Pulling Back the Red Curtain on the Twin Peaks Blu-ray Release
“Keep your eye on the donut, not the hole.”
David Lynch has always had a cautious relationship with home video. Interviews often find him extolling the virtues of darkened theaters and fretting about small screens, bad sound, and living room distractions. Only in recent years, as large HD displays and powerful surround systems have become more commonplace, has he embraced the idea of his work being presented in the home without compromise. It’s part of what inspired him to return to TV for more Twin Peaks, an undertaking that now comes home to join the rest of his canon on the shelf after a summer of broadcast and streaming on Showtime.
If you read my weekly recaps, you know how much the third season (a.k.a. The Return, or A Limited Event Series, as its box is now labeled) meant to me this year. A few months later, my feelings about Twin Peaks as a rumination on time, mortality, and the nature of fiction have only grown stronger. In fact, I’ve gotten a Peaks tattoo since the last time I wrote about the show. Naturally, I waited eagerly for the Blu-ray release, wondering whether Lynch’s attention to detail would win out over the public’s waning interest in physical media. Some massive distribution issues made attaining the set on its release date as tricky as capturing an ‘Experiment’ in a glass box, but I managed it, and am delighted to report that, like that box, my expectations were shattered.
I was unimpressed by the design of the split-Cooper cover art when it was first released online, but, as with the layered Laura Palmer cover of the original Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery Blu-ray, it works much better in person. The sturdy outer box and the chevron split revealing Dougie beneath Dale and his doppelganger make the whole product feel like a tome built to last. The inner disc sleeves are a tad flimsy, but shouldn’t present any problems as long as the glue holds.
In a beautiful touch, the technical specs, flavor text, and legalese are printed on a removable card, leaving an unblemished image of Laura on the back of a package that doesn’t feel like it’s trying to sell you anything. On a similar note, none of the eight discs open with ads or trailers. That’s nearly unheard of in a major studio release, and it lends a certain prestige to the experience of settling in for a marathon. The menus carry on the atmospheric tradition of The Entire Mystery, with a different eerie soundscape and moody environment on each disc. As a bonus, you’re given the option of viewing the first four parts as either individual hour-long episodes (as they appeared on streaming) or as two-hour “feature-length presentations” (as they debuted on TV).
Okay, so this box set’s aesthetics are top-notch, but the most important question is, of course, how does Twin Peaks: The Return look and sound on Blu-ray? I watched the series as it premiered each week on Showtime’s streaming app. While I never had any trouble losing myself in its striking images and stellar sound design, the improvements in this 1080p disc presentation are noticeable within seconds. For instance, there’s a pattern on the Fireman’s smoking jacket in the opening scene that I didn’t notice the first (or second or third) time I watched the premiere, but was immediately evident on the Blu-ray. I knew instantly that was a good sign, because Twin Peaks is an experience in texture and light, demanding nothing less than stellar image quality.
The episodes are spread out with no more than three parts per disc, leaving the video plenty of breathing room to maintain a high bitrate with minimal compression. Cinematographer Peter Deming’s work shines like it never quite could before on streaming, with rich colors and sharp details that allow Lynch to take just as much advantage of digital photography’s strengths as he ever did with film. He has always delighted in shrouding his most mysterious sequences in near-impenetrable darkness, a particular weakness of every home video format. But, much like Criterion’s Eraserhead, this Blu-ray set is a revelation in moments like Part 8’s monochromatic desert scenes, with solid shadows free of the dreaded “black crush” that plagues lesser video transfers.
Previous Blu-ray releases of the original two Twin Peaks seasons and Fire Walk with Me have received new 7.1 surround mixes, so it’s a bit surprising that the shiny new Limited Event Series is granted merely 5.1 Dolby TrueHD sound. However, those two extra channels of ambience would only be appreciated by the most discerning audiophiles, and the mix we do get shouldn’t disappoint anyone. Lynch and Dean Hurley gave The Return a soundscape unlike anything in the annals of television, and these discs present it fuller and stronger than ever. Electricity rumbles through your subwoofer, wind whips through your back channels, and Twin Peaks comes alive like never before. My only disappointment is English being the only audio/subtitle option, given how entertaining it was to explore the way Twin Peaks sounded around the world with The Entire Mystery’s wealth of dubs.
This stellar A/V presentation makes the release a resounding success in the most important departments. But, like all David Lynch fans, I’ve been craving more information about Twin Peaks’s unorthodox journey back to TV since it was announced, and that’s where the Blu-ray becomes something really special. CBS/Showtime and disc producers Lynch, Ken Ross, and Sabrina S. Sutherland have assembled a supplement package that offers a beautiful portrait of how The Return came to be, without destroying any of the magic or mystery of its existence.
Showtime’s original promotional materials are archived on disc one, allowing you to recreate last spring’s secretive hype campaign every time you revisit the premiere. Things kick off with Series Promos Produced by David Lynch, the seven striking commercials that teased the look and feel of the show without giving away a single plot detail. Running about five minutes in total, it made me realize I already have nostalgia for that time when the show was on the horizon and could have been anything. There’s also Twin Peaks: Phenomenon, a three-part, fifteen-minute featurette that prepared audiences for the third season by recalling the rise, fall, and rediscovery of Twin Peaks in the words of those who made it and those who were inspired by it. There’s no new information here for fans, but coverage of things like the Pink Room Burlesque and the Wrapped in Plastic fanzine make it a neat tribute to the fandom that kept the fire walk burning for a quarter-century.
Disc two houses the hour-long Comic-Con Twin Peaks Panel, recorded at SDCC in July of 2017, in which a smattering of actors field questions from fans and moderator Damon Lindelof about returning to the world of Twin Peaks. They have to be cagey about certain plot elements (only half of the show had aired at this point) and the fan Q&A is as awkward as such things tend to be, but the cast’s charm makes it a rewarding watch nonetheless. Highlights include the cosmic coincidences that allowed Everett McGill to return and a very Lynchian welcome video from the man himself. With so many blockbuster films getting these panels, it’s surprisingly rare to see them preserved on disc, making this a very thoughtful inclusion.
Along with the final two episodes, disc seven brings us the first of this collection’s wealth of never-before-seen documentaries. A Very Lovely Dream: One Week in Twin Peaks is a half-hour featurette by Charles de Lauzirika (best known for the exhaustive Alien Anthology) focusing on the location shoot that brought the cast and crew back to classic Twin Peaks sites in September of 2015. With audio interviews, laid over fly-on-the-wall footage, it captures the surreal experience of picking up where everything had left off twenty-five years earlier. It’s an enthralling time capsule and a worthy follow-up to the extras de Lauzirika created for previous Twin Peaks releases.
Next up are two half-hour home movie collections, Behind the Red Curtain and I Had Bad Milk in Dehradun, shot by Richard Beymer (a.k.a. Ben Horne). A brief note from Beymer precedes the footage, explaining that Lynch asked him to document the Red Room shoot. It’s a fascinating glimpse at the reality of the iconic space and the experimental mindset Lynch worked in to bring it to life. It’s full of little moments I never would have considered, like the actors rehearsing their backwards lines with the help of an iPhone app. Disc seven is rounded out by all eighteen multicolored Rancho Rosa Logos (running about two minutes laid end-to-end), a lovely Photo Gallery of moments captured on set, and a Crew List that takes four minutes to give an individual credit to every electrician, painter, and grip who worked on the series, which is a nice gesture I’ve never seen before.
All this would have given a perfectly admirable look behind the scenes, but the box set’s crown jewel is still ahead on disc eight, which is dedicated entirely to Impressions: A Journey Behind the Scenes of Twin Peaks. Directed by enigmatic videographer Jason S. (who previously worked on the Lynch profile The Art Life), Impressions is like a season-long TV show about life on the set, presented in ten parts, clocking in at around thirty minutes each. The documentary crew was granted unrestricted access to principal photography on Twin Peaks, and these five hours are the immersive result. There are no interviews, no network spin, nothing staged for the camera. It’s just unbelievably (sometimes almost uncomfortably) candid footage of scenes coming together. The joy of collaboration is palpable, tensions only truly rising when members of Lynch’s production staff suggest ways to shoot scenes faster. Of particular interest are glimpses of the director working through the enigmatic Audrey scenes with Sherilyn Fenn, jumping in to paint and carve props, and patiently helping everyone, from MacLachlan on down to the Vegas newscasters understand their motivation. With its own unique music and sound design and bizarre, Herzog-like narration, Impressions is not only an unprecedented documentation of David Lynch’s creative process, it’s a masterful portrait of the daily grind of filmmaking.
The most remarkable thing about this collection’s eight hours of bonus features might be the balance struck between revealing how Twin Peaks: The Return came to be and keeping its mysteries alive. By the time I’d devoured each documentary, I felt like I had spent time on the set, gotten an enlightening cross-section of what it’s like to work with David Lynch, and gained a whole new appreciation for the thought and care that made the show what it is. But not a word was spoken about Lynch and Frost’s writing sessions. The editing and post-production process, where the tapestry was finally woven together, remains shrouded in mystery. Everything about the finale is left unsaid. After two years of secrecy and a summer spent unfolding for us, the third season of Twin Peaks has come home to reveal everything it’s ever going to. What it’s all about, though, will always be hidden within each person who turns down the lights, cranks up the sound, and pulls back the red curtain.