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Donnie Darko (2001)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/10/2009

All Ratings out of
Movie: 1/2
Video:
Audio:
Extras: 1/2

Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/25/2009; Updated 4/10/2017

The term "cult movie" gets thrown around a lot. Well, that's not exactly true. The term "cult movie" used to get thrown around a lot. A cult movie used to be the kind of movie which was obscure, only seen by a small group of fans, and was the kind of film which one would have to seek out -- typically at a midnight screening. Eraserhead, Dawn of the Dead, and El Topo are just some examples of these films. But, today, with home video being so commonplace, it's hard for a movie to achieve "cult" status. When you can buy just about any movie on-line, it's hard for things to be obscure. But, there are still some films which defy categorization and must work to find an audience. Once this happens, the fans of that film become very devoted. Donnie Darko is one of the best examples of this in recent years.

Donnie Darko is set in 1988 and introduces us to the titular character (played by Jake Gyllenhaal), a teenager with some problems. Due to committing arson, he is in therapy and on medication. He sleepwalks -- even going as far as to ride his bike quite a distance from his house. His older sister, Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal), is always arguing with their parents, Rose (Mary McDonnell) and Eddie (Holmes Osborne), about politics. Donnie's little sister, Samantha (Daveigh Chase), focuses on her dance troupe, "Sparkle Motion". One night, Donnie sleepwalks, following what appears to be a huge rabbit with a skull-like face. While he is gone, a jet engine lands on the house, crushing Donnie's bedroom. Following this, Donnie's life begins to get even stranger. He sees the rabbit, who calls himself Frank, more and more, and Frank tells Donnie to do things...bad things. Donnie becomes obsessed with the idea of time travel. The messages from Frank begin to co-mingle with themes from Donnie's everyday life, and he becomes convinced that something very big is about to happen to him and those around him.

On paper, Donnie Darko shouldn't be any good. As if the above description isn't any indication, the movie is a hodge-podge of ideas, and at times, it seems to be playing out as a series of random scenes than as a coherent story. The movie mixes ideas from teenage dramas, horror, and science-fiction in a way which threatens to send the film off of the tracks at any moment. The main character is a troubled young man who may be very dangerous, and thus, shouldn't be likable.

But, somehow, despite these issues, Writer/Director Richard Kelly has managed to create a modern-day classic. Upon first viewing the film, it's saving grace is Kelly's visual style. From the outset, Kelly shoots the film in a very dream-like manner, using slow-motion and canted angle. Staying true to the title, many of the scenes with Donnie are dark, playing in sharp contrast to the bright daytime of his suburban neighborhood. But, it's not just the look of the film, the design of Frank, the "Mongrel" mascot, and Grandma Death are very striking and Frank has become an instantly recognizable image from the movie. Allowing the visuals to draw you into the film, the viewer realizes that the movie does make an odd kind of sense. The seemingly random ideas begin to gel as the film progresses, and we grow fond of Donnie. While the movie straddles several genres, I'm always surprised by the strong emotional quality which inhabits the movie.

Donnie Darko achieves cult status by being one of those films that viewers are either going to love or hate. I can easily see some audience members finding the film confusing (more on that in a moment), hating Donnie, and feeling that Kelly was trying to hard with all of his 80's references. I like Donnie Darko because it's one of the few movies in my library which can really set off a debate. Did it all really happen? Did we just witness the delusions of a sick young man? What did happen at the end? The ending is very open to interpretation, and I must admit that I simply didnít get it the first time. And while I usually detest movies which ďleave it up to the audienceĒ (I find this to be lazy), the message of Donnie Darko can be taken several ways and each viewer will unravel the finale in their own way.

As Donnie Darko has become a hit on home video (so much so that a direct-to-DVD sequel is set for release), it still has yet to be embraced by the masses. I predict that as time goes by, and more and more people see the film, it will be considered an important piece and become a standard in film criticism classes.

Donnie Darko wears a stupid bunny suit on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is somewhat sharp and clear, showing only a slight amount of grain and no defects from the source material. But, itís also soft and somewhat dark at times. The colors are good, but they are very bold. Some noise is visible at times. The transfer is solid, but itís not much of an improvement over DVD. The Disc holds a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.2 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is one of those movies which I canít imagine watching without surround sound. Frankís voice sounds great here and it fills the speakers, lending a very ethereal quality to it. The track provides good surround and stereo effects. The music sounds especially good and drives home how important it is the effect of the movie.

The Donnie Darko Blu-ray Disc contains a few extras. Disc 1 features three AUDIO COMMENTARIES. For the theatrical cut, we have a commentary by Director Richard Kelly and actor Jake Gyllenhaal. There is also a "Cast and Crew" commentary which features Drew Barrymore, Producer Sean McKittrick, Jena Malone, Beth Grant, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross, and James Duval. The Director's Cut has a commentary by Kelly and Kevin Smith (who will show up anywhere). The remainder of the extras are found on Disc 2 (which is actually a DVD!). "Donnie Darko Production Diary" (53 minutes) can be viewed with or without commentary by Director of Photography Steven Poster. This is simply camcorder footage of the production. It starts with location scouting, and then moves into on-set "fly on the wall" footage of the film being shot. While this is mainly "you are there" stuff, we get some comments from the cast and we get to see Kelly interacting with the actors. "They Made Me Do It Too - The Cult of Donnie Darko" (28 minutes) is a British-made documentary which contains comments from fans and critics who discuss why they love the movie. "Storyboard to Screen" (8 minutes) gives side-by-side comparisons between the storyboards and the finished film for four scenes. "#1 Fan: A Darkomentary" (13 minutes) is a short film by Darryl Donaldson which was the winner of a contest. The final extra is the THEATRICAL TRAILER for the film.

UPDATED:

On April 18, 2017, Arrow Video released Donnie Darko in a special limited edition Blu-ray Disc. Disc One features the theatrical cut of the film. It has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 33 Mbps. The Disc delivers a brand new 4K restoration from the original camera negatives produced by Arrow Films exclusively for this release, supervised and approved by director Richard Kelly and cinematographer Steven Poster. The image is sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. Granted, this is a dark movie, but the image is somewhat dark at times. Having said that, the colors look good, most notably the blues and greens. The image has a nice amount of depth, as the actors are clearly separate from the backgrounds. A few shots look soft, but otherwise the level of detail is good. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. This is a film where sound is very important, and the scenes in which Donnie hears Frank sound great. They fill the surround sound speakers, while providing the subwoofer effects that make these moments so effective. Other scenes deliver stereo and surround effects which nicely highlight sounds coming from offscreen.

Disc 1 features several extra features, many of which are the same are the release above. There are some new extras here. "Deus ex Machina: The Philosophy of Donnie Darko" (85 minutes) is a very in-depth making-of featurette which offers interviews with Writer/Director Richard Kelly, Producer Sean McKittrick, Director of Photography Steven Foster, Editor Sam Bauer, Composer Michael Edwards, Costume Designer April Ferry, Production Designer Alec Hammond, and Actor James Duval. The piece starts at the beginning with how Kelly and McKittrick met, and explores how the movie came together. While we get the interviews and clips from the film, there is very little in the way of on-set footage here. It would have been nice to have heard from Gyllenhaal here. The Disc includes "The Goodbye Place" (9 minutes), a short film from Kelly made in 1996. The Disc contains twenty DELETED & EXTENDED SCENES which run about 32 minutes and can be viewed with commentary from Kelly.

Disc 2 contains the Director's Cut of the film. It has again been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, but there is some noticeable grain here. There are no defects from the source materials. The picture here doesn't have the depth of the other Disc and some shots are noticeably softer. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.5 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The thunder effects in the opening moments really show off the range of this track, as they fill the rear speakers. We also get impressive stereo and subwoofer effects here.

As with Disc 1, Disc 2 contains some new extras. "Archive Interviews" (14 minutes) offers brief comments from 17 members of the cast and creative team. "They Made Me Do It II" (30 minutes) is another British-made documentary which profiles fans of the film. "B-Roll Footage" (5 minutes) plays like a combination of deleted scenes and on-set footage. "Cunning Visions Infomercials" (6 minutes) offers an unencumbered view of the self-help videos from the film. We get a MUSIC VIDEO for "Mad World" by Gary Jules. The extras are rounded out by an "Image Gallery", a TRAILER for the Director's Cut, and five TV SPOTS.

Review Copyright 2009/2017 by Mike Long