch more than once but perfectly fitting the quirkiness of TP!

- An introduction to David LynchWarning: this documentary features a monumental spoiler so don't watch it until you've watched the entire series (s1 and s2). This is about 20 minutes long and features interviews of the actors and a film professor about Lynch - of course, Lynch himself is conspicuous by his absence but the anecdotes about him are numerous and entertaining. Just watch out for that stupid spoiler!

- 17 pieces of pie:A 10 minute interview with the lady who owned the diner where they filmed parts of TP and where that infamous cherry pie that Agent Cooper so loves was (allegedly) made. She gives us an interesting insight into the way her life was changed by TP and the lengths to which some people went to get some of those cherry pies!

- Twin Peaks directory:This is a complex extra: it's basically a directory of all the characters in TP and you can link to each one from the other (eg. when you're on Laura you can click on daughter of Leland and you end up with Leland Palmer's file). Most of the cast have recorded a "postcard" for this DVD. Some of the cast talk relatively seriously about what they've done since Twin Peaks whereas others choose to share some bizarre event with us - Richard Beymer recounts a drug-fulled trip up the Amazon whilst Al Strobel talks of an out-of-body experience - definitely not your usual backslapping and again completely in the spirit of the series. Another warning: Do not look at this before watching the entire series (s1 and s2) as it will tell you more than you should know!

All of the standalone extras bar the Mark Frost interview are transferred in Full Frame. The Mark Frost interview was filmed in what looks like 1.85:1 but doesn't feature anamorphic transfer and honestly wouldn't need it. All of the extras seem to have been filmed on video so the quality is what one can expect from that medium - not spectacular but adequate.

Conclusions:Given that there will be a R2 release of this within the next year, it may be worthwhile waiting to see what that brings our way. Still in the meanwhile, this is a stunning boxset - the extras are interesting and inventive and the image and sound are top-notch. Bar the fact this is missing the pilot (which is absolutely necessary to the plot!), this is a perfect release of one of the best TV series ever made. The question now is when is season two going to be released...

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