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Rhino presents
David Lynch's INLAND EMPIRE (2006)

"Look at me, and tell me if you've known me before. "
- Nikki Grace (Laura Dern)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: August 13, 2007

Stars: Laura Dern, Jeremy Irons, Justin Theroux
Other Stars: Harry Dean Stanton, Krzysztof Majchrzak, Julia Ormond, Diane Ladd, Peter J. Lucas, William H. Macy, Jordan Ladd, Laura Harring, Nastassja Kinski, Scott Coffey
Director: David Lynch

MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence and sexuality/nudity
Run Time: 02h:59m:40s
Release Date: August 14, 2007
UPC: 858334001145
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A+ ABA A+

DVD Review

David Lynch is one of the great polarizing names in film today, with camps generally split between genius/artiste and arthouse/weirdo. Even among the Lynch faithful there is a vague strata of adoration for his feature films (his shorts are on another level altogether), with favorites ranging from the confoundingly eerie Eraserhead to the revered and more accessible Twin Peaks series, or his attempt taking on revered sci-fi with Dune. He can paint surreal head trip puzzles like Mulholland Dr. that are littered with clues to the story he is trying to tell, or he can get dark and arty with Lost Highway, seemingly going weird just for the hell of it. And then there's the grand opposites of The Elephant Man—one of Lynch's finest linear works—and Straight Story, an almost syrupy G-rated oddball tale of a man and his journey on a riding lawnmower.

The short answer is that whatever he touches get a distinct layer of mondo bizarre pixie dust spread all over it (see Blue Velvet), and his celebrated desire to not talk about the meaning in his films only enhances in-depth overanalysis by Lynch geeks.

INLAND EMPIRE (yes, Lynch prefers it capitalized) is an odd followup to Mulholland Dr., and it is almost as if Lynch felt he was getting too mainstream and had to force himself to take a couple of big boy steps backwards into the void. Where Mulholland Dr. was strange, sexual, and unsettling, it had fairly big signposts to help viewers piece the narrative together if they chose to. INLAND EMPIRE goes light years beyond all of that, blurring the lines between the many layers of dream and reality and time, all spread across three hours of Lynch operating in full-on experimental mode. Add to that there is the director's new love for shooting on digital video—often hand-held—and the experience can become even more dizzying.

This is likely Lynch's most elaborately psychotic episode since Eraserhead. He purposely makes this one challenging, and INLAND EMPIRE—which carries the tagline of "a woman in trouble"— makes Mulholland Dr. look like a hastily written 90 minute teenage comedy. A casual observation would indicate that it morphs between hours of what-the-hell-is-going-on-here arthouse weirdness and alluring Lynch strangeness. It is never unwatchable, but rarely understandable, at least on the first go-round. I think I was following him loosely for the first 45 minutes or so (if you subtract the first 10) and then the wheels began to come off the bus and I just had to sit there and try to keep my head from melting as things became less and less normal. Humans with giant rabbit heads. Dancing prostitutes with a penchant for the Locomotion. Spoon-head closeups. Flickering desk lamps. A near constant industrial-sounding bass rumble.

There is a plot here somewhere, having to do with actress Nikki Grace (Laura Dern) landing the lead in a new film to be directed by Kingsley Stewart (Jeremy Irons), with her co-star the womanizing Devon Burk (Justin Theroux). It is then revealed that the project may be cursed, with a dark lineage going back to Poland and a mysterious pair of murders. That's about all you're going to get from Lynch up front, and from there INLAND EMPIRE becomes an snaky labyrinth of multi-layered realities that the viewer is left to identify, as an actress becomes a character who becomes a character who was an actress. All at the same time and separately.

Dern's performance runs the gamut from normalcy to madness and all unexpected stops in between. It's one of those intensely keen slow-burn acting jobs, the kind that sneak up on you until you suddenly realize the actress has been stretched and distorted for our pleasure right in front of our eyes. Where Naomi Watts channeled perky sensuality in Mulholland Dr., Dern is left to softly fall apart from every seam, peeling away layer by layer as Lynch continually screws with not just the reality of his characters, but our perceptions of them as well.

A film like this shows that Lynch has not lost the ability to be structurally and logically adventurous, to the point of boldly challenging audiences with his contradictions of casually merging the mundane and the surreal, mashing them together into a big wad of something special. This one is wide open for interpretation, and is that rare sort of filmmaking requires a level of patience on the part of the viewer, a grand dare from Lynch to hop onboard and hold on tight. It's not an easy thing to do, and it doesn't always end with everything tied up in neat little bows. Not by a longshot.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: The film in presented in its original 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. The merits of the transfer are in direction correlation to Lynch's new penchant for shooting on digital video, and during its theatrical run, the blowup to 35mm revealed an excess of inherent smear and contrast issues. A bit rugged and rough in spots, it was part of Lynch's art and actually an integral part of piecing together the narrative. With the DVD—unless you are watching it on a 100-inch and up screen—some of these issues seem less pronounced, though certainly still in evidence. Colors range from muted to bright, with edges appearing well-defined here and softly blurred there. The high contrast issues remain in certain sequences, yet much of this is in relation to the multi-layered storyline as much as it is transfer-based. Proper calibration is essential, especially if you are still around for the final hour or so.

While not a crisp, bright HD transfer, the fluctuations and imperfections seem part of the experience. I expect many will bemoan this as a terrible transfer, when in reality it is no doubt what Lynch intended. Oddball or not, his actions always appear exacting and deliberate.

Image Transfer Grade: B

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: A trio of English-language audio options include a default 2.0 stereo mix, as well as a pair of Dolby Digital 5.1 surround tracks available in either Near-Field Monitor Playback or Far-Field Monitor Playback. The two 5.1 choices are designed to compensate for individual speaker size/distance settings, allowing for subtle variations in spatial imaging depending on your setup. If you're uncertain over which to choose, don't despair because there isn't really a "wrong" setting, as bouncing between the two I found voice quality to be cleanly mixed on both, and Lynch's love of unusual musical selections playing equally true on either option. Another Lynch trademark is his love of a low bass rumble, an almost industrial sound, which once again is a near constant.

Audio Transfer Grade: A

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 39 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in French with remote access
3 Original Trailer(s)
4 Documentaries
2 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Gladiator style 2-pack
Picture Disc
2 Discs
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: The hinged case holds two discs and an insert promoting David Lynch Signature Gourmet Coffee and the film Lynch (One). Disc 1 carries the feature, and though there is no chapter menu option, the film is however broken into 39 stops, with optional French subs. Also included is an extensive and detailed picture calibration option and a "lost" scene easter egg (02m:17s) that can be found on the Languages & Sound setup screen.

Disc 2 holds all of the supplements, beginning with an automated anamorphic widescreen Stills segment (07m:17s), accompanied by an industrial machine sound. More Things That Happened (01h:14m:56s) is probably what will interest most Lynch fans, as this is a massive block of unused footage and scenes—available in anamorphic widescreen and with the same three audio options found on the main feature—presented without explanation or clarification of any kind. Yes, another 74 minutes of material for perusal, and while some of it seems meandering, this is essential viewing.

Quinoa (20m:04s) is a cooking tutorial from Lynch, shot in a very stylized black-and-white, where he explains how to prepare the high-protein goosefoot plant. The segment moves with a strange casualness, plenty of emphasis on "nice, fresh water" and even a moment for him to take a smoke break and tell a story. Ballerina (12m:21s) features a female dancer in a red dress moving in and out of focus to an eerie score for twelve minutes, and whether this was to be part of INLAND EMPIRE or not is unclear.

Stories (41m:48s) runs a close second to More Things That Happened on the geek cool scale, as here it is Lynch answering title card questions about a range of topics, ostensibly about filmmaking, but veering off periodically. His discussion of sound—in particular the wind—and its role in INLAND EMPIRE is a fascinating peek under his hood. Lynch 2 (30m:10s) is a collection of on-location behind-the-scenes footage, as we are given a look at the director in action, including his instructions to Dern on how to properly vomit on camera.

Disc 2 wraps with three trailers for INLAND EMPIRE, all of which do an exemplary job of saying nothing, yet are cut in such a way that it is impossible to look away.

Extras Grade: A+

 

Final Comments

For all the cascading nightmares and "what the..." interwoven realities in INLAND EMPIRE, it comes across as something hypnotic, even as I was adrift in the visuals. There are images I held with me for days afterwards, and I found myself attempting to sift through the narrative rubble to somehow make sense out if all. Lynch won't spoon feed audiences, and while I'm not entirely convinced he doesn't sometimes just like weirdness for weirdness' sake, INLAND EMPIRE does tell a story underneath the cacophony. A David Lynch story. And those do require some work to decipher.

I drank the Lynch Kool-Aid a long time ago. His name on a project immediately excites and frightens me. This two-disc director-supervised release comes highly recommended, but only to those with a strong disposition and an appreciation for the director's flair for the incomprehensible.

 


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