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Richard Kelly
Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle, Mary McDonnell
Richard Kelly

Dark, Darker, Darko
Box Office:
Budget $4.5 million. Opening weekend $110,494 on 58 screens. Domestic gross $489,690.
Rated R for language, some drug use and violence.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Surround 2.0
English, Spanish

Runtime: 113 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 3/19/2002

• Audio Commentary With Writer/Director Richard Kelly and Actor Jake Gyllenhaal
• Audio Commentary With Writer/Director Richard Kelly, Producers Nancy Juvonen and Sean McKittrick, and Cast
• Deleted/Extended Scenes With Optional Director Commentary
• “Cunning Visions” Infomercials
The Philosophy of Time Travel Book
• Website Gallery
• “Mad World” Music Video
• Art Gallery and Production Stills
• Theatrical Trailer
• TV Spots
• Cast and Crew Info


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Donnie Darko (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

Taken from the back cover of Donnie Darko, here’s my pick for the worst DVD blurb I’ve seen recently: “an all-star cast in a ‘classic psychological thriller!’” That description might work for some film out there, but it certainly has little to do with Darko. Its biggest star is Drew Barrymore, and she only plays a small role. After that we find folks like Noah Wyle, Patrick Swayze and Mary McDonnell - not exactly “A”-list actors, are they?

As for the rest of the blurb, Darko falls about as far from “psychological thriller” territory as I can imagine. The movie spans a variety of genres, but I see little correlation with that one.

Attempts to synopsize Darko will probably fail, so I’ll only try to offer a quick overview. The film concentrates on the titular teen Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal), an apparently schizophrenic kid who seems to see and hear things. His main preoccupation appears to stem from an evil-looking humanoid rabbit named Frank (James Duval) who tells him to do certain actions.

Basically Darko follows a series of these events and Donnie’s general life. We meet his family and friends, including a new girlfriend named Gretchen (Jena Malone). Early on, Frank tells Donnie the world will end after approximately 28 days, so the movie counts down to that occasion.

Along the way, a lot of spooky weirdness occurs. I’d really rather not go into the details. That’s partially because it’s darned near impossible to actually cover the story; it’s so complicated and involved that it’d take a tremendous amount of space to convey it all. In addition, I don’t want to ruin any of the film’s elements for new viewers. They deserve to see the movie unfold before them.

You’ll probably want to watch it twice - or more - just to try to make sense of the whole thing. At first it looks like it’ll be a story of a dysfunctional family and a mentally ill kid, but it quickly becomes clear that it’s more than that. This definitely isn’t a TV movie treatment of psychological concerns, especially since it starts to appear that schizophrenia may not be the issue.

On the negative side, Darko definitely can be a confusing experience, and the structure seems somewhat weak. Admittedly, writer/director Richard Kelly clearly doesn’t want to provide a neat and tidy package, and that’s fine, but I still would have liked a little additional clarity. I felt like Darko needed footnotes, a fact that Kelly essentially acknowledges during his audio commentary; much of that track consists of his explanations of the film. I also thought that secondary characters weren’t very well developed; they came and went with little rhyme or reason and lacked depth.

Despite those problems, Darko remained a very compelling experience. Visually and emotionally, this was a consistently rich and spirited affair. It contains more than its fair share of indelible moments, and even when I felt confused, I still remained interested and engrossed.

My review of Donnie Darko will remain less specific than usual. Partly that’s because I don’t want to divulge any of its secrets; it’s a film that can’t be covered in a neat and tidy package, and it deserves to be seen independently. The movie remains up to interpretation, and each viewer may take different things from it.

All I know for certain is that Richard Kelly created a vivid and lively piece. Young directors often want to do something “different”, and sometimes they provide work that seems unusual just for its own sake, such as David Gordon Green’s pretentious and dull George Washington. Kelly proves that one can make a very distinctive and unique film with unconventional pacing while still remaining compelling and involving. Donnie Darko gives us a strong effort that seems deep and rich. I can’t wait to see what Kelly does next.

The DVD Grades: Picture B / Audio A- / Bonus A-

Donnie Darko appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The movie looked good as a whole, though it displayed a few moderate issues.

Sharpness seemed fine. The movie always appeared crisp and well delineated, and I saw no concerns related to softness or fuzziness. Jagged edges and moiré effects also caused no problems, and I saw no signs of edge enhancement. Print flaws caused some issues, however. Light grain cropped up periodically throughout the film, and I also witnessed some grit, speckles, nicks and a few small hairs. The defects never became pervasive, but they seemed a bit excessive for such a recent film.

Colors appeared good but not great. At times they came across as somewhat heavy, but they usually were reasonably accurate and distinct. Most scenes showed good saturation and vividness, with only a few scenes that seemed a little thick. Black levels were deep and solid, while shadow detail could be somewhat dense. Low-light sequences came across as a bit opaque, though they usually were acceptable. Overall, Donnie Darko presented a satisfying image, but a few moderate issues knocked my grade down to a “B”.

Much stronger was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Donnie Darko. The soundfield seemed surprisingly active and engaging. The movie featured a consistently vibrant and involving mix that used all five channels well. Most of the audio remained in the front, where music showed solid stereo imaging and effects were well placed and blended together cleanly. The surrounds added positive reinforcement of those elements plus quite a lot of useful unique audio. The movie’s occasional loud scenes - like explosions - were very impressive, but it still showed good sense of atmosphere as a whole.

Audio quality also appeared excellent. Dialogue seemed natural and distinct, and I heard no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Music was bright and vibrant with good clarity and dynamic range. Effects were also clean and accurate, and they showed fine fidelity with excellent depth. Bass responses seemed terrific as a whole; low-end came across as tight and vivid. Overall, Donnie Darko provided a very strong auditory experience.

The DVD release of Donnie Darko packs a nice roster of supplements, starting with two audio commentaries. The first comes from writer/director Richard Kelly and actor Jake Gyllenhaal. Both were recorded together for this running, screen-specific track. On the negative side, quite a few empty gaps occurred during the track, and it lacked a great deal of focus. Much of the reason for the latter concern happened because of Gyllenhaal. Kelly tried to provide details about the shoot and also explain the convoluted plot, but Gyllenhaal often interrupted him and made the director lose is train of thought. This didn’t happen constantly, but it could cause some frustrations.

Overall, however, this was a fairly engaging commentary. When he doesn’t butt in, Gyllenhaal provides some decent comments about his work and the shoot. Kelly’s remarks are the most useful, however, mainly because he tries to make sense of the story. He doesn’t succeed; if anything, I felt more confused after I screened the commentary. However, it’s terrific to get a discussion of this complicated tale, so I appreciated the food for thought. It’d be very interesting to watch the film again now that I’ve gotten the creator’s perspective.

Next we get a massive group commentary that includes Kelly, producers Sean McKittrick and Nancy Juvonen, and actors Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Jena Malone, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross, James Duval, and Beth Grant. All 10 of them were recorded together for this running affair. It’s a giddy little track that sets its tone at the very start when Barrymore introduces herself by character name Karen Pomeroy; the others follow suit, and the piece goes from there. Actually, a few participants don’t introduce themselves, so I may have missed someone, but I think I got them all.

On a few occasions, it becomes a screen-specific piece, but those instances were quite rare. As a whole, the commentary acts as a roundtable discussion of the film. At times it turns into too much of a lovefest, as the participants occasionally tend to do little more than dwell on how good everything/everyone was. However, we often get some fairly good information about the movie. Kelly and Barrymore dominate, though everyone chimes in some material at times. We find some decent character insights as well as information about the shoot and additional attempts to interpret the story. Over, this is a fairly engaging commentary, though it could become somewhat chaotic at times.

After this we locate a substantial number of extended/deleted scenes. We get a whopping 20 of these; this splits to 13 deleted and seven extended. The clips run between 19 seconds and three minutes, 44 seconds for a total of 30 minutes and 40 seconds of material. With so many scenes from which to choose, the quality varies, but as a whole, I thought most of them were quite interesting. I could see why many of them didn’t make the final film, but they still helped flesh out the piece and added to it.

All of the segments can be viewed with or without commentary from director Kelly. He provided some good remarks about the material. He doesn’t always let us know specifically why the footage didn’t make the final cut, but he usually told us this. Otherwise, he gave us solid information about the shots and how they’d fit into the movie, so the commentary snippets definitely merit a listen.

More interesting footage appears in the Cunning Visions area. We find two clips that show some of the material prepared for the Jim Cunningham self-help program segments. “Infomercials” lasts five minutes and 41 seconds. We see snippets of these during the movie, so it’s fun to get a full look at them on their own. In addition, you can watch all four ads with commentary from “Cunning Visions CEO Linda Connie and Director Fabian Van Patten”. I don’t know what actors played these characters, but it’s an amusing alternate reality that definitely merits a listen.

As we continue, we find the film’s theatrical trailer plus five TV spots. In the Cast and Crew Information area, we locate listings for actors Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, James Duval, Beth Grant, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross, Patrick Swayze, and Noah Wyle, writer/director Kelly, producers McKittrick and Juvonen, director of photography Steven Poster, production designer Alexander Hammond, costume designer April Ferry, editors Eric Strand and Sam Bauer, and composer Michael Andrews. The actors only include filmographies, but the crewmembers receive short biographies

We get a music video for Gary Jules’ cover of Tears for Fears’ “Mad World”. The three-minute and 15-second clip just shows snippets of the movie and some moody lip-synch shots of Jules. It’s a pretty dull affair.

The Website Galley offers 42 screens of material found on the movie’s interesting Internet page, while The Soundtrack gives us three screens of text liner notes written by Kelly for the CD release. Art Gallery breaks into “Production Stills” (49 shots) and “Concept Art” (28 stills). The former are decent but nothing special, while the latter are pretty interesting. Many of them seem too small, however, as they don’t come close to filling the available real estate. Lastly, The Philosophy of Time Travel offers 14 screens of text from “Robert Sparrow’s” book.

Donnie Darko has its flaws, but overall, I thought it offered a compelling experience. The movie confused me, but it kept me consistently intrigued, and it managed to be stylistically provocative and deep all at once. The DVD offers good picture with surprisingly strong sound and some positive extras. Donnie Darko may end up as one of those “love it or hate it” movies, but I feel it definitely deserves your attention.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3508 Stars Number of Votes: 248
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