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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 the Donnie Darko Blu-ray Review
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
Down the rabbit hole...
Reviewed by Ben Williams, February 25, 2009
Somewhere deep inside the vaults of the American Film Institute, there has to be a file cabinet that contains a list of "love it or hate it" movies; movies that, for one reason or another, there doesn't exist a critical middle ground. Donnie Darko is one such movie. It's a bizarre mixture of comedy, drama, science fiction, fantasy and politics, that has created ten detractors for every fan. Don't believe me? Ask anyone who's seen the film, and you are likely to get an impassioned speech on why Donnie Darko is a phenomenal film, or, a lecture about hating movies that seem to strive to make people feel dumb. I'm not entirely sure what Donnie Darko is really about; at times, I've thought it to be an intellectual exploration on time travel, while at others I've thought the entire movie represented someone's actual nightmares. Whatever the meaning behind the film is, I do consider myself to be a fan. So, without further ado, here's my impassioned speech.
Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is, in many ways, a typical teenager; he feels alienated from his classmates, family and teachers and spends a good deal of time living inside his own head. On the other hand, Donnie seems to have an intellectual side that occasionally impresses his teachers. Donnie comes from what appears to be a loving and supportive family; they are patient and kind to him, while still maintaining discipline. So, just what's wrong with this kid? Due to non-specific events that have taken place prior to the film, Donnie makes regular visits to a psychologist, where his strange, demented and anti-social personality traits are revealed under hypnosis. Donnie is about to make a gradual descent into madness as his world falls apart around him and strange events begin to transpire. Is it all in Donnie's head? Does Donnie dream these bizarre happenings? Does Donnie even exist?
Like any great science fiction film, Donnie Darko succeeds by asking a lot of questions that don't necessarily find answers during the course of the film. Donnie's descent into madness, or whatever it is he's experiencing, is presented in a hazy and unclear manner; it's the perfect narrative for the film's subject matter. There's a lot of talk regarding time travel, quantum mechanics, mysticism as well as a nicely-sized dose of good old fashioned teen angst. Perhaps Donnie Darko works well on a number of levels to a number of different audiences. I'm sure that there are those that like the more soap- opera-esque aspects of the story, while others have spent the last 8 years trying to figure out the science behind the story. Whatever strikes your fancy, I can assure you that there is plenty of both elements to go around.
Donnie Darko is impeccably acted; Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal appear in the film as brother and sister and deliver bravura performances that serve as early indicators to the current acting prowess. Mary McDonnell and Holmes Osborne are perfect as their parents, while Patrick Swayze steals the show as a morally bankrupt motivational speaker. It's worth mentioning that Donnie Darko takes place in the late 1980s and features a lot of political references from that era, as well as a ton of great 80s pop tunes. The music is both cleverly and carefully chosen; those with a keen taste for 80s britpop will enjoy the irony of the filmmakers choosing an opening track from Echo and the Bunnymen.
As strange as it might sound, the music is one of the key elements that keeps me from recommending the Director's cut of the film. Mr. Kelly was given an expanded music budget for his re-cut and many of my favorite musical elements from the theatrical version were replaced with less fitting, but more popular, songs. In addition, the Director's edition seems to try to explain too much of what is happening in the film. Donnie Darko is the rare example of a film that is more successful when it maintains its mysterious elements.
For first time viewers of Donnie Darko, I recommend starting out with the theatrical version. Fans will, undoubtedly, check out the Director's version, but I doubt many will prefer it to the original. I can easily recommend Donnie Darko for it's abundance of originality, inspired plot developments and outstanding performances. Whether you'll like it, is anyone's guess. Highly Recommended.
Donnie Darko Blu-ray, Video Quality
No matter how hard anyone tries to clean it up, work digital magic or sharpen it, Donnie Darko is never going to look like Terminator 2; it's just not a good looking film. What do you expect from a low-budget science fiction flick made on a $4.5 million dollar budget? The film has never looked good on home video; the DVD releases were muddy and less than sharp and color was muted. the AVC Mpeg-4 encoded 1080p Blu-ray version isn't much different. Sure, there's an improvement in color fidelity, some additional detail and a total lack of encoding errors or macroblocking, but none of that will ever change the fact that the film looks like the low budget production that it was.
Given the source's limitations, it should come as no surprise that very few fans of Donnie Darko are going to be pleased with this Blu-ray. The reality of this release is, however, that it reproduces the film as perfectly as possible; only a complete re-make will ever improve the look of the film. I tend to think that the film's minimal and grungy look adds to its charm, but clearly I'm in the minority. So, take it or leave it; Donnie Darko is as good as it ever is going to be with this Blu-ray release. 1 star for the crummy source material, 5 stars for reproducing it accurately. Let's just meet in the middle at 2.5.
Donnie Darko Blu-ray, Audio Quality
While Donnie Darko might seem like the perfect fodder for creating a riveting surround sound experience, viewers might be surprised to remember that the film focuses more on dialogue and 80s pop hits rather than explosions and special effects. That's not to say that the film doesn't contain these elements, from time to time, but the vast majority of the film is more thoughtful and talky. Presented in 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio, Donnie Darko sounds better than I've ever heard the film sound; it's surprisingly effective given the film's limited budget.
For those who crave action and surround effects, there are numerous instances of airliner engines crashing through a suburban house, some trippy 360 degree surround effects and a number of effectively utilized discreet rear channel effects. My favorite element, however, is the multiple instances where music is shifted around the soundstage. The film's sound designers have taken the stereo elements of several of the songs presented on the soundtrack and have had a bit of fun spinning the stereo field around the five active surround channels. The effect is simultaneously cool and surprisingly effective, explaining through audio just exactly how warped Donnie's world has become. In addition, the film's dialogue has been treated with exceptional care and is delivered with precision and accuracy. There are a few instances where dialogue is somewhat muted, but this appears to be a flaw in the original recording and not the fault of this well presented lossless surround track. Recommended!
Donnie Darko Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Here's what's included:
- Feature length audio commentary with Writer / Director Richard Kelly and star Jake Gyllenhaal
- Feature length cast and crew audio commentary
- Feature length audio commentary with Writer / Director Richard Kelly and Kevin Smith
- Production Diary with optional commentary with Cinematographer Steven Poster
- "They Made Me Do It – The Cult of Donnie Darko"
- From Storyboard to Screen
- "#1 Fan: A Darkomentary"
- Theatrical Trailer
Many of the extras that were present in the previous DVD release of Donnie Darko, as well as the subsequent Director's cut, have made it to this Blu-ray edition of the film. Chief among these extras is the exceptional feature length commentary track featuring Richard Kelly and Kevin Smith; it's as entertaining as any commentary track I've ever heard while giving Mr. Smith a chance to wax poetic about a film he is obviously crazy about. The Kelly / Gyllenhaal track is a little less interesting while still being substantive, but the cast and crew track is pretty worthless. The set sports a series of in-depth documentaries that help to flesh out the cult following that Donnie Darkohas cultivated; "They Made Me Do It" is the most interesting of the bunch. It's also worth noting that fans of the film submitted homemade documentaries to be included with this release; "#1 Fan…" is the winning film.
Donnie Darko Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Donnie Darko is a rare film; it found initial failure and was ignored by theatrical audiences, before securing a huge cult following on home video. Fox has wisely included both the film's original theatrical cut along with the controversial Director's cut with this Blu- ray release. While I'm not as fond of the Director's cut as the original theatrical version, I don't doubt that fans of the film will delight in the many new angles and revelations that this updated vision presents. Fox has done their best with Donnie Darko's low-budget visual qualities, but sound quality and supplements are both satisfying. Donnie Darko is a bit of a difficult film for those who aren't fans of science fiction; its themes are obtuse and its manic style can be disconcerting. Those looking for a truly original and thought-provoking film, however, will find a lot to like about this remarkably strange film. Donnie Darko is worth checking out on Blu-ray and is recommended.
Donnie Darko: Other Editions
Blu-ray bundles with Donnie Darko (2 bundles)
Donnie Darko Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Today on Blu-ray - February 10th - February 10, 2009
In a time when a musicians' popularity rises and falls more often than the tides, it is somewhat difficult to imagine that a single person could be regarded as "the best", and that people could hold that sentiment over 200 years after his death. I of course speak ...
• Darko DTV Sequel Coming to Blu-ray - February 5, 2009
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has announced that they will bring 'S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale' to Blu-ray on April 28th, day-and-date with the DVD release. Based on what little information we know about the title, this direct-to-video sequel has nothing ...
• Darko Sees Both Theatrical and Director's Cuts - December 16, 2008
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has announced the technical specs and special features for the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'Donnie Darko: Collector's Edition', which is due to hit store shelves on February 10th. It will feature both the (superior) theatrical ...
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Donnie Darko Blu-ray, Forum Discussions
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