• Donnie Darko



    Released by: Arrow Films
    Released on: April 18, 2017
    Directed by: Richard Kelly
    Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daveigh Chase, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle, Seth Rogen
    Year: 2001
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    The Movie:

    A suburban teenager, Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal), is awakened one fall morning by a person dressed in a sinister rabbit costume who calls himself Frank. Frank (James Duval) tells Donnie in exactly how many days, down to the very second, that the world is going to end. Not long after, Donnie discovers that the engine of a jet airliner has crashed through his house and into his bedroom. Frank continues to visit Donnie, who reacts by engaging in rebellious acts against his family, his teachers, and his school. He also begins dating a new girl in town, Gretchen (Jena Malone), whose name has been changed to prevent her abusive stepfather from learning her whereabouts.

    Donnie’s science teacher, Dr. Monnitoff (Noah Wylie), gives Donnie a book about time travel written by the school’s former science teacher (Patricia Cleveland), while Donnie’s psychiatrist, Dr. Thurman (Katherine Ross), tells Donnie’s parents (Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne) that Donnie is a paranoid schizophrenic suffering from hallucinations. Meanwhile, Donnie’s acts of rebellion grown more abrasive and violent, including burning down an inspirational speaker’s (Patrick Swayze) house.

    When their parents go away for a few days, Donnie and his sister Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal) throw a Halloween party. Gretchen becomes frantic because her mother has disappeared, and she and Donnie go in search of the author of the book about time travel. With the timeframe nearly up for the end of the world, Gretchen is struck by a car and killed, Donnie shoots someone wearing a rabbit costume, and a storm erupts. A vortex forms over Donnie’s house, and an airplane flying through the storm loses an engine, which falls into the vortex—and lands in Donnie’s bedroom 28 days previously.

    Donnie Darko is a difficult film to pigeonhole. On the one hand, it’s an angst-ridden black comedy, on the other a dark and morbid science fiction fantasy. Writer/director Richard Kelly’s images are pregnant with meaning and symbolism, but, despite participating in no less than three audio commentaries for this release, he refuses to reveal too much, leaving it up to viewers to sort it all out on their own. It’s a smart decision; by imbibing the proceedings with a certain amount of ambiguity, Kelly has created of work of remarkable emotional resonance and impact, one that retains its cult following 16 years after its original release. In fact, Donnie Darko’s reputation has only grown over the years, resulting in multiple DVD and Blu-ray special edition releases.

    Of course, it should be noted that the film is supported by a bevy of star cameos or minor parts, from old-school actors such as Katherine Ross (The Graduate, 1967; Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969) and Patrick Swayze (Dirty Dancing, 1987; Ghost, 1990) to contemporary favorites such as Noah Wyle (E.R., Falling Skies) and Drew Barrymore (E.T., 1982; The Wedding Singer, 1998; Barrymore also helped finance the film’s production through her company Flower Films). In addition, the film helped the careers of relative newcomers Jake Gyllenhaal (Brokeback Mountain, 2005; Zodiac, 2007), his real-life sister Maggie (The Dark Knight, 2008; Hysteria, 2011), Jena Malone (Sucker Punch, 2011; The Neon Demon, 2016), and Seth Rogen (Knocked Up, 2007; The Interview, 2014).

    Given the weirdness on hand and the lack of a suitable explanation for the events that transpire, Donnie Darko nearly went straight to video before being rescued and given a minor release in theaters thanks to the intervention of director Christopher Nolan. Shot on a $4.5 million budget, it garnered only $7.3 million at the box office. However, upon its DVD release in March 2002, the film found its legs and has been a home video perennial ever since. Its popularity led to a much longer director’s cut in 2004; both versions of the film are contained on DVD and Blu-ray in Arrow’s special edition release. This cut did not merely restore twenty minutes of previously deleted footage; it also added new special effects, superimposed text, and the addition of pop songs to accentuate certain scenes, songs which had been beyond Kelly’s reach while shooting the film. This cut also received a brief theatrical run, garnering the film an additional $1.3 million in revenues.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    Arrow Films brings the two versions of Donnie Darko to Blu-ray with MPEG-4 AVC encodes in 1080p high definition, scanned in 4k from the original 35mm camera negative. Some sections of the director’s cut were sourced from a 35mm digital intermediate element. Both versions have been placed on their own BD50 discs in their original 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratios and contain high bit rates. It’s also important to note that the restored footage in the director’s cut is of no obvious qualitative difference from the rest of the feature. The restoration was overseen by director Kelly and cinematographer Steven Poster. Because the film was shot on 35mm, dirt and debris and light scratches were removed digitally using a variety of tools. The transfer itself is a little dark, but that seems intentional and befitting the tone of the piece. Detail is never overwhelming, but it’s there and stands out best in sunlit scenes shot outdoors. Pausing the image on one of these shots reveals more detail than one initially notices during playback. Interiors fare almost as well when lighting sources are strong. Nighttime and darker sequences experience an increase in visible grain, which is, to some degree, to be expected, but this, too, is never overwhelming, though some detail is lost in these scenes. For the most part, colors are natural throughout, if occasionally pallid. The film does best with greens and blues, while the choices of clothing and décor are mostly earthy in nature rather than neon bright and colorful. The image is certainly clean, though it retains its filmic look. Donnie Darko has been released on Blu-ray in the United States and abroad in the past, but this is the best it’s ever looked, so it should please longtime fans of the film while winning over a few new ones. Noise reduction tools are not in evidence, and there’s no waxiness to the image at any point.

    Arrow has chosen a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix for both cuts of the film. The cuts do not feature the same track; each one was mastered separately, though most viewers’ ears will not discern any differences. There is a considerable difference in the way sounds are mixed, and in both tracks, voices are fairly low and soft compared with sound effects and music, which are much higher. As a result, most viewers will want to adjust the sound frequently to account for the jumps in loudness. There are no other problems with either track, and sound effects and music retain their power.

    Given that each cut is given its own disc, each disc comes replete with its own extras. Both contain commentaries (there are three in all), each of which features director Kelly. The theatrical cut features one commentary with Kelly and star Gyllenhaal, another with Kelly and cast and crew members Sean McKittrick, Beth Grant, Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross, and James Duval. The director’s cut features commentary from Kelly and fellow filmmaker and enthusiast Kevin Smith. All commentaries are in English Dolby Digital 2.0. The Kelly and Gyllenhaal commentary was clearly recorded as both men sat together watching the film; they share thoughts about the scenes as they unfold, offering insight into how they were shot and the reasons behind them. Kelly clearly understands the project on a level that Gyllenhaal doesn’t, but their interactions are pleasant enough. There are a couple of silent patches, but they don’t last too long. The second commentary featuring many people is mixed a little lower, requiring the volume to be turned up a little. This commentary is a bit on the annoying side. There’s too much laughter interrupting the dialogue. Kelly and Barrymore dominate, which is fine; the problem is that too many people are gathered together talking over each other. A superior decision would have been to record everyone’s commentary separately and splice the most interesting and apropos bits together. Another problem is that people closer to the recorder are much louder than those farther from it, resulting in adjustments to the volume having to be made throughout, depending on who’s speaking. The final commentary between Kelly and Smith features a humorous bent. Kelly discusses the film; Smith makes funny asides and observations. Despite Kelly’s suggestion that he brought Smith along to avoid silent spaces, there are still a few short-lived silent spaces. Regardless, the commentary remains interesting (thanks, in part, to a lot of comic book references). There’s some crossover in the information that people get between these commentaries and the other extras, but all are still worth a listen/viewing.

    The theatrical cut contains a number of other special features, including the package’s best extra, a feature-length documentary, Deus ex Machina—The Philosophy of Donnie Darko, which runs 95 minutes. Interview subjects include Kelly, producer McKittrick, cinematographer Poster, actor Duval, editor Sam Bauer, composer Michael Edwards, costume designer April Ferry, and production designer Alec Hammond. The film is in 1080p and English Dolby Digital 2.0. The documentary traces the film’s history to its origins with the director and producer in college, how Bauer came on board, what inspired Kelly to write his script, the casting process, and so much more. The program is divided into chapters, each with its own theme. The chapter breaks take viewers to the beginning of each of these chapters. The documentary concludes by discussing the director’s cut of the film.

    The second-best extra on the disc is The Goodbye Place, a 1996 short film by Kelly that lasts a little less than nine minutes. Shot on black-and-white 16mm (or so this reviewer is guessing from the looks of it), it deals with an abused boy—the narrator of the film—who, while at the playground, meets a mysterious man; when he goes home, he is locked in a closet while Mom goes out partying. After the boy sees the man a second time, strange things begin to happen. The “goodbye place” is a euphemism used by the boy’s mom to describe death.

    Included are 20 deleted and extended scenes. These last for a little over 30 minutes and come with optional audio commentary, which is enlightening and well worth a listen.

    Rounding out the extras on the first disc is the original theatrical trailer, which runs 2:28 and is in 1080p, though it isn’t particularly sharp. Interestingly, it makes the film look like a bizarre horror picture. No doubt crafting a trailer that communicated such a strange and unconventional plot was difficult, perhaps even impossible.

    Without a feature-length documentary to take up so much space on the second disc, there are a lot of extras to occupy fans. First up is “The Donnie Darko Production Diary,” which lasts approximately 53 minutes. Shot on video at the time of the film’s production, it provides a detailed look behind the scenes. It is broken down into days, which are separated into chapters. There’s also an optional commentary.

    There are archival interviews with the two Gyllenhaals, McDonnel, Osbourne, Duval, Malone, Barrymore, Wyle, Ross, Kelly, McKittrick, Poster, Nancy Juvonen, Hunt Lowry, and Casey La Scala. In total, these last a little over 14 minutes, meaning that each is relatively short and sweet. Most of the actors speak about their characters’ import to the story or how they interacted with Kelly.

    “They Made Me Do It” (4:48) was, to quote its written introduction, “an exhibition featuring the work of 14 leading artists emerging from the U.K. graffiti scene. The artists had just 6 hours 42 minutes and 12 seconds to create a piece of work on canvas, inspired by the film Donnie Darko. The exhibition ran for 28 days at dreambagsjaguarshoes in London.” Set up like a music video, it is sans dialogue and features sped-up video of the artists creating their works. It bows out with their final creative endeavors. “They Made Me Do It II” runs considerably longer at a little over 30 minutes. Subtitled “The Cult of Donnie Darko,” it examines the fanbase that has arisen for the film and its cultural impact. Shot on low-grade video, it features interviews with fans and those influenced by the film. Produced in Great Britain, it focuses on the film's impact in the British Isles. There are no chapter breaks.

    “#1 Fan: A Darkomentary” is a 13-minute video that begins with the words: “In the summer of 2004, DonnieDarko.com held a documentary competition to find the #1Donnie Darko fan. The winning film would be added as an extra feature on the release of the Director’s Cut DVD.” This is that winning film, shot by Darryl Donaldson to prove that he was a Darko fan like no other.

    “Storyboard Comparisons” lasts just shy of 8 minutes and feature the original storyboards above the finished shots. “B-Roll Footage” lasts a little under 5 minutes and is exactly what it sounds like: images of the director calling “cut” and “action” and directing the actors. “Cunning Visions Infomercials” last almost 6 minutes and feature the infomercials for inspirational speaker Jim Cunningham’s (Patrick Swayze) Controlling Fear organization. “Music Video” (3:21) presents a beautiful cover for Tears for Fears’ “Mad World,” which is used in the film.

    Rounding out the extras on the second disc is an image gallery containing 49 pictures from the film and behind the scenes, a director’s cut trailer (:55), and five TV spots, each given its own title (“Sacrifice,” “Darker,” “Era,” “Cast,” and “Dark”). The spots run between 17 and 32 seconds each and can be played one by one.

    The Final Word:

    Donnie Darko is a bizarre film, an angsty teen melodrama with strong science fiction and fantasy aspects. Almost impossible to describe, it has found a strong cult following on home video, and Arrow’s release is the definitive package, featuring the best transfer the film’s two cuts have yet seen and a host of extras, some ported over from previous releases, some new. No stone is left unturned in the movie’s production history and the subsequent critical and fan reaction, yet the participants are careful about divulging or suggesting its meaning.

    Note that Arrow’s special edition release also features two DVDs and a hardcover book, neither of which were supplied to Rock! Shock! Pop! for review.

    Christopher Workman is a freelance writer, film critic, and co-author (with Troy Howarth) of the Tome of Terror horror film review series. Horror Films of the Silent Era and Horror Films of the 1930s are currently available, with Horror Films of the 1940s due out later this year.


    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!





























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