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Some may think that Donnie Darko is a typical maladjusted teenager. Actually, Donnie is a borderline delusional intelligent, depressive, self-destructive, narcoleptic, gun-toting, sex- crazed, teenaged arsonist, beset by visions of a monstrous rabbit which is trying to keep him under its sinister influence. Prompted by this apparition, Donnie commits antisocial acts while he is undergoing psychotherapy, surviving the vagaries of high-school life and romance, and fortuitously escaping a bizarre death from a falling jet engine. Donnie battles his demons, literally and figuratively, in a series of intertwining story lines that play with time travel, fundamentalist gurus, fate, predestination and the machinations of the universe.
For more about Donnie Darko and the Donnie Darko Blu-ray release, see Donnie Darko Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on July 25, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore
Director: Richard Kelly
» See full cast & crew
Donnie Darko Blu-ray Review
Double-dipping with Donnie Darko.
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, July 25, 2011
Let's get this out of the way up front: This new "10th Anniversary Edition" of Donnie Darko contains the exact same Blu-ray disc as the 2009 "Collector's Edition," which will surely come as a disappointment to fans hoping for a remastered high-definition transfer. The 2009 release featured both the original Theatrical Cut of the film and the 2004 Director's Cut on the same 50 GB disc, but without the use of seamless branching, giving each cut so-so encodes with rather low bit-rates. There's certainly room for improvement in the film's high definition presentation, and in an ideal tangent universe, 20th Century Fox would've remastered both cuts and put them on separate dual-layer Blu-ray discs. Unfortunately, that's not the case here. What differentiates the "10th Anniversary Edition" is the inclusion of an on-disc digital copy, as well as a copy of the original 2002 DVD, which contains a few (inessential) special features that weren't included with the 2009 Blu-ray. While "4-disc combo pack" sounds impressive, Fox really hasn't given fans any substantial reason to upgrade. There's no doubt that this new release is the most comprehensive re-issue of Donnie Darko to date, and it's certainly the version to pick up if you don't yet own the film, but it could've been much better.
Believe it or not, there are a few people out there who have yet to see Donnie Darko, and I suppose this release is for them--the uninitiated, late-comers to what has become one of the first cult classics of the 21st century. If that's you, you're in for a strange experience, a head-scratching Möbius strip of a movie that will either frustrate you infinitely or make you want to go back immediately and watch it again. And again, until it makes sense. (You might be watching for quite awhile.) The film evokes a number of cinematic predecessors. The October-of-1988 suburban neighborhood setting is reminiscent of E.T. the Extra Terrestrial--complete with a Halloween party and kids riding bikes across a golf course at night--and there's a psychological undercurrent that borrows a bit from Ordinary People. Then there's the Back to the Future-esque time travel element, and the six-foot-tall, maybe-imaginary bunny that recalls a more evil, portentous take on Jimmy Stewart's Harvey. At the same time, Donnie Darko is a strikingly original debut; writer/director Richard Kelly--who has since made Southland Tales and The Box--takes movie tropes from the 1980s and recontextualizes them in a story that's ominous and apocalyptic, lifting the cheery surface of suburbia to see the nightmare underneath. (In this, and his cryptological narratives, Kelly is something of a more "pop" David Lynch.)
The film's center is 16-year-old Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a sleepwalker and possible schizophrenic who's recently stopped taking his medication. One night, in a half-dream state, Donnie is summoned out of his middle-class home by a creepy, humanoid rabbit named Frank, who informs him that, unless Donnie does something about it, the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds. Inside, Donnie's mother (Mary McDonnell) and younger sister (Daveigh Chase) are asleep. His George Bush-loving father, Eddie (Holmes Osborne), is dozing in front of the TV, while his Dukakis- supporting older sister, Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal), has just snuck in from a late night out. Suddenly, a jet engine--disconnected from the rest of the plane--crashes through the roof of the house and into Donnie's room, where he had been lying moments before. The FAA has no clue where it came from.
There is, of course, an explanation--it involves time travel, tangent universes, and maybe even fate as dictated by God's will--but the sci-fi machinations of the plot, while responsible for much of the film's cult appeal, are convoluted and not easily ascertained, not even in Kelly's 2004 Director's Cut, which goes to great lengths to spell the answers out for the audience. (Literally. At key junctures, Kelly flashes onscreen text excerpts from "The Philosophy of Time Travel," a fictional codex and primer, to help us with the concepts.) Even after watching the film five or six times since its release, and after listening to numerous audio commentaries from the director, I still can't say definitively what happens in the film. I take that back; I know what happens, but I'm not sure why it happens. And I'm not sure Kelly knows either. Of course, there's also the possibility that the whole story is a kind of dream before dying, the product of a fevered, unmedicated mind--Donnie's, not Kelly's--and that's as valid a theory as any.
Kelly might have underestimated the challenge of how to convey a complicated sci-fi narrative, but other aspects of the film make up for his shoot-for- the-moon approach. I love the tone of Donnie Darko. It's foreboding, eerie, full of the inherent autumnal spookiness that you only find in the lead-up to Halloween. Frank, with his grotesque, metallic face and fur costume, is a disarming image, as sad and shabby as he is menacing. Kelly also nails the feeling of the 1980s--the politics, the sense of pre-Internet innocence, the absurdities of an education system overly focused on self-esteem. The film's ambitious use of comic book-ish pseudo-physics--a combination of quantum mechanics and vague mysticism--is grounded by well-drawn characters and meaningful interpersonal relationships between them. The late Patrick Swayze is uncannily good as a hypocritical motivational speaker who can't take his own advice, and Beth Grant, who played the nagging elderly mother in No Country for Old Men, is gratingly effective as an overzealous PTA parent and P.E. teacher. Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne have an easy chemistry as Donnie's caring, concerned parents, and the Gyllenhaal siblings--who look so young here--are brilliant. I'll say no more. Donnie Darko is a film to be experienced first. You can read all about it after you've had your brain thoroughly fried.
Note: This disc contains both the original Theatrical Cut (113 mins.) and Kelly's re-engineered 2004 Director's Cut (134 min.), which, along with added sci-fi exposition, has some newly tweaked musical selections and a few good character beats. I'd stick with the Theatrical Cut for your first viewing.
Donnie Darko Blu-ray, Video Quality
Just to reiterate, there have been no improvements made to the film's picture quality, as the Blu-ray disc included here is identical to the one released in 2009. Those of you who own that version know that the 1080p/AVC encode is serviceable but far from ideal, partially because the fairly low-budget source material was never exactly bursting with color and clarity to begin with, but also because two full versions of the film--one running in excess of two hours--are crammed onto a single 50 GB disc. The film could probably use a new remaster, but even simply re-encoding the most recent remasters of both cuts at a higher rate and placing them on separate discs would almost certainly yield some improvements. As it stands, the image is quite soft throughout--truly fine detail is only visible in the tightest closeups--and while there is an increase in clarity over prior DVD releases, it's not incredibly drastic. The picture is also somewhat dim, with a low level of brightness overall and colors that seem slightly faded. This is compounded with black levels that often harshly crush shadow detail--sometimes even in daylight scenes--and wilted contrast. Grain looks natural and untouched by excessive DNR, but the picture often takes on a noisy quality. How much of this can be attributed to compression is hard to say, but I'm sure the film could look less muddled and spongy with a more data-intensive encode.
Donnie Darko Blu-ray, Audio Quality
On the other hand, Donnie Darko's lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track leaves little room for improvement. Dialogue is the key element of the mix--as it should be--but the film also features some great multi-channel sound design. There's the thunderous unexpected crack of splintering wood as the jet engine plows into Donnie's bedroom, water rushing from the surrounds when the school is flooded, and a variety of impressionistic whooshing sounds relating to wormholes and Frank's appearance, but the track also makes good use of quieter sounds, like neighborhood ambience. Of course, the film has a killer soundtrack of 1980s hits from the likes of Tears for Fears, Joy Division, and Echo and the Bunnymen, and the music sounds fantastic, spread throughout the soundfield with fullness, dynamic depth, and warmth. Vocals sound a bit low during the big party scenes-- although, this is to be expected--but otherwise, dialogue is always clean and easily understood. The disc includes a French dub in Dolby Digital 2.0 (Theatrical Version only), as well as optional English SDH, Spanish, and French (Director's Cut only) subtitle tracks.
Donnie Darko Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
True fans will already be eminently familiar with all the material here, but baffled newcomers will appreciate the explanatory focus of the special features, especially the audio commentaries. There are three tracks included on the Blu-ray disc, and while the one with the cast and crew is fun, and though the one with Richard Kelly and Jake Gyllenhaal is enlightening, the best by far is the discussion between Kelly and fellow director Kevin Smith, a huge Darko fan. The two get into every conceivable detail of the production and their chat basically lays out Kelly's ultimate interpretation of exactly what's happening in the film.
The second disc, a special features DVD, was also included in the 2009 release, and here you'll find a lengthy production diary, a half-hour British program about the film's cult following, and a "Darkomentary" made by the film's #1 fan. The third disc in the set is the film's original DVD release, which also contains a few "Cunning Visions" infomercial, deleted/extended scenes--which are pretty much all reintegrated in the Director's Cut--and excerpts from the Philosophy of Time Travel, among other bits and pieces.
Disc One - Blu-ray
Donnie Darko Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
A dark and original indie sci-fi drama, Donnie Darko initially flopped in theaters--releasing a month after 9/11 certainly didn't help--but has since become one of the first real cult classics of the 21st century and a home video hit. Fox has wheeled out the film once again for a "10th Anniversary Edition," but if you already have the 2009 "Collector's Edition," there's no real reason to upgrade. The only changes are the inclusion of the 2002 DVD and a digital copy. If the studio really wanted to generate some sales, a better approach would've been to give the film a much-needed remaster/re- encode. Ah well, there's always the "15th Anniversary Edition," I suppose.
Donnie Darko: Other Editions
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