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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Donnie Darko (2001)

Gretchen: Donnie Darko? What the hell kind of name is that? It's like a superhero or something.Donnie: What makes you think I'm not?
- Jena Malone, Jake Gyllenhaal

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: March 06, 2002

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone
Other Stars: Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle, Maggie Gyllenhaal, James Duval, Beth Grant, Daveigh Chase
Director: Richard Kelly

MPAA Rating: R for language, some drug use and violence
Run Time: 01h:53m:04s
Release Date: March 19, 2002
UPC: 024543036401
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A+ A+B+A A

DVD Review

There are moments when a film will come out of nowhere, reach out and grab you by the throat and not let go. Films like Fight Club, 12 Monkeys, Unbreakable and Magnolia immediately come to mind as examples of refreshingly powerful filmmaking, where the message and the delivery are so uniquely enthralling that one cannot doubt that they are in the presence of cinematic greatness. In the tradition of David Fincher, Terry Gilliam, M. Night Shyamalan or Paul Thomas Anderson I have no recourse but to add the name of Richard Kelly, based on his directorial debut of Donnie Darko, a film that he also wrote.This is a brilliantly executed film from start to finish, and it is one of the few that immediately beg to be watched again immediately. It is a science-fiction tale at it's most basic level, which Kelly will readily admit, but it is really so much more. Visually, it is a comic book, a nightmare, a music video and a perfectly unnatural world all rolled into one; dramatically, it exceeds the framework of simple science fiction by leaps and bounds. Kelly's film centers around Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), a teenager in the seemingly happy community of Middlesex, Virginia, in October of 1988. Donnie is plagued by bouts of sleepwalking, and though he is seeing a therapist and is on medication, he still finds himself wandering aimlessly, night after night. One evening, Donnie is greeted by a demonic-looking six-foot rabbit named Frank, who informs him that the world will end in 28 days. From this point on, Donnie's world is spun off its axis as Kelly's script moves all of the characters in completely strange and wonderful directions. This is a story of messengers, prophecies and what Kelly calls "the absurdity of life."There are a number of strong performances in this film, and Gyllenhaal carries the role of the slightly off-center Donnie with aplomb. Drew Barrymore, who served as executive producer, joins Mary McDonnell, Noah Wylie, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross, and Patrick Swayze in pivotal supporting roles. Barrymore and Wylie are teachers, and represent the underground fringe of education. McDonnell and Osborne portray Donnie's parents, and Swayze is surprisingly effective as a variation of the Tom Cruise character from Magnolia. Jena Malone's Gretchen, Donnie's love interest, is also very good here.Music figures heavily in Donnie Darko, much the same way Aimee Mann's songs became as integral as the characters in Magnolia. The Head Over Heels sequence, which features the Tears For Fears song, is used to introduce Donnie's school and its students, and Kelly treats it as a character study disguised as a music video. The Gary Jules cover version of another Tears For Fears song, Mad World, is disarming and moving, and it amazes me how strongly it ties in with the storyline. Its appearance in the film is one of those jaw-dropping moments.Stylistically, Kelly neatly merges elements of traditional science fiction, with David Lynch-ian visuals, to create a world where the present is riddled with clues about the future, as well as the past. The result is exciting, and unlike anything else that has come along in quite a while.

Rating for Style: A+
Rating for Substance: A+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Fox's generally clean 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer reflects Kelly's dreamy vision of the town of Middlesex. Daylight scenes have a natural hue, with crisp blue skies and deep green lawns. Interiors appear a little flat and have a more subdued palette, like the classroom sequences, for example. The night scenes are quite dark, and at times tend to have weaker contrast than I would have preferred. When Donnie first approaches Frank The Bunny on the golf course, shadows are aggravatingly flat, with no real delineation or depth. Whether this effect is a result of the film's relatively small budget ($4 million), or more of Kelly's intended visual style, remains to be seen.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Kelly designed this film as essentially a science fiction tale, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix makes good use of unusual sound effects and the hypnotic Michael Andrews score to build on the increasingly surreal storyline. Directional imaging is very pronounced across the front channels, which creates a deep and natural soundstage. A large number of discrete rear channel cues serve to draw the viewer in, most notably the creepy voice of Frank The Bunny. Dialogue is mixed well, and there is a substantial low-end presence that will rattle your walls. Dolby 2.0 surround mixes in English and French are also provided.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
5 TV Spots/Teasers
20 Deleted Scenes
2 Feature/Episode commentaries by Richard Kelly, Jake GyllenhaalMary McDonnell, Jena Malone, Beth Grant, Holmes Osborne, Katherine Ross, Drew Barrymore, James Duval, Sean McKittrick, Nancy Juvonen
Packaging: Amaray
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Mad World music video (3m:16s)
  2. Donnie Darko Website Gallery
  3. Cunning Visions
  4. Art Gallery
  5. The Philosophy Of Time Travel
Extras Review: This is the kind of film that begs for quality extras, and Fox has not disappointed. It is loaded with the caliber of supplements that only add to the complete immersion of a film like Donnie Darko:CommentariesWhat's not to love about a pair of full-length, scene-specific commentaries on a film of this magnitude? The first, and best of the two, features Richard Kelly and Jake Gyllenhaal discussing some of the finer points of the production that could be easily overlooked on a single viewing, and how the intersection of the various characters occurs. Kelly and Gyllenhaal avoid simply commenting about on-screen visuals, though there is some of that, and the talk elaborates what the director refers to as "the comic book tableau" that exists within the film. There were times when I wished they would have been commenting about the meaning of a particular pivotal scene, instead of relaying an unrelated production anecdote. They have a nice rapport together, and their track provided a lot of clarity on Kelly's thematic intent. The second commentary is less a technical analysis, and more of a social gathering. In addition to Kelly once again, most of the cast principles are gathered, including Mary McDonnell, Jena Malone, Beth Grant, Holmes Osborne, Katherine Ross, Drew Barrymore, and James Duval. There is a lot of jovial laughter, and while it's apparent that everyone had a fine time recording the commentary, the level of usable content is minimal, in comparison to the Kelly/Gyllenhaal track. Deleted ScenesStudio pressure forced Kelly to trim the original runtime from 2 1/2 hours to under 2 hours. This set of 20 deleted and extended scenes, available with an optional Kelly commentary, beg the case for a reissued director's cut, as this is important extra footage. Based on Kelly's comments, it is obvious that it pained him greatly to excise every one of these 20 scenes. Many of these sequences feature critical dialogue, foreshadowing or character development that would have only enhanced the final version, and I guess we should be happy that Fox included them here, even if the image quality is a bit rough. The scenes are:Married With Children (:19s)Telephone Conversation (:34s)Conversation With Frank (2m:29s)Holiday Inn (3m:34s)Bus Stop (1m:16s)School's Cancelled (:29s)Wizard's Arcade (1m:07s)Poetry Day (:53s)A Night On The Town (:57s)Losing Faith (1m:44s)Book Exchange (1m:00s)Pumpkin Carving (2m:15s)Sexual Fantasies (3m:04s)Return To Carpathian Bridge (:29s)Fatherly Advice (2m:05s)Watership Down (3m:43s)Airport Van (1m:05s)Cellar Door (2m:42s)Placebos (1m:13s)Impalement (:27s)Mad World music video (3m:16s)Much like Aimee Mann's music in Magnolia, Kelly's use of 1980s artists like Echo & The Bunnymen and Tears For Fears is very powerful as narrative tool in Donnie Darko. This music video, directed by Richard Kelly, of a Gary Jules cover of the Tears For Fears single, Mad World is simply one of the most haunting, evocative pieces of music to be used in the film. It is eerie, moving and unbelievably significant. I get goosebumps on my goosebumps when I hear this. Donnie Darko Website GalleryThe Blair Witch Project was one of the first independent films to use a website as a natural extension of the storyline, and this collection of images from the mind-altering Donnie Darko site (www.donniedarko.com) supplies a wealth of backstory on a number of characters. Don't visit the site until you've seen the film; save the web browsing until just before your second viewing.The SoundtrackVia a few text screens, Kelly discusses the development of the Michael Andrews score, and the almost accidental creation of the haunting Mad World cover.Cunning VisionsInfomercials (5m:41s)The dead-on parody of the Controlling Fear infomercials for Patrick Swayze's self-help character Jim Cunningham are available with or without a mock commentary by fictitious Cunning Visions CEO Linda Connie and director Fabian Van Patten. It's here that one can notice a bit of dark foreshadowing that is glossed over in the final film.The rest of this section include graphics from the His Name is Frank slides, and a pair of book covers for Jim Cunningham books.Art GalleryThis section is broken down into two groups. The Production Stills area features 48 images from the film, and the Concept Art area contains 28 pre-production drawings, mostly of Frank and the film's detailed poster art.The Philosophy of Time TravelA fictitious book that is featured prominently in the film is available for perusal. A little tough to read (tiny type),but it is worth the squint.28 full-motion chapters, a theatrical trailer, five TV spots, a clever series of menu screens, and subtitles in English and Spanish cap off the extras.Excellent.

Extras Grade: A


Final Comments

This is powerful and creative stuff, and reinforces all that I love about movies. Without a doubt, this is one of the year's best.Highly recommended


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