Inland Empire DVD Review

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by Barry Wurst
Released by Rhino
Released on August 14, 2007

THE MOVIE:
As there are so few David Lynch films in his directorial cannon, it seems his fans grow fewer and fewer every year.  Sure, most have seen his mixed bag adaptation of “Dune”, and a few others are fans of his “softer” films, “The Straight Story” and “The Elephant Man”, but really, when you think of Lynch, you’re talking about “Blue Velvet”, “Wild at Heart”, “Eraserhead”, “Lost Highway”, “Twin Peaks- Fire Walk With Me” and “Mulholland Dr.”, the latter being the last film Lynch made, back in 2001.  His latest, “Inland Empire”, was filmed in secrecy and was an ongoing project that grew from a series of previously created shorts that blossomed into a full-blown feature film.  Filmed entirely in a digital format, most of the filming took place under the radar in Poland.  Like his most famous works, “Inland Empire” is flush with imagery both indescribably beautiful and unbearably nightmarish, with his skill at conveying the stunning and the grotesque in full force, sometimes during the same scene.  His earlier films, like “Blue Velvet”, have well developed plots, while his later, signature works are far more
surrealistic, ethreal and intriguingly bizarre.

For the first 40 minutes, “Inland Empire” is about a film actress (Laura Dern) who has just landed a role in a film that has had a troubled, even dangerous past.  According to the director (played by Jeremy Irons), the film is a remake of an unfinished Polish drama that infamously resulted in a homicide involving the lead actors.  Undeterred, the production goes forward and what is real and what is part of the film-within-a-film becomes fuzzy
for the actors and us, the audience.  After the 40-minute mark, exactly what is going on is up the audience’s interpretation, which some will find as maddening as the 3-hour running time.  Needless to say, only die-hard Lynch fans and adventurous filmgoers will be up for the entire ride but, if you can stick with it through some of the sketchier stretches, this is a spooky, challenging, frightening and dazzling film, a one-of-a-kind work of cinematic expressionism and one of Lynch’s best films.  Dern gives a brave, go-for-broke turn that is one of her best, Irons and the always stylish Justin Theroux give enjoyable turns and Julia Ormond, Harry Dean Stanton and Mary Steenburgen have memorable cameo appearences.  For all the stuff that doesn’t work (scenes depicting Polish criminals and more than a dozen sequences of Dern walking down ominous hallways), there are clever, playful touches (the clever Hollywood prologue) and brilliant set pieces (as when Dern encounters a roomful of mysterious women, the disturbing Hollywood Boulevard set piece, and an eerie moment when Dern doesn’t realize she is breaking character in the middle of a scene being filmed).  Many will understandably be turned off by a film that offers ample clues (having seen this twice, the opening, like “Mulholland Dr.”, gives you indications of what is ahead) but no explanations (what those rabbits are about, I have no
earthly idea).  Like most Lynch films, seeing it more than once gives you a better appreciation for the overall scope of what he intended and, while this is one of the strangest works by a reliably out-there filmmaker, it is one of his boldest efforts and further proof that Lynch is first and foremost a visual artist.

DVD Transfer:
On the big screen, “Inland Empire” was a mixed bag visually.  Since Lynch filmed the entire thing digitally, there were times when it gave the film’s attractive decor a fuzzy, unappealing look.  On DVD, the film looks better than it was in theaters- a sequence showing Dern and Theroux filming in a lush, outdoor locale looked too fuzzy on the big screen, but has the right feel on the screen-to-DVD transfer.  The contrast of color and light look great and the film generously offers a menu option in which, if the colors don’t look right, viewers can adjust the contrast on their sets before viewing.

The Special Edition offers a second disc that is loaded with extras: in addition to three trailers for the film, a slide show of photo stills, there’s a long reel of deleted scenes.  Like the film itself, the deleted scenes can be dazzling or tedious, depending on how much you like the film overall.  I enjoyed seeing Natassja Kinski’s creepy deleted scene, as it puts her back in the film (in the theatrical cut, she only appears on screen for a second in the closing credit sequence).  The best of the extra features is a short film titled “Lynch 2”, which shows Lynch during the making of the movie, losing his temper, getting cranky, coming up with random creative impulses, painting backdrops, booking actors and directing scenes on the set of the film.  It provides a highly illuminating glimpse of the director and is worth watching simply to hear him tell an actor over the phone, “are you ready to act with a monkey?”. Another extra, titled “Ballerina”, shows a ballerina dancing with a stylish background imposed over her; the image appears briefly in the film and, as an extra that goes on for a long span of time, it’s beautiful to look at for a minute and that’s it. Also, “Stories” has Lynch talking to the camera about everything from lighting to sound mixing (this feature is only somewhat interesting).  The most peculiar extra is called “Quinoa” (pronounced Keen-Wah) and it shows Lynch making the dish of the same name; it was shot in black and white, was filmed in real time and comes across as The David Lynch Cooking Show.  It’s as exciting as it sounds.

Overall, if you loved the movie, the Special Editon, 2-disc set is a must for Lynch fans who want a solid presentation of the film and eye-opening extras that showcase Lynch’s eccentricities and artistic process. For those who just want to see the film, definately give it a rental before you buy it, as, if the film isn’t your bag, you won’t want to be stuck with a 2-disc Special Edition of something so utterly weird.

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