Release Date(s)1997 (October 11, 2022)
Studio(s)Ciby 2000/Asymmetrical Productions (The Criterion Collection – Spine #1152)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A+
- Extras Grade: B
It’s fair to say that post-Twin Peaks and pre-Mulholland Drive, most of David Lynch’s output in the 1990s was often maligned or, in some cases, discarded and tossed aside by critics. When 1997’s Lost Highway was released, they were ultimately mixed on or downright dismissive of its blending of film noir, psychological thriller, horror, and overt sexuality in an intentionally abstract package. What they failed to recognize is that Lynch was jumping headlong back into the abstractions that made him so notorious in films like Eraserhead, meaning that his work can leave much open to interpretation. In this way, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and Lost Highway can also be seen as transitional films for Lynch. For someone who was exploring transcendental meditation and continued painting, his film output became more self-reflective.
The primary narrative of Lost Highway follows Fred Madison (Bill Pullman), a troubled musician who begins receiving videotapes of his home on his doorstep. He also begins to grow suspicious of his wife Renee (Patricia Arquette), and when she’s found murdered, Fred is incarcerated. Meanwhile, Pete (Balthazar Getty), a young auto mechanic, has grabbed the attention of mob boss Mr. Eddy (Robert Loggia), as well as Mr. Eddy’s young and beautiful mistress, Alice (Arquette). The mystery of Fred’s disappearance from prison, the identity of a man named Dick Laurent, and the presence of the so-called Mystery Man (Robert Blake) continues to confound.
Lost Highway is certainly a film that leaves one full of questions after an initial viewing, and it’s perhaps the primary reason for the mixed reaction upon its initial release. Are Fred and Pete the same person? Is Fred time-traveling from and to events in his life? Are Renee and Alice one and the same? Is the Mystery Man the cause of Fred’s ability to inhabit the body of another? Is all of this in Fred’s demented and disturbed mind? The film’s surrealist, open-ended quality doesn’t offer any clear solutions, but at the same time, the discussion it incurs is far more intriguing and satisfying. One can read it as a science fiction tale of sorts, or simply Lynch taking the material and breathing his own ideas and concepts about himself and human beings into it. Some may find that confusing and want something more traditional, while others may delight in the not knowing and reading further into it than simply accepting what’s on the surface.
Regardless, Lost Highway is a gorgeous film with an exciting soundtrack, one that was a staple in the late 1990s, featuring bands and artists like Nine Inch Nails, Marilyn Manson, The Smashing Pumpkins, Rammstein, Lou Reed, and David Bowie (Bowie had previously worked with Lynch on Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me, but in an acting role). Lost Highway is also one of Lynch’s darkest works, and perhaps the closest he’s ever gotten to what we think of as a horror film. And in this author’s opinion, the mixed reactions to it be damned as it’s another fascinating slice of Lynch.
Lost Highway was shot by director of photography Peter Deming on 35 mm film using a series of Panavision and Mitchell GC cameras and Panavision lenses, finished photochemically, and presented in the aspect ratio of 2.39:1. Criterion brings the film to UHD for the first time from a new 4K restoration from the original 35 mm A/B camera negative, which was supervised by David Lynch, and graded for High Dynamic Range (HDR10 and Dolby Vision options are included). A nice steady sheen of grain and a comfortable bitrate are the stars of the show in this presentation. It’s also very clean with no visible damage, and better balanced when it comes to contrast and brightness, as shadow detail is much more prevalent. The caveat is the saturation. Many may recall the debacle that was Kino Lorber’s 2019 bare bones Blu-ray release in which (as far as we know) Kino reached out to Lynch for participation and approval of a new 4K restoration and extras, a request that he seemingly ignored and subsequently told the public not to purchase when released. I’d like to hope there was a miscommunication of some sort as we missed out on what could have been a very nice release, but regardless, Lynch chose to participate in the approval of this restoration instead, for whatever reasons.
There are definite differences between the color palette seen here and those of previous DVD and Blu-ray releases, opting for a mostly pale and cooler palette, as opposed to the more obviously saturated releases of the past. For example, Renee’s red dress in the opening scenes was a crimson shade of red, but now appears as a deep mahogany. It gives the film a starker and less vivid appearance overall. At the same, there’s also some inconsistencies. Flesh tones, for example, are a bit more natural in some scenes, but pallid in others. The question now lies: is this David Lynch revisionism, or is this the way the film was intended to be seen? None of us have those answers, but in any case, this is his preferred look for the film. The HDR grades manage to get the most out of what’s presented, allowing for much deeper blacks and textures. The difference in saturation may divide long-time viewers, but newcomers will find no faults whatsoever. When all is said and done, it’s still the best the film has ever looked on home video.
Audio is included in English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and English 2.0 LPCM, both mixes supervised by Lynch. Subtitles are included in English SDH. Whatever faults the video may have, both sound mixes are large and in charge, particularly the multi-channel option. It offers terrific atmosphere and separation, with clear dialogue and deep, rattling bass. The score and music also come through with intensiveness. You can’t go wrong with either option.
Lost Highway on 4K Ultra HD sits in Digipak packaging alongside a 1080p Blu-ray and a 32-page insert booklet containing cast and crew information, the David Lynch interview “The Home Is a Place Where Things Can Go Wrong”: Lost Highway from Chris Rodley’s book Lynch on Lynch, transfer information, and production credits. The following extras are included on the Blu-ray only:
- Pretty as a Picture: The Art of David Lynch (SD – 80:39)
- Outtakes (SD – 14:17)
- “Next Door to Dark” (HD – 43:39)
- The Making of Lost Highway: Lynch, Arquette, Pullman, & Loggia (HD and Upscaled SD – 13:03)
- David Lynch, 1997 (HD and Upscaled SD – 11:25)
- Theatrical Re-Release Trailer (HD – :55)
Pretty as a Picture is a 1997 documentary by Toby Keeler that speaks to a number of David Lynch collaborators, as well as Lynch himself, about his work, his career, and his personal life, leap-frogging from one subject to the next. It features behind-the-scenes footage of the making of Lost Highway, interviews the main cast, and provides a personal tour of one of the locations that Eraserhead was shot on, speaking to Lynch’s late collaborators Jack Nance, Catherine Coulson, and Angelo Badlamenti. It’s a terrific piece, but the amazing thing is that it was released by Image Entertainment on DVD in 1999, and has been otherwise absent on disc. Alongside it are fourteen minutes of Outtakes, which were also included on the same DVD.
“Next Door to the Dark” is an audio rendition of a chapter from David Lynch’s and Kristine McKenna’s book Room to Dream, both reading sections from it. McKenna details the lead-up to, process of, and aftermath of Lost Highway, while Lynch relays personal stories from that time in his life, including a memorable meet-and-greet and screening of the film with Marlon Brando. The Making of Lost Highway is made up of HD footage from the film and interviews with David Lynch, Patricia Arquette, Bill Pullman, and Robert Loggia during the making of and press for the film, much of it taken from the same interviews used for the Toby Keeler documentary, but features otherwise unused material that delves more into the film itself. David Lynch, 1997 is an interview with the director from the same era, speaking about how Lost Highway came into being. It covers much of the same material as the previous extras, but expands upon it a little more. Last is the Janus Films theatrical re-release trailer for the film.
Unfortunately, none of the film’s rumored deleted scenes have been made available, nor has the marketing archive, but the hardest omission to ignore is a Tim Lucas audio commentary, which was originally recorded for Kino Lorber’s Blu-ray release of the film in 2019 and went unused. However, you savvy readers can certainly find it and listen to it free of charge, if you're so inclined.
The Criterion 4K Ultra HD release of Lost Highway may not please everyone wanting a truly definitive presentation of the film, but coming as it does with the stamp of approval from Lynch himself, it’s hard to ignore. Overall, a lovely release with a couple of chinks in the armor.
- Tim Salmons