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Wild at Heart

Twilight Time // R // April 8, 2014 // Region 0
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Screenarchives]

Review by Tyler Foster | posted April 23, 2014 | E-mail the Author
Wild at heart and weird on top. That's the world that Sailor (Nicolas Cage) and Lula (Laura Dern) are fighting to survive in director David Lynch's adaptation of Barry Gifford's book. Nearly every station on the radio is talking about death and destruction, gangsters and murderers seem to roam the street at will, and an ominous atmosphere hangs over everything, even in lonely desert towns far away from civilization. As long as Sailor and Lula have each other, they've got a chance, but Lula's mother Marietta (Diane Ladd) wants nothing but to destroy their relationship. First, she gets Sailor imprisoned when she sends amateur assassin Bob Ray Lemon (Gregg Dandridge) after him and he kills him in self defense; then, when Sailor breaks parole and hits the road with Lula, she sends her kindly lover Johnnie Farragut (Harry Dean Stanton) to find them, and the homicidal Marcelles Santos (J.E. Freeman) to kill Sailor as a back-up plan.

Wild at Heart is one of Lynch's most divisive films, not just critically but artistically. When the film won the Palme d'Or at the 1990 Cannes Film Festival, legend says the booing was as loud as the applause, but the film also uniquely blends Lynch's stylistic eccentricities with one of his most conventional narratives, a familiar story about young lovers, against the world and on the wrong side of the law. It is often repulsively grotesque, lingering on ideas like flies buzzing around vomit left on a dingy motel carpet in the sun or the bloody brutality of Sailor's response to Bob Ray Lemon's attempt to kill him. Yet, there's a strange sweetness to it all, as Sailor and Lula chase a shared dream based on The Wizard of Oz, in which they could escape the clutches of Marietta's Wicked Witch and the harsh realities of the real world through the power of their love. Every sensation in Wild at Heart is saturated, including their youthful passion.

If there's a serious problem with Wild at Heart, it's probably the movie's erratic, jerky pacing. At least an hour of material was cut from the finished film, and what remains definitely suggests a more hypnotic film carved down to size in an intentionally fractured, jagged way. The film opens suddenly, as if 20 minutes of Sailor and Lula meeting and falling in love were lopped off the picture, and Sailor's entire prison sentence passes in a single cut. Conversations will suddenly jump to a related character or event for only a couple of seconds, which is almost startling. These editorial jolts fit the film's personality, but other choices are less successful. There's a mystery that links Sailor and Lula's pasts together, but the way their brief flashbacks fit together is pretty obvious from the very beginning, making the thread's slow burn (no pun intended) a bit of a slog. When Marietta hires Santos to kill Sailor, Santos delegates the work to Reggie (Calvin Lockhart) through a bizarre middleman named Mr. Reindeer (William Morgan Sheppard), a character that could've been cut out of the film entirely.

Lynch has a reputation for being "weird", and Wild at Heart is certainly unconventional, but his interest in the offbeat and crazy is employed to capture honest emotions, and some of Wild at Heart's most compelling sequences stem from this. When Sailor sings "Love Me" to Lula in a dark dance club, it's certainly surreal, but Cage admirably channels Elvis' magnetism. Many romances have "the sex scene", but Lula and Sailor make love constantly, with Lynch focusing time and time again on their animal energy, and the way they look into each other's eyes. As the film shifts into the second half, Lula and Sailor come upon a crashed car on the side of the road, and Sherilyn Fenn's performance as the passenger, already succumbing to her wounds, captures the terror and sadness of death better than many prolonged speeches by more developed characters in other movies. Shortly after encountering the accident, Lula and Sailor meet the intimidating and sinister Bobby Peru (Willem Dafoe), who is staying at the same motel. Dafoe's scene with Dern is possibly the most memorable in the entire movie, fluidly shifting from tense to terrifying to sexy to darkly humorous and back to tense.

Although Lynch doesn't necessarily focus much on the film's thematic ideas, he constructs a crazy nightmare world with the lovelorn couple at the center. While the film's other characters are corrupted and swallowed up by the evils of the world, an evil which walks right up to people and announces its intentions, they fuel their energy into each other, and tune out everything else. There is a hint of a parallel in Marietta's sweet romance with Johnnie Farragut, but she's unable to break herself away from her obsessive hatred of Sailor. When Marietta gives into a stronger form of evil to destroy what she believes is another, kindly Johnnie takes the heat for it. Fans of the book will know that Lynch changed the ending, feeling that the film was asking for a different resolution. Although it may seem a bit canned (and the makeup effects are terrible), Lynch's instincts were right. Wild at Heart is a dark and stormy movie, but there's light at the end of the yellow brick road.

The Blu-Ray
Twilight Time presents Wild at Heart on Blu-Ray with a reformatted version of the film's original theatrical poster art gracing the front, which is very retro. The change to the font (to make the title larger) isn't exactly an improvement, but the use of the original key art is a plus in my book. The disc comes in a cheap Infiniti Blu-Ray case, and there is a booklet featuring liner notes by Twilight Time's Julie Kirgo. It might be argued that the booklet art is a little nicer than the package art, but the inconsistency of the fonts on the booklet cover is distracting.

The Video and Audio
Wild at Heart is presented in a 2.39:1 1080p AVC-encoded transfer that is reportedly from the same source as MGM's Lynch-approved DVD...which, unfortunately, makes this master around 10 years old. As a result, this transfer doesn't quite offer the depth or richness of some Blu-Rays. In one of the film's darkest club scenes, a woman's feather boa comes close to vanishing against the cloth of her dress. The age of the transfer also shows in the harsher grain structure, which may be accentuated by a hint of sharpening. Black levels overall are also anemic, appearing closer to gray than true black, flecks and dirt on the print are not uncommon, and in the film's first shot of a match being struck, some banding is visible. That said, at many times, this is a reasonably pleasing presentation, still exhibiting a clear increase in detail and dimension over that 2004 Special Edition DVD (now long out-of-print), as well as vivid colors that match the film's intense content.

Huge fans of Wild at Heart may have purchased Universal's initial UK edition of the film, which was region free. Although both transfers appear to have originated from the same source and thus have many of the same quirks, there is one subtle but noticeable difference between the two editions: the disappearance of a faint yellow tint. Although the film still exhibits a certain desert orange, skin has been restored to a more natural pink on this Twilight Time edition. However, it's been pointed out that the DVD -- the only home video edition of the movie that Lynch was directly involved with -- also featured the yellow tint. Although the natural-looking skin is pleasing to the eye, perhaps the tint is Lynch's intention. As I don't know, I personally find the TT Blu-Ray's appearance to be superior, but it's worth questioning. Should Lynch ever see the Blu-Ray and comment on it, the review will be updated accordingly.

The region free UK release was hounded by an issue: the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack did not properly play through the rear channels. The first locked UK release bungled this further by including only a lossy DD 2.0 track, before finally the issue was rectified by a proper DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track. This disc includes that properly formatted aural presentation, along with English and Spanish DTS-HD MA 2.0 tracks. I listened to the 5.1 (a remix that was also supervised by Lynch in 2004), and it sounds great on this disc, with nice separation in the club scenes (listen to the the crowd's swoons as Sailor sings Elvis to Lula), or the vibrancy of Badalamenti's ominous score. English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.

The Extras
All of the supplementary material produced for the 2004 special edition are included for the first time on a Blu-Ray disc, pushing this disc up over import copies for those who want to retire their SE DVDs. These extras include "Love, Death, Elvis, and Oz: The Making of Wild at Heart" (29:52), an fantastic making-of documentary featuring then-new interviews with Lynch, Cage, Dern, author Barry Gifford, Dafoe, and many more, as well as a large selection of extended interviews (21:05) from the same sessions; the film's original EPK (6:54); the featurettes "Specific Spontaneity: Focus on David Lynch" (7:16) and "David Lynch on the DVD" (2:46); plus a motion gallery and a selection of trailers and TV spots. All of the above content is presented in SD, and aside from the chintzy slideshow, all of it is really good. Although they never had the resources to do multi-disc sets, MGM frequently made up for it with really top-notch content. Wild at Heart was one of their last great special edition DVDs, and the love the cast and crew have for Lynch's cult romance really shines through.

The one addition to Twilight Time's disc is -- you guessed it -- an isolated music and effects track, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The one minor but understandable omission? The hour of deleted scenes Lynch included with his specially-produced "Lime Green" DVD box set. (Had they made the jump, the disc would be pretty much indispensable for Lynch fans even with the transfer quibbles.)

Wild at Heart arguably one of Lynch's less accessible movies, and not necessarily one of his most refined films. However, it's certainly got a cult audience who would love to own it on Blu-Ray, and while the disc utilizes an older master that doesn't get the most out of the format, the inclusion of MGM's Special Edition extras easily earn this package a recommendation.

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