Special Edition

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Nicholas Cage, Laura Dern, Diane Ladd, Willem Dafoe, Harry Dean Stanton, Crispin Glover, Isabella Rossellini, Grace Zabriskie
Director:  David Lynch
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  MGM
Features:  See Review
Length:  124 Minutes
Release Date:  December 7, 2004

“Here you are, crossing state lines with an A-number one certified murderer.”

“Manslaughter-er, honey, not murderer.  Don’t exaggerate.”

Film ***

Wild at Heart is your basic love story where the boy reminds you of Elvis and the girl seems like Marilyn, and where their love takes them on a Yellow Brick Road through a hell peopled with freaks and psychopaths, and where violence is as sudden and gruesome as it is funny.  Or maybe I should have just said it was a David Lynch film and saved myself a bit of trouble.

It arrived in theatres in the summer of 1990 on the heels of his first successful television season of Twin Peaks, and carrying the top prize of the Cannes Film Festival.  For true fans of David Lynch, it was a wildly unsettling, frequently hilarious and often mesmerizing mind trip typical of what they’d come to expect from the surrealistic director.  For the more casual fans of his recent television work…well, I’m quite sure they didn’t know what to make of it.

Based on a novel by Barry Gifford, Lynch’s screenplay turned the story of lovers on the run into a drama that seems part Romeo and Juliet and part Wizard of Oz.  It has all the elements of a romance, a road picture, a gangster flick and an Elvis Presley musical movie, but just enough of each to create something that doesn’t seem like any one of them overall, especially when spiced up with Lynch’s wicked sense of humor.

Sailor (Cage) loves Lula (Dern), but the road ahead isn’t smoothly paved for the star-crossed lovers.  In an opening sequence that’s become a cult classic on its own, a knife-wielding hit man hired by Lula’s mother Marietta (Dern’s real life mother Ladd) tries to take out Sailor, who in turn beats the fellow to a bloody mess with his bare hands.  Huffing and puffing, he lights a cigarette and glowers at Marietta in an exaggerated stance.  Despite the shocking bit of violence we just witnessed, we can’t help but chuckle.

Sailor goes to jail, but the story picks up when he gets out.  Unable to keep her daughter from him, Marietta tries to arrange for another hit…this time with a much more dangerous gang lord.  Sailor and Lula decide to hit the road and head west, in violation of his parole.

Along the way, Sailor and Lula dance, have lots of sex, drive, and have soul-baring conversations that are sometimes both touching and amusing at the same time.  Over the course of the film, they’ll learn new things about each other, and they’ll learn that love can indeed conquer all, even if the world, as Lula puts it, is “wild at heart and weird on top”.

It’s not so much the plot that attracts in a David Lynch film…that’s pretty much just a map from A to Z…instead, it’s the sights along the way.  Lynch never takes his viewers down a straight, empty highway, but rather uses the scenic routes, and his scenes are filled with strange images and unsettling characters.  Who could ever forget Crispin Glover and his counter filled with mushed sandwiches (or the roaches in his underpants), or Grace Zabriskie’s demonic drive to mix sex and death, or especially Willem Dafoe’s repulsive turn alone with Laura Dern…or for that matter, his dramatic exit from the film where he TRULY loses his mind?

The best David Lynch film’s are like watching somebody’s dream unfold before you.  You can’t always ascribe meaning or sense in the most comfortable definitions of the words to what you see, but his images and ideas tend to resonate in your subconscious while you watch and for a long period afterwards.  It’s the kind of experience that will enthrall some and infuriate others, but no matter how you judge it, it’s almost always the furthest from a typical night at the movies as you can get.

New fans of Twin Peaks mostly didn’t pick up the clues…sure, Lynch is capable of creating a story with quirky but likeable characters and a running thread of mystery, but the actual point of his television show was about how strange, surreal and sometimes dangerous things lurk just beneath the surface of a docile façade.  There were dark secrets dwelling underneath his vision of small town America, and in Wild at Heart, he really puts the gothic in Southern Gothic, relying on the audience’s affinity for his two lead characters to guide them through.

Like many of his films, Wild at Heart seems aimed squarely at the hearts of David Lynch fans, with a bead so sure that it’s not likely to hit many other targets along the way.  It’s not quite the masterpiece of Mulholland Drive or Blue Velvet, but for the adventurous, it offers more than a generous share of twisted, extraordinary pleasures.

BONUS TRIVIA I:  Look for Twin Peaks stars Sherilyn Fenn and Sheryl Lee in small roles.

BONUS TRIVIA II:  This is the film that introduced Chris Isaak and his immortal song "Wicked Game" to the world!

BONUS TRIVIA III:  Nicholas Cage does his own singing in the movie.

Video ***

This new anamorphic transfer from the original negatives was supervised by David Lynch, and the resulting DVD looks quite good.  Colors are sharper and more striking than in any other home video presentation I can recall.  A couple of darker scenes show a bit of grain, but that’s likely the fault of the source material.  A bit of shimmer can be seen around the edges from time to time, but it’s very infrequent and not really a distraction.

Audio ***

The 5.1 mix is also new, and Wild at Heart sounds wilder than ever.  Matches flare up and sound like raging forest fires, the music both roars and purrs out of the speakers, and ambient sounds make up David Lynch’s strange aural landscapes…everything works cleanly and clearly, with intelligible dialogue, good dynamic range, and plenty of punch from the subwoofer.  Nicely done.

Features ***1/2

This Special Edition DVD from MGM is well-packaged, and though David Lynch still refrains from commentary tracks, his extra participation on this disc is both evident and welcome.  In a new documentary, he discusses the film, and is featured along with most of the cast members sharing their memories.  For more information, there are also extended interview bits you can peruse.

A featurette on David Lynch showcases cast and crew members discussing what it’s like to work for him and offers insights into his creative process.  Lynch also speaks in a clip about the efforts to restore and remaster his movie for digital preservation.  Rounding out are the original 1990 making-of featurette, trailer and TV spots, an image gallery, and some cool animated menus with sound.


Wild at Heart is anything but a typical love story…call it romance, David Lynch style.  It’s never pleased all audiences, but for fans of Lynch, it remains a favorite, and MGM has rolled out a terrific special edition DVD release for them.

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