Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut Review

Why has it taken me so long to see Donnie Darko? I honestly don't know and from what I've read perhaps the director's cut isn't the best way for me to experience the film first time around. But it's a little late for that and for my first viewing I have sat down and seen the film in its full, "intended" version.

For those who have yet to see the film here is the obligatory introduction:

Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a troubled young man, living in Middlesex, Virginia with his parents and two sisters. He is taking medication for a worsening mental condition, believed to be schizophrenia, at times forgetting to take his pills he also finds himself waking up in strange places, with no memory as to how he got there. He also has scheduled appointments with psychiatrist, Dr. Thurman (Katherine Ross) who slowly extracts more than he truly knows himself. Donnie has begun to see visions of a man-sized rabbit named Frank, who sends him on sleepwalking trips, telling him that the world will end in 28 days and forcing him to commit acts of vandalism. Donnie spends this time trying to understand the unfolding events before him, gradually bringing him closer to discovering the relativities of time-travel, during the 1988 presidential election.


Forgive me for the poor synopsis, Donnie Darko is a film that has a lot more to it but need not have me drowning it out. Director, Richard Kelly has crafted an interesting tale that divides philosophies and personal experiences, during an era in which he grew up in and as a testament to its form it is a film that has been under much discussion during recent years. As someone watching it for the first time, in this new incarnation I find myself wonderfully surprised at the different concepts put up on screen and how Kelly has taken a typically conventional setting and turned it on its face and slammed it into the ground a few times, creating at first what would appear to be a proverbial, bloody mess that ultimately becomes a fine piece of art.

The most interesting aspect for me is the notion of time-travel, something that I have not devoted my time to researching or understanding, but yet has been integrated into the film with such a keen sense of understanding from Kelly that he also explains it to us in simple layman terms. The rewarding aspect of this is that the viewer can come away with a sense of having learned something. With that in mind I begin to wonder just how true these theories are, I question the possibilities and I question Kelly's leanings toward the subject. At times I thought the film was heading toward pretentious territory, and then later found the story and theories catch up with themselves and it starts to make more sense. The theme is pulled off in such a convincing manner that it becomes an additional and successful layer to ponder on, though I suspect he has ample amounts of research to give credit to the idea. Even when the feature has ended and everything has been wrapped up to near perfection then is the time to sit back and take it in.


After watching the film I started to think about its characters and the effects they had in Donnie's world, because the film is so reliant on them as much as it is with several other factors, more interestingly so when we see them in different worlds; the real and the tangent. The most gratifying aspect is the final moments before the credits role and we get to see very subtle, yet important changes or additions to each character that for better or worse are for the most part poignant.

And it is these characters that Kelly brings before us that are either detrimental or essential, every one has a part to play that shapes both the story and Donnie himself, very few are there to offer nothing more than support and its this kind of methodical thinking that leads me to congratulate Richard Kelly on this fine debut.

These characters would really be nothing if they weren't played so well and having never seen several of them it became quite a pleasant surprise to watch each one unfold in their respected roles. I can't imagine anyone else playing Donnie as well as Jake Gyllenhaal has here. He pushes all the right buttons, hits every note and comes away respectfully as a good, heroic figure. And then there's the supporting cast, from his family members (particularly Jake's real life sister, Maggie), convincingly played out as well as some fine additional support from Patrick Swayze, Drew Barrymore and Noah Wyle. I could go into detail about the progression of each character but in all honesty I would feel that I would be saying too much, suffice it to say that everyone is wonderful.


I don't doubt that this particular version will continue to divide fans. It may be that they're happy with the conclusions they have drawn themselves from the original theatrical cut and don't wish to have it explained, or it may be that they'll relish the opportunity to finally learn what it was all about. I do wish that I had seen the original cut first, so that I could get caught up in its tangled web and try to unthread it with my non-spidery like fingers but I'm glad to have seen the film as it now stands.

Donnie Darko is an engaging piece of work and if it has anything going against it then I would say it feels slightly too long, by 20-minutes or so, which is ironic considering that is how much time has been put back on screen. I think in addition to this it doesn't go into any fine detail in the forming relationship between Donnie and Gretchen (Jena Malone), perhaps it doesn't really need to. The romantic element is played out well enough but also feels too forced and it's the product of a very ambitious script that has too many other plot elements to play with. When we discover at the end the true purpose of the film and the reasons behind Donnie's decisions, it feels a little too fathoming because we haven't really been given enough time with regards to perhaps the most important focal piece of the film.

For those who have seen the original and have yet to experience this new cut can read the following list of changes made here:

Donnie Darko: DC Changes


The DVD

Metrodome have released the director's cut on a fine two disc set, rich with extras.

Menus

The menus here are certainly unique. For disc 1 we just get the cut of the film with sound options and scene selections. I admit that navigating the menus threw me at first because as soon as it pops up there is no clear navigational tool. Clicking left or right will take you to the scene selections: left being at the end and the right being the beginning. Curious as to where the sound options were I pressed up on the remote control arrow select. This takes you to the audio options, while pressing down gives you subtitle options. A nice concept but slightly awkward, which might even please fans because it feels like an extra puzzle to get to grips with. Disc 2 menus are much easier to use, having clear text options on one main menu. There are also easter eggs hidden somewhere in these menus but I'll be damned if I can find them.

Menu shots can be found by clicking this link:

Donnie Darko: DC Menus

Picture

The film is presented in its original 2:35.1 aspect ratio and anamorphically enhanced. There is an overall soft look to the film that is far from awful but noticeable all the same, performing better for close up shots. Colour levels are good though, with nice flesh tones, strong greens, particularly for many outdoor shots and strong blacks, with a good amount of detail present. The transfer also appears to be a little too dark and a small amount of grain is evident but not enough to warrant any real complaints.

There are optional subtitles for the feature and you'll be pleased to know that they are tailored for the hard of hearing.

Sound

There is a choice of AC3 Dolby Digital 5.1 surround, DTS and an audio commentary (which I shall get to later). For my viewing pleasure I listened to the film in DTS. Ordinarily it doesn't seem like it would be a film to require such a dedicated mix but it works very well. Having the sound re-mastered, Richard Kelly has included various elements that he explains were not in the theatrical cut, examples like the crickets during the opening shot that awaken Donnie. Effects such as these add some nice ambience and make good use of the rear speakers. For some of the film's more dynamic moments the track really kicks in, with good examples being the plane engine that falls through Donnie's bedroom or the impending doom that nears toward the end.

Dialogue comes through well but struggles a little during musical numbers and sequences like the house party Donnie and his sister throw, where dialogue is occasionally drowned out (if only for a moment). As for the music itself - it is very well handled and provides more of a speaker workout. Fans of not only the film but the 80's music employed should feel more than pleased.

I made sure to briefly check the 5.1 track and could not find much difference between the two, although there is a little more subwoofer action for the DTS track.


Extras

Note: There are no subtitles available for the extra features.

Disc 1 :

Audio Commentary with Peter Kelly and Kevin Smith
If this doesn't open your eyes then nothing will. Fellow cult director, Kevin Smith joins his friend in the studio to discuss the film and little is left un-turned. Just about everything here is explained, from Kelly's choice of music change to each separate character. The guys have a good rapport going and it is interesting to hear the views from Smith who is a lot more laid back about the choices he makes when shooting a film. Fans of Donnie Darko should have a fascinating time listening to these two dissect the film and interpret its meaning.

Disc 2 :

The extras menu is divided up into four sections: Featurettes, behind the scenes, promos and additional scenes.

Featurettes

They made me do it
Running for little under 5-minutes this piece focuses on an exhibition, featuring 14 graffiti artists as they create a piece on canvas, inspired by the film in just 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds.
It's not a particularly interesting piece, though some of the artwork is good.

They made me do it too
This 30-minute feature focuses on the cult status of Donnie Darko and its phenomenal response from UK cinema goers. Here we have interviews with fans and critics who adamantly explain that they had a far better understanding of the original theatrical release than the American audiences did. There are some interesting conversations from some of the fans about how they don't need to be spoon fed conventional stories and ideas, that the originality and ambiguity of the theatrical cut is what really makes it the film it is.

They made me do it gallery
A collection of artwork from graffiti artists previously mentioned.

Behind the Scenes

Production diary with commentary
This runs for 40-minutes and features location shooting and behind the scenes filming. Like the film it runs as a calendar, showing us the remaining days left for shooting. We're taken through various locations, day and night shoots and make up tests and get a good look into an onset environment. While never really compelling it is a decent addition.

B-roll footage
Just over 4-minutes of further behind the scenes material. A lot of it is pointless to be honest.

Cast & crew interviews
Running for 15-minutes this features interviews with Richard Kelly, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymoore, Noah Wyle, Mary McDonnell, Katherine Ross, Holmes Osbourne, James Duval, Maggie Gyllenhall, Steven Poster, Sean McKittrick, Nancy Jovonen, Hunt Lowry and Casey La Scala.

Cast & crew filmographies
Film listings for cast and crew. There’s no additional information, such as biographies.

Promos

Trailers
Two trailers; one for the director's cut at 1-minute and the other for the original theatrical trailer, running for just over 2-minutes.

TV spots
There are five of these to view.

"Mad world" music video.
Personally I don't like this song but for those who do you can watch the video in its entirety.

"Cunning visions" infomercials
There are two of these and they're pretty amusing. They feature in the film as TV infomercials, starring Patrick Swayze. They're extremely cheesy, which I don't doubt is the point. Choosing the second will show you the infomercial again but with director's commentary from Fabian Van Patten and Linda Connie - "Cunning Visions" CEO. Man, I couldn't tell if this was a joke commentary or not at first but it evidently is. You just have to listen to it, seriously. Fabian sounds like Jim Carrey doing his Vera DeMilo impression.

There is also a "Play all" option for these.

Additional Scenes

There are 20 scenes here to view, with or without the director's commentary. These are deleted or extended scenes. Kelly hands out some interesting facts for some and is more hesitant on others but none of them represent major cuts from his final vision.


Overall

Donnie Darko was something I knew very little about going into, but now that I have seen it I can say the hype is warranted. While not a flawless piece of work it is very close and definitely one to watch more than once.

Film
8 out of 10
Video
7 out of 10
Audio
8 out of 10
Extras
8 out of 10
Overall

8

out of 10

Last updated: 31/05/2018 20:48:46

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