Wild at Heart (1990) Special Edition
2.35:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital 5.1, 2.0
MGM Home Entertainment, $19.98

Though it has divided audiences ever since it won the grand prize at Cannes, David Lynch’s Wild at Heart has long been a holy grail for DVD aficionados. Thanks to MGM, the wait has been worth it: this new disc boasts a superb transfer that meticulously preserves the tonal range of the widescreen cinematography by Frederick Elmes, ASC, as well as the sonic complexity of Randy Thom’s sound design. Finally, there is an alternative to the numerous pan-and-scan versions that wrought havoc with the film’s stylish compositions.

When Wild at Heart was released in 1990, Lynch was at a creative and commercial high point. His previous feature, Blue Velvet, was an art-house phenomenon, and the first season of Twin Peaks had recently aired to wild acclaim. Wild at Heart fulfills expectations one might have had of Lynch at that time, and it also breaks off in startling new directions; in fact, the film is fascinating for how different it is from Blue Velvet. Rather than repeat the conventions of the film that made him popular, Lynch subverts them, replacing Blue Velvet’s cool palette with one of hot oranges and yellows, and swapping Velvet’s uneasy portrayal of sexuality for a relationship of unbridled passion.

Throughout Wild at Heart, which follows a pair of lovers on the run (Nicolas Cage and Laura Dern), kinetic camerawork and editing convey a world spiraling out of control. In its technical audacity, the film often feels like a forerunner to Natural Born Killers. Like that movie, Wild at Heart views late 20th-century America as a society so assaulted by tabloid sensationalism — in one key scene, Lula (Dern) can’t find anything on the radio but news about tragedies and violence — that any form of romantic expression is laudable, even if it’s romance between two sociopaths.

Wild at Heart is remarkable for its blend of divergent tones and styles; poignancy and graphic violence coexist with goofy comedy and erotic sex scenes, and the movie features irony and sincerity in equal measures. That it remains coherent is in part a testament to Elmes, who combines the freewheeling qualities he learned as a camera operator for John Cassavetes with lush imagery that’s highly expressive of the emotions at the film’s core. Lynch’s adventurousness required that Elmes be equally adept at noir chiaroscuro, scorching desert landscapes, and colorful fantasy (The Wizard of Oz is a key influence on the picture). The cinematographer rose to the challenge, creating some of his finest work.

Elmes’ cinematography is finally given its due in this flawless transfer, which was supervised by Lynch. The director discusses the process of remastering the film in a brief featurette (“David Lynch on the DVD Process”). Other supplements include a brief featurette from the electronic press kit, the theatrical trailer, TV spots (which do a decent job of marketing this most uncategorizable of films), and “Love, Death, Elvis & Oz,” a 30-minute making-of documentary that contains plenty of entertaining anecdotes. There’s also a menu titled “Dell’s Lunch Counter,” which contains a series of short interviews with Cage, Dern, Lynch, Willem Dafoe, Diane Ladd and Sheryl Lee. The supplements are slick and entertaining, and although they don’t really do the complexity of the film justice, they’re a vast improvement over the bonus materials on Mulholland Dr. and The Straight Story.

Although Lynch has refused to allow chapter encoding on DVDs in the past, he departs from that practice on this disc, so anyone looking for specific shots or scenes can skip around with ease. The filmmaker is as attentive to the aural qualities of his films as he is to the visual ones, and the remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 track captures the movie’s rich collage of expressionistic sounds and music with great clarity.

— Jim Hemphill

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© 2005 American Cinematographer.