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Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me

New Line Home Entertainment

Starring Sheryl Lee, Moira Kelly, and Ray Wise

Written by David Lynch and Robert Engels
Based on the television series created by David Lynch and Mark Frost

Directed by David Lynch

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Review by Gregory P. Dorr                    

"The story had gone awry for me in the film. Because, it's like the small-town values weren't there anymore, and all of a sudden it was more about, you know, who's freaking out more than the other person. The thing that was so charming about Twin Peaks was that everything was underneath, everything was, like, hidden and submerged and bubbling... and the film was just right in your face, and I didn't like that."

— Peggy Lipton (Norma)

Few would put it past David Lynch to intentionally create a captivating cultural event and, at the height of its popularity, twist it into something gnarled and incomprehensible, and then, for those faithful few who stuck it out with him to the end, to serve up a careless, detached coda amusing only in its disregard for those who await it. Not to say that Lynch intended for the second season of his popular television drama Twin Peaks to fall flat onto its silly, contorted face, nor that he purposely fashioned a big-screen bomb to anticlimactically unanswer his sublime mysteries. Not to say he did.

But you could see him doing it. And having a laugh.

Twin Peaks, of course, was Lynch's massively influential nighttime drama (created with Mark Frost) that aired for nine intoxicating weeks on ABC in the spring of 1990. Dark and quirky, the risky show was a certified hit, winning with jaded critics, devoted pop culture cultists and even mainstream audiences starving for a change in the texture of Cosby-era prime time programming. The burning question, "Who killed Laura Palmer," became a media preoccupation, and soon the airwaves were glutted with shows aping Lynch's fetishes for eccentric provincialism and supernatural evils.

However, in Twin Peaks' sophomore season Lynch's attention to the careful and captivating mysteries and menaces of his imagination began to wander. The show became silly, at times slapstick, and so did its horrors become heartlessly cartoonish. The show was canceled, quickly abandoned by its previously dedicated audience.

Lynch's last look at the Laura Palmer story was with Twin Peaks: Fire Walk Me, a prequel to the television series that unfortunately bears more resemblance to the tangled chaos of the show's final episodes than the first season's brooding thrills. The film begins one year before the murder of Laura Palmer, as FBI Special Agent Chester Desmond (Chris Isaak) and his neophyte, savant partner (Kiefer Sutherland) investigate the murder of Teresa Banks, a crime that leads them to an oddball trailer park where Desmond mysteriously disappears. From there, the narrative shifts forward 12 months to chronicle the finals days of Laura (Sheryl Lee) and her tensions with her boyfriend Bobby (Dana Ashbrook), best friend Donna (Moira Kelly, stepping in for series no-show Lara Flynn Boyle), and her attentive father (Ray Wise).

Right from the start, it is clear that Lynch is in one his more obtuse moods, frustrating the promise of a chilling credits sequence with a shticky appearance by Lynch himself as a hard-of-hearing FBI bureau chief. Following is a straight half-hour of relentless (and gratingly noisy) non sequiturs, very few of which resonate with anything to come before or after. It's Lynch at his most miserable, seemingly disinterested in his own lackluster puzzles and covering up his carelessness with lots and lots of busy noise.

Once Fire Walk With Me settles back in Twin Peaks proper, recognizable characters try their best to anchor the story, but Lynch parodies rather than reveals. What's most frustrating is that, on occasion, Lynch will lapse into vintage Twin Peaks eeriness, particularly in the scenes Laura shares with her father and in the story's inevitably gruesome finale. These few moments are not only worthy, but imminently relevant to the Twin Peaks canon. But they are very scarce. The film runs an excruciating 135 minutes, with maybe 40 minutes of worthy material — enough for, say, one last hour-long television time-slot.

One particularly glaring alteration from the series' small-screen incarnation is the transmogrification of composer Angelo Badalamenti's memorably evocative, dreamy music into a rougher, less distinguished rockabilly spawn that echoes Lynch's change in direction. About a third of the television series' main characters return, but only Laura's intimates. No sign of the Bookhouse Boys, the Martells, the Van Horns or Dr. Jacoby. Kyle MacLachlan makes a brief reappearance as FBI special agent Dale Cooper, and new cast members include Harry Dean Stanton and David Bowie.

New Line's Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me DVD sports a fine anamorphic transfer (1.85) and both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. The only notable extra feature on board is a half-hour montage of playfully edited interviews with several cast members and some unidentified talking heads shot eight years after the film's release. While most speak warmly of their experience in the television series, few bear kind words for this uneven, disappointing film.

— Gregory P. Dorr

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© 2002, The DVD Journal