An idiosyncratic FBI Agent investigates the murder of a young woman in the even more idiosyncratic town of Twin Peaks. Also includes 'Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me."
"She's dead, wrapped in plastic."
Some fans will tell you that 'Twin Peaks' was the greatest TV series of all time. I have one issue with that claim: 'Twin Peaks' was not just a TV series. 'Twin Peaks' was, and still is, an experience – a insular dreamworld that exists beyond our narrow definitions of traditional narrative storytelling. Yes, the show has a plot, broken up into digestible hour-long bites originally spread out week-to-week over a network broadcast schedule. In form, it looks like something very conventional and recognizable, but looks are deceiving. At every step, 'Twin Peaks' asks us to dig beneath the surface, to chip away at the artificial veneer of comfort and familiarity to find new layers below where truth and beauty and horror and madness all reside together, often indistinguishable from one another.
And it's funny too. Really damn funny, in fact.
On the most superficial level, 'Twin Peaks' was a captivating murder mystery that kept the entire world guessing "Who killed Laura Palmer?" for most of a year. Much like director David Lynch's 'Blue Velvet', the characters' attempt to find a killer causes them to uncover many dark, disturbing secrets about their small American town and about each other. However, that crime story was just the lure to drag viewers into the bizarre world created by Lynch and veteran television writer Mark Frost. Once there, the series became many other things: a fantasy, a soap opera, a supernatural thriller, a teenage melodrama, an offbeat comedy, and a devastating portrait of the dark underside of American society. It managed to be all of these things at once, without contradiction, woven up into a tightly structured narrative that demanded strict attention from its audience.
In the spring of 1990, 'Twin Peaks' was utterly unlike anything that had ever aired on American television. In fact, it still is. Despite countless imitators that have attempted to copy one aspect or another of its formula, no other series has ever fully replicated its perfect blend of elements. Frankly, no other series has ever had the audacity to even try. The ambition of this show is still staggering. The fact that Lynch and Frost pulled it off within the restrictive confines of network television is a miracle. The show features moments of raw, searing emotions, such as Sarah Palmer's unbearable howl of agony over the telephone line when she realizes that her daughter is dead, interspersed with other moments of levity, including FBI Special Agent Dale Cooper's childlike enthusiasm for cherry pie and fir trees, without any jarring tonal disconnection. The power of Lynch's vision holds everything together. It flows beautifully from one extreme to the other.
During its first, short season (the series was a mid-season replacement), the show was a massive ratings hit, a critical darling, and a genuine cultural phenomenon. Each episode became the must-discuss topic of water cooler conversation throughout America and even the rest of the world. Unfortunately, viewer enthusiasm cooled in the second season when the main mystery plot dragged on further than impatient audiences of the day were accustomed to. The public fell out of love with 'Twin Peaks' almost as quickly as it had fallen into love with the show in the first place.
The reasons that 'Twin Peaks' flamed out are myriad and complicated. At the time, serial dramas were a rarity on American television, and none had ever required viewers to scrutinize its plot continuity and clues as much as 'Twin Peaks' did. A viewer who missed an episode could fall hopelessly lost in the narrative, with little chance of catching up until re-runs that might air months later. In the days before DVRs, cable On-Demand or Netflix instant streaming, audiences weren't ready for that sort of commitment. Compounding this problem were some obvious artistic missteps in the second season. Lynch himself stepped away from the series for a time to make his film 'Wild at Heart' and pursue other interests. He left it in the hands of his collaborators, who struggled to find a new direction for the story after the revelation of Laura Palmer's murderer. Storylines meandered, overemphasized goofy humor, and simply weren't as compelling as those in the first season. Although the show pulled itself back together for the final run of episodes, by that point, most of the audience had long since abandoned it.
As its ratings declined, the ABC network lost confidence in the series and began shuffling it around the schedule, delaying episodes, and frustrating even the die-hard fans who still wanted to watch it every week. By the end of its second, final season, hardly anyone even noticed when the show limped to its conclusion on a Monday night in the middle of June, a good two months after its previous episode had aired. Burning with feelings of betrayal and resentment, David Lynch made arrangements to carry his beloved property to the big screen and reclaim it as his own personal vision, unconstrained by the limitations of network television. Just to hammer the point home that he wasn't messing around, he opened the film with the image of a television set being smashed to pieces.
'Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me' is framed as a prequel that takes place before the events of the TV series. However, it assumes that viewers are aware of key plot points and freely divulges the identity of Laura Palmer's killer. It must absolutely be watched last. The film depicts the last seven days of Laura's life, and in doing so, dispenses with the humor that took the edge off the darker aspects of the series. 'Fire Walk With Me' is a harrowing, uncompromising tale of sexual abuse, mental illness, drug addiction, prostitution and finally murder. Even if critics and audiences at the time didn't understand the movie, it's also a beautiful, haunting and poetic journey into the life of a broken girl.
Though imperfect, 'Twin Peaks' was the richest, boldest, darkest, most innovative, most engrossing, and most wonderfully strange show to ever air on network television, and it hasn't lost a bit of its power over the past two decades.
For years, the rights to 'Twin Peaks' were split in three directions. The pilot episode (specifically, the European broadcast version of the pilot, which tacked on a 20-minute new ending to wrap up the mystery early) was owned by Warner Bros. The other 29 episodes were held by Spelling Entertainment, and the 'Fire Walk With Me' prequel movie belonged to New Line. Early video releases on VHS, Laserdisc and DVD could not include the pilot or 'Fire Walk With Me' with the other episodes.
Over time, ownership and distribution shifted around among a host of labels, some of which no longer exist. For the Definitive Gold Box Edition DVD set in 2007, CBS Films (distributed by Paramount) reunited both versions of the pilot with the other 29 episodes. However, 'Fire Walk With Me' still remained separated from the rest.
It has taken an awfully long time, but now, finally, the complete run of 'Twin Peaks' is available in one convenient package. CBS Films has compiled all 30 episodes of the television series (including both versions of the pilot), the 'Fire Walk With Me' movie, and even some exciting new content into a Blu-ray box set called 'Twin Peaks: The Entire Mystery'. The 10-disc collection is housed in a sturdy box with flip-up cardboard pages that hold the Blu-rays in slots. (See photos here.)
Every disc opens with a forced DTS trailer that grows pretty annoying with repetition. Although the episodes and movie are encoded with chapter stops, the disc menus offer no Scenes Selection guide, presumably at the insistence of David Lynch (who hates disc chapters).
Note that only the American broadcast version of the pilot episode is considered canon to the narrative of the rest of the series. The longer, so-called "Euro version" of the episode contains some footage that will be repeated in a future episode and provides a quick resolution that contradicts later events.
I've seen 'Twin Peaks' in a lot of different video formats. Years ago, I even watched the entire series in the atrocious quality EP-speed VHS collection that was the only way to see it after the original ABC broadcasts. Later Laserdiscs were a little better. The DVDs were a significant jump over that, and at the time I couldn't imagine the show ever looking better. More recently, 'Twin Peaks' has been offered in high definition on streaming services including Netflix and VUDU, sourced from the same masters as the DVDs, which are now showing their age but still mostly look pretty decent.
For the Blu-rays, all 30 episodes and 'Fire Walk With Me' were newly remastered under the supervision of David Lynch. My first reaction is to say: "WOW, BOB, WOW!" The TV episodes are a big step up in quality, even over current HD streaming options. The 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfers are slightly soft in general, but the image has very good detail and sometimes exhibits startling clarity. In almost every episode, I've noticed new details in the sets and costumes and production design that I never saw before. Contrasts are rich, and colors are striking and vivid. Though I detected a slight red push, it's not objectionable.
With that said, occasional shots here and there may suffer from focus issues. The black levels in dark night scenes often look pushed and very grainy. However, these traits stem back to the original production. Although 'Twin Peaks' marked a milestone in bringing beautiful cinematic photography to television, it was still a TV show produced on a quick shooting schedule and small budget (compared to feature films). Also notable is that the pilot episode was filmed several months before the rest of the series was picked up (notice Sherilyn Fenn's much different hairstyle in the second episode), and some changes in production values are noticeable between the two.
In the show's second episode (identified as Episode 1 after the pilot), a shot at time code 22:43 looks really poor, possibly even upconverted from standard definition. Fortunately, it's very brief and all the footage around it looks fine. I'll be honest that I have not had time yet to watch every episode, so it's possible that minor problems like this may occur elsewhere.
My biggest concern with the Blu-rays is that grain is often pronounced throughout the series, even in bright daylight scenes. I don't have an objection to film grain, but the way it's been digitized and compressed here frequently looks very noisy. If you pause the image, the grain often appears in a very unnatural blocky, thatched pattern. It looks worse in still frames than it does in motion, but it can still be distracting. Even with this flaw, the show looks pretty terrific overall.
All 30 episodes of the TV series are presented in their original 4:3 broadcast aspect ratio with pillarbox bars on the sides of the frame. For the 'Fire Walk With Me' theatrical feature, David Lynch expanded 'Twin Peaks' to widescreen 1.85:1. (I've long considered it a disappointment that he didn't go all the way to 2.35:1 like the majority of his other movies.) I was pretty impressed with the Japanese import Blu-ray of 'Fire Walk With Me' that I reviewed a couple years ago, and assumed that the domestic copy would come from the same master. As it turns out, the movie has also been freshly remastered, and I think it looks even better now. In comparison, the new disc is a little sharper and more detailed. It's also a bit brighter with more red, but I won't claim that one version is necessarily "right" and the other "wrong." Honestly, both discs are satisfying, but I give the edge to the copy in the 'Entire Mystery' box.
The grain structure in 'Fire Walk With Me' is much tighter and less noisy than the TV episodes. I can't say for certain whether this means the movie got a better video transfer, or whether this can be chalked up to the movie having a bigger budget and better production values.
The sound mix for 'Twin Peaks' has also been overhauled by David Lynch for brand new DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 soundtracks on every episode and the movie. Lynch is an audio freak and pays very strict attention to the sound quality of everything he makes. Don't get too excited about seeing the 7.1 indicator light up on your A/V receiver, though, because Lynch has also developed an aversion to surround sound in recent years, and often favors a 3.1 configuration with everything happening in the front of the soundstage and little to nothing behind the listening position.
If anything, the director is actually pretty lenient in this regard for 'Twin Peaks'. Angelo Badalamenti's lush musical score fills the room from every speaker. While music is pretty much the only thing the surround channels get used for, considering that Lynch has essentially turned off the back speakers in most of his movies, the fact that they're used at all here is a nice surprise.
Even though you'll hear some variance from specific episode to episode, the fidelity of these soundtracks is typically outstanding. That Badalamenti score is rich, full-bodied and resonant. Dialogue and the subtle details of the show's atmospheric sound design are presented with excellent clarity, and certain sound effects like revving engines have throaty bass.
In making 'Fire Walk With Me' as a theatrical film, Lynch amped up the dynamic range well beyond anything he could have gotten away with on TV. Prints of the movie were actually shipped to theaters with a note instructing projectionists to turn up the volume. The Partyland nightclub scene has blaring, deafening music that intentionally drowns out the dialogue. Unlike the Japanese import Blu-ray, that scene, as well as those that take place in the Red Room, include the original English subtitles on screen when dialogue is obscured.
The Blu-ray collection carries over a significant amount of content (but not all) found previously in either the original Season 1 DVD set from Artisan Entertainment, the later Definitive Gold Box Edition collection from CBS and Paramount, or the separate 'Fire Walk With Me' DVD from New Line. Some features have been upgraded to high-definition quality.
HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?
The following items are either new to Blu-ray, or offer additional content beyond that previously found on DVD.
The Cutting Room Floor: What Didn't Make the Blu-ray?
The original Season 1 DVD set from Artisan Entertainment included seven audio commentaries from the respective episode directors that have never appeared elsewhere. Reportedly, David Lynch is not a fan of commentaries and requested that they be left out of the later Definitive Gold Box DVD (and presumably this Blu-ray).
The Gold Box also had a few items that haven't been ported to Blu-ray, such as clips from Kyle MacLachlan's episode of 'Saturday Night Live', a Julee Cruise music video, and five 'Twin Peaks'-themed commercials that David Lynch directed for the Georgia Coffee brand in Japan. These were likely victims of distribution rights issues.
More than two decades since it first rocked the landscape of American television, David Lynch's brilliant 'Twin Peaks' hasn't lost any of its power to amaze. The new 'Entire Mystery' Blu-ray set collects all 30 episodes of the TV show and the prequel movie together in the same package for the first time ever. Featuring lovely video transfers and tons of bonus features both old and new, plus the legendary never-before-released 'Fire Walk With Me' deleted scenes, it's just about everything a fan could possibly want. This is one of the best Blu-ray releases of the year, if not all time, and a definite must-own.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.