Wild At Heart (Collector's Edition) Review

Opening on a typically Lynchean universe - 50s chic, colours that sear your retina, retro music floating through the air - Sailor Ripley (Nicolas Cage) arrives, exudes nonchalance and grabs Lula (Laura Dern) by the hand. As he descends the steps he is accosted by a hitman paid by Lula's jealous mother (Diane Ladd) who tries to knive him. Sailor gruesomely beats the would-be assassin to death. After two years spent in a Southern slammer, Sailor returns to normal life. Lula has been patiently waiting for him, but time has not calmed her mother's seething hatred for Sailor. On a whim, they decide to leave town and head West for California. Hot on their tails is Johnnie Farragut, an investigator employed by Lula's mother to track them down. As the trip stretches out things start to get stranger...

Although Wild at Heart on the surface is quite a conventional road movie, with two protagonists fleeing a world that just can't understand them, Lynch infuses it with his very own neurosis about the American way of life. His work is suffused with the idea that behind this clean wholesome facade of small town America lurks darkness and evil and Wild at Heart is no exception. During the filming, the Wizard of Oz somehow ended up cropping up and the film became a rather free modern reinterpretation of the 1940s classic with Diane Ladd performing a perfect Wicked Witch. Cage's character also became another all-American icon - Elvis - by singing his songs at certain points during the film to emphasise his emotional state but also maybe as an idea that although he may headbang along to thrash metal, he's still a romantic at heart.

Lynch tends to enjoy re-using actors time and time again and Wild at Heart is almost a compendium of all of those actors that inhabit his universe - Jack Nance, Sherilyn Fenn, Calvin Lockhart, Isabella Rossellini, Harry Dean Stanton, Sheryl Lee, Freddie Jones and more contribute valuable bit parts, fleshing out the background with some unusual twists. As with a lot of Lynch's direction, the performances are quite unconventional - you have to suspend disbelief and really run with the film to not be slightly put off by this along with the sometimes factitious elements of the plot and story. I would argue that the flights of fancy are what makes the film so powerful fifteen years later and where many films of this type have faded away, Wild at Heart is still a clear genre-bending gem. Parts of it are perplexing (see for example Freddie Jones appearance) or just strange (such as the age of the porters in one of the hotels) but as a whole it just works making it another Lynch film that will enrage some but delight many.

The DVD:

The present DVD seems to be a port of the recent R1 release which carried a Lynch supervised transfer.

The image:
The first UK release of Wild at Heart was quite disappointing - the colours were faded and given their importance in this film, it meant a lot of the scenes didn't play properly. This re-master is a huge step forward - the colours are as vivid as they were originally intended and it actually looks really good. There are still some issues - such as excessive edge-enhancement (see the titles for a clear example of that) and a lot of grain on certain scenes but globally, it's acceptable and Lynch himself seems to be satisfied this is as good as he could get it (see the extras for more on that). It does seem unusual to lodge a lot of extras and a long film on only one disc - a two disc set would have probably improved image quality a little.

The sound:
The original Dolby Surround mix has been omitted (but was present on the US disc) and replaced with a 5.1 mix. From what I've heard, this mix is not too different from the original mix but it would have been nice to have the originally intended mix at least as an option - especially given Lynch's views on 5.1 remixes. As things stand the 5.1 mix is relatively flat with very little use of the surrounds which are very discreet.

The extras:
Lynch doesn't do commentaries but he does talk a little about the film in the extras.

  • Love, Death, Elvis and Oz (30 mins) takes a retrospective look back at the making of the film with Lynch, Dern, Cage and Ladd as well as the filming crew. Of course, Lynch doesn't reveal that much about the meaning of the film but it's an interesting piece about his work methods and about the context of the film.
  • Dell's Lunch Counter gives us nine more snippets of material that were cut out of the main featurette - they vary in length but all are less than four minutes long and focus on very interesting topics such as Lynch's obsession with putting the Red Pipes from Tati's Mon Oncle in every single one of his films or their memories of the Cannes film festival where Wild at Heart won the Palme d'Or.
  • Specific Spontaneity: focus on David Lynch (6 mins) - cast and crew talk about the Lynch method.
  • David Lynch on DVD (3 mins): Lynch talks about the remastering of Wild at Heart and his specifications about getting things right on DVD. In the case of Wild at Heart, he felt that the initial positive wasn't good enough so got MGM to pay for a brand new corrected positive which allowed him to "tweak that bad boy" into shape.
  • Original featurette (7 mins): a very dark-haired Lynch and some cast members struggle to sell the film to the audience.
  • TV spots: Four of them although there only seems to be two different versions from what I can see.
  • Theatrical trailer: A trailer that tells you little about the film but then, all Lynch films must be pretty difficult to advertise anyway.
  • Photo gallery: Production stills from the making of the film.

My main disappointment with this release is the lack of a second disc - lodging the extras on the second DVD would have given more room to include the original soundtrack mix as well as a better bitrate. As Lynch films go, Wild at Heart may be one of the more accessible but it most definitely is not Lynch-lite. A powerful, messed-up vision of a world gone wrong, the film in my mind improves with time and repeated viewing.

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out of 10

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