Life is good. I finally got my Twin Peaks Pilot DVD. It’s only made in Taiwan and I had to import it from Hong Kong, but it’s Region 0 (meaning it plays on ALL DVD players) and it’s the only way to get the original pilot episode of TP on any format, ever.

To explain, Twin Peaks (not the best link, but it does have a good FAQ) was a television show in the early 1990’s. Described by some as “fucked up” and others as “brilliant”, it often draws allusions to the Star Trek series in terms of cult-like followings and the sorts of people who found it intersting. It also more or less shared Trek’s initial fate, if not it’s ultimate one. TP‘s first episode opened with the discovery of a body on the shores of a lake wrapped in plastic. The High School girl, Laura Palmer, had been strangled and an FBI agent (Cooper, played by Kyle MacLachlan) was dispatched to help solve the case.

However, while TP started out as something of a murder mystery, it quickly changed to an evening soap opera on the caliber of Dallas – read: it got complicated really quickly. And it was initially quite popular, but its popularity (short of a devout following) waned over time as the murder mystery went unsolved. The brainchild of David Lynch, the original idea was to never reveal the murderer, but rather Cooper would slowly get enschonced in the town and the murder would just sort of be in the background. When the ratings declined, the producers decided to go ahead and reveal the murderer 14 episodes in. Of course, if you thought the whole point of the show was the murder mystery, then there was little point to watch after that and the show was cancelled after two seasons.

Like Trek, the idea after that was to do movies after that, and there was one TP movie, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, was a prequel. Due both to misunderstood demand and the fact that it took so long to make the movie due to MacLachlan’s not wanting to play along, the movie bombed and there’s been nothing in the way of TP ever since.

Of course, there’s always been a small, devout following and there have been festivals, conferences, a magazine (called Wrapped in Plastic) ever since. And there have always been attempts to have the show and movie on the popular video formats. These attempts have been mostly successful, but marred by a simple fact revolving around rights issues. The prequel movie has been on video and laserdisc and will be on DVD soon (under the New Line Patinum Series), but the television episodes have been a different matter.

The television show consisted of 30 total episodes, a 2-hour pilot episode and 29 regular episodes, one of which was 2 hours, the rest were 1 hour (though the last two episodes were broadcast together). For a producer, it’s standard practice to finance a pilot episode yourself (somehow) and to “sell” it to a network, which will fund the subsequent episodes. David Lynch and Mark Frost, however, had problems securing funding, so they decided to sell the video rights to the pilot episode to Warner Bros. to get the money they needed. WB had a proviso, however, in that they required that the producers film an alternate ending so that they could sell a self contained 2 hour movie version of the show (with no intention of making this version into a series) to networks in Europe. This version of the pilot is often referred to as the European Pilot or the Euro Pilot.

When the TV show was cancelled, Worldvision bought the rights to the episodes to put them on video. They acquired the rights to the 29 episodes, but they were unable to purchase the rights to the pilot because WB wanted too much for it – the cost of acquiring the episode would have offset any profit they could have made on it. They released the first seven episodes after the pilot on VHS. VHS, as you know, has three recording modes, SP (2 hours for a T-120 cassette), LP (4 hours) and EP (six hours). Almost any movie you purchase or rent on VHS is recorded in SP mode – it has the shortest recording time, but the best sound and picture quality. The first seven episodes were released in this manner on video. However, the episodes didn’t sell as well as Worldvision had hoped (ironically the Laserdiscs fared better so far as percentage of owners was concerned) and the company didn’t feel like releasing the rest of the episodes in sets this way. However, they didn’t want to disappoint fans who wanted the entire show on video, so they released a second set of all 29 episodes on video on six VHS cassettes, recorded at the EP mode. While this did accomplish the goal, the episodes didn’t look or sound very good.

Warner Bros., on the other hand, released the pilot episode a few times on VHS and Lasterdisc – but it was always the European Pilot with the alternate ending. While this has always been “better than nothing”, it’s always made an uneasy transition to the rest of the series, particularly as the orginal pilot has been unseen for nearly a decade.

Now it’s 2001 and Artisan is trying it again. This fall they’re releasing the first of a series of DVD sets of the Twin Peaks episodes on DVD. However, like Worldvision before it, they’ve been unsuccessful in getting the rights to the pilot from WB, so it won’t be in the set.

However earlier this year a DVD started surfacing on eBay in mass numbers under the name HONG KONG TWIN PEAKS DVD. It was the original pilot episode, which has been unavailable on any format anywhere ever. Asia, particularly Southeast Asia, isn’t exactly known for stringent enforcement of International Copyright Law, so most figured this was a DVD of dubious origin. Case in point, the Star Wars movies are officially unavailable on DVD, but that hasn’t stopped them from trickling into this country on the format. In that case they’re taken from a Laserdisc dub so while they’re better looking than the VHS copies readily available, they still leave room for improvement, and they often have foreign subtitles burned in (i.e., can’t be removed). Furthermore, since the last time anyone was able to see this was on ABC in 1990 the theory was it was taken from a bad VHS dub or possibly a stolen master tape. Another suspicous indicator was the fact that it was under the label “Republic Pictures”, which has been defunct since the late 1990’s.

However as it turns out, it’s a legitimate disc. By a weird turn of events, WB’s dominance doesn’t extend to Taiwan, so Aaron Spelling, one of the original producers (really) went to Taiwan and made the DVD he wanted to make, making it Region 0 so all DVD players can play it. And I got one, so once they release the rest of the episodes on DVD and the movie I’ll finally have them all.

The DVD itself is quite interesting – they chose to highlight the names Kyle MacLachlan and Sherylin Fenn. Not Lara Flynn “I’m skinny as a twig and banging Jack Nicholson” Boyle, but Fenn. OK. They also did it to where it’s next to impossible to read what’s on the label of the disc itself, but they did go so far as to include the “Welcome to Twin Peaks” sign itself and actually have the population in near microscopic print. The back has three pictures, two of which have the lone Asian character in the episode – though I don’t think she speaks a line in the whole show. You don’t buy a DVD like this for extras, but they do have two Bios – MacLachlan and that Asian woman. Bizarre. Also, the front of the disc case has “Silver Screen” which is odd since I don’t think anyone is interested in this “line” of DVD’s and this show was never a move in the silver screen.

Rumor is that WB will probably release the pilot on DVD if the Artisan discs become popular and word is once again they’ll whip out the European Pilot. If they’re smart they’ll do a branching thing with both endings – I’d kinda like to see the other, but if they don’t I’m still happy I have this one on DVD.

It’s kinda sad, though, the show was never really brought to a logical conclusion. The ending of the second season was something of a minor cliffhanger and the movie was a prequel, so it didn’t tie up any loose ends (the original idea was for more movies, but that didn’t happen) and some little part of me has always wondered what happened to these ficticious characters, but alas there’s nothing more to tell. Oh well, it’ll be fun rediscovering this little show and phonomenon over time again on DVD.