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Fox Home Entertainment presents
Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut (2004)

"Twenty-eight days... six hours... 42 minutes... 12 seconds. That... is when the world... will end."
- Frank (James Duval)

Review By: Kevin Clemons  
Published: February 15, 2005

Stars: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Beth Grant, Mary McDonnell
Other Stars: Noah Wyle, Patrick Swayze, Magie Gyllenhaal, Noah Wyle, Katherine Ross, Holmes Osbourne
Director: Richard Kelly

MPAA Rating: R for language, some violence, and drug use
Run Time: 02h:13m:12s
Release Date: February 15, 2005
UPC: 024543165033
Genre: sci-fi

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

DVD Review

I will admit to not being blown away by Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko when I first saw it upon its original release on video. I found the film interesting but not particularly effective in storytelling; in essence, I thought that the film was clever simply for the sake of being clever. But since my girlfriend loves it, I was of course presented with an opportunity for further viewings and, now, I consider the film a handful of ingredients away from being a masterpiece.

Why I suddenly changed my opinion in such a drastic way is beyond me, but I grew to see that this is a wonderfully strange trip through the twisted and inexplicable life of its title character. The film follows Donnie Darko (Gyllenhaal) and the events that surround one late night when his imaginary friend leads him out of his bedroom before a jet engine comes crashing down upon it. The imaginary friend is a six-foot-tall rabbit named Frank (Duval), who warns him that this event signifies the coming apocalypse that will happen at the end of the current month.

To say more would be to spoil all that happens as director Richard Kelly sprawls out his freshman effort into a masterpiece. The film becomes a mixture of genres as Kelly explores the theory of time travel, teen angst, schizophrenia, familial dysfunction, and social satire in a package that, while never truly coming together, offers an enriching and rewarding cinematic experience. Kelly has set his action in 1988, presumably at the time of the presidential election as Donnie's sister proclaims on family pizza night that she is "voting for Dukakis." The time period suits the film well as it captures the suburban town in Virginia in the midst of the Reagan era, and that in turn helps the viewer to appreciate those that inhabit Donnie's world.

For the first hour is utterly engrossing as we live in Donnie's world and begin to look beneath the surface of his suburban surroundings and those with whom he interacts. Every role, from Katherine Ross as Donnie's psychiatrist, Drew Barrymore as a teacher who cares for Donnie's well being, and Patrick Swayze as a motivational speaker, is well written and the film never seems excessive. If anything, it may seem Kelly has failed to fill his script with enough information for his audience to come to a reasonable conclusion once the credits have rolled. Thankfully, this is not a big issue as it becomes clear that it is more his keen ability to tell a truly involving story without giving too much away.

Donnie Darko is a film that is as chilling as it is emotional, and the director balances both aspects of the story. One could described it in a number of ways but at its heart, this is Donnie's story, though it is certainly open to various other interpretations. Still, the film's strength and poignancy involve the audience in the ride, and like a coming storm, it becomes more feverish and kinetic as the payoff approaches.

Now, Kelly has added upwards of 20 minutes and the result is neither better or worse, but the new material does go a long way in pushing the film more specifically into the science fiction realm. Still, one of the charms for Donnie Darko for me is that it is extremely ambiguous and drives the viewer's imagination to work out the story. With this additional footage, the film dramatically shifts upon one single line of dialogue that turns what we already thought we knew on its ear. It is a bold choice by Kelly, and works well enough without destroying the overall wonderment.

That said, the definitive version of the film for me is still the original, though some changes have been made with the soundtrack, including one in the opening song from the perfectly fitting Echo and the Bunnymen track to a less effective selection from INXS. Afterall, the director's cut seems to pose even more questions, but the questions brought up never really needed to be asked in the first place.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is a pleasant enough experience with some small flaws that keep it from being reference quality. The subdued color palette chosen by Kelly coming off nicely with terrific depth and no apparent bleeding. There's some slight edge enhancement specifically when we first see the mountains displayed at the start of the film. There are a few moments of grain and debris throughout that drag the transfer grade down a tad.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix is very well done and boasts the single most frightening surround sound effect you are ever likely to hear—yes I am talking about that big creepy bunny . Otherwise, dialogue is crisp and clear with no distortion, and the surround speakers do a terrific job of conveying ambient effects.

Audio Transfer Grade: A


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 36 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
4 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Director Richard Kelly and Kevin Smith
Packaging: 2 disc slip case
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extras Review: The new two-disc release of Donnie Darko boasts completely new extra material, namely a commentary by director Richard Kelly and none other than Kevin Smith, who, despite not having any involvement with the film, is clearly a big fan of both Kelly and his work here. For the most part, Kelly talks about the changes between the two versions and why he decided to insert particular scenes and change other elements. Smith does a good job of interacting with Kelly and he even gets a chance to turn the track into an interview late when he asks him questions about the film, posed from diehard fans.

The Donnie Darko Production Diary follows the chronicles of changing a California neighborhood into Virginia circa 1988. This is an interesting piece but after running nearly an hour it becomes tiresome and repetitive. There's the theatrical trailer for the director's cut as well as a storyboard comparison that runs a quick eight minutes.

Finally, two extras that chronicle the rabid fanbase for Donnie Darko are offered. The first, entitled They Made Me Do It Too: The Cult of Donnie Darko takes a look at the popularity and cult status of the film since its release on video in early 2002. Next, and infinitely more irritating than possibly anything else I have ever seen included as bonus material, is #1 Fan: A Darkomentary, a positively disturbing look at the winner of a contest in which the biggest fan would craft a short film for inclusion on the DVD. I am just as big a fan of the film as anyone, but this guy takes it to ridiculous new heights.

Extras Grade: B+


Final Comments

While I appreciate Fox for giving the film another push, I am disappointed in the overall experience of the new cut. Kelly's original version stands as the better in many ways, and this new version is a curiosity as a secondary vision only.


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