Donnie Darko appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Softness, thy name is Darko.
Definition – and a general lack thereof – became the transfer’s prime issue. At best, delineation looked good, but the film never showed great clarity, and it often came across as mushy. Overall sharpness was mediocre at best. No issues with jagged edges or shimmering appeared, though, and I noticed no edge haloes. In terms of print flaws, I saw a couple of small blemishes but nothing more.
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 tended to be a little muddy, while shadow detail could be somewhat dense. This was a consistently bland presentation that barely mustered a “C-“.
Much stronger was the DTS-HD MA 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 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 good as a whole; low-end came across as tight and vivid. Overall, Donnie Darko provided a strong auditory experience.
How did the audio and picture of this Blu-ray compare with the original DVD from 2002? The lossless audio was a little deeper and fuller, but both tracks remained fairly similar; the DTS-HD mix didn’t blow away the Dolby Digital track.
The visuals created a more complicated discussion. Since this package included the 2002 DVD, I was able to directly compare it to the Blu-ray – and found that it looked nearly as good and sometimes better than the BD. On one hand, the DVD had more print flaws, and it showed mild edge enhancement and digital artifacts absent from the Blu-ray.
On the other hand, the DVD actually looked better defined than the mushy Blu-ray. As I watched the BD, I wondered if it looked soft due to photographic choices, but the clarity of the DVD would indicate otherwise; even with the lower resolution of that format, the DVD was at least as well-defined as the BD and it often showed superior sharpness. It also had somewhat stronger colors, though blacks/shadows were a wash.
So what’s my verdict in the DVD vs. BD debate for this film? It’s a toss-up, though honestly, I suspect I’d rather watch the DVD version. Even with the edge haloes and artifacts, it was a more satisfying presentation – perhaps simply because it’s a less frustrating/disappointing presentation. A Blu-ray should never be equaled or bettered by a nine-year-old DVD.
Extras that accumulate everything from the prior DVD releases. On Disc One, we get a Blu-ray Disc that provides both the film’s Theatrical Version (1:53:12) and its Directors Cut (2:13:51). The body of my review looked at the original version; if you’d like to read my thoughts about the Director’s Cut, please click here. Quick summary from that review: “The movie remains impressive, but I think the DC robs of it much of its allure. It spells things out a bit too much and becomes a bit slow and tedious at times.”
Disc One contains the three commentaries that previously accompanied the various cuts. The first two cover the theatrical version. Commentary One features 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.
For the third and final commentary, we hear from Kelly and filmmaker Kevin Smith, both of whom sit together for a running, screen-specific chat. Smith had nothing to do with the creation of Darko, but apparently he and Kelly are pals, and the director asked Kevin to come along to facilitate discussion and prevent dead air.
Ironically, even the chatty Smith doesn’t alleviate that concern. The commentary’s gaps aren’t enormous, but they pop up occasionally and create some dull moments. Otherwise, this is a terrific commentary. The pair go over many of the movie’s deeper elements. There’s not a lot about filmmaking nuts and bolts, though the guys occasionally compare styles and methods.
Instead, it’s mostly a look at the Darko phenomenon, Kelly’s challenges, and his intentions for the project. We find out a fair amount about the scenes restored for the Director’s Cut along with various alterations like the rearrangement of some songs. The self-effacing Smith plays a little dumb at times and as expected, he provides most of the track’s humor. How can you dislike a guy who jokes that his very young daughter has a pierced nose and a clit ring? Smith also makes sure that Kelly goes over his thoughts in a concise manner, as Kevin essentially plays the part of a movie fan who wants to know more.
Toward the end, Smith also tosses out questions culled from Darko fans. He also gives us funny queries, like when he asks Kelly if the movie got him some female fan action. (Of course, since this is Smith, he phrases this in a much cruder manner.) There’s a lot of useful material on display in this lively and engrossing discussion.
To Kelly’s credit, he never disavows the theatrical version here. This isn’t like the commentary for the longer take on Daredevil; its director greatly prefers his DC to the original and makes sure we know that. Instead, Kelly consistently refers to the Darko DC as an “extended remix”. He seems to see it as an alternate version but not the definitive – or even preferred – one. Honestly, it’s never clear which cut Kelly likes the best, as he even notes that he regards the DC as self-indulgent.
Disc One opens with ads for Mirrors and The Day the Earth Stood Still (2008). Why does a release from 2011 tout Blu-rays that came out back in 2009? Because this is the same disc that Fox sold in 2009; they’ve simply repackaged it with additional extras.
Discs Two and Three offer standard-def DVDs – and replicate previously-released platters. This means Disc Two simply duplicates DVD Two from the Director’s Cut package.
We start with the Donnie Darko Production Diary>. This lasts 52 minute and 40 seconds and can be viewed with or without commentary from director of photography Steven Poster. We see video footage from the set and watch a number of different sequences. The “Diary” starts with location scouts and then follows the shooting of various scenes. I enjoy this kind of “fly on the wall” perspective and think the “Diary” presents many interesting shots.
In his commentary, Poster adds nice notes. He lets us know the details and various elements about the production. His remarks help flesh out the piece and they make the “Diary” even more valuable.
Next we find a program called They Made Me Do It Too - The Cult of Donnie Darko. This 28-minute and two-second piece features movie snippets and remarks from film critic James King, Empire Magazine editor Colin Kennedy, artist Boyd, Heat Magazine film editor Charles Gant, The Cult Film Archive director Xavier Mendik, Metrodome Distribution’s Tom Grievson, Adventure Records co-owner Tom Conroy, Richard Kelly (by phone) and various unnamed fans. They chat about interpretations of the film, its audience, marketing in the UK, the film’s music, and its impact.
Don’t expect much insight into the Darko phenomenon from “Cult”. It focuses totally on the movie’s audience in the UK, where apparently every fan is quite pleased with him or herself. A few interesting elements develop such as the look at marketing the flick, but otherwise this program seems intended to pat UK film buffs on the back. We get a lot of notes about how perceptive and with it they are, and that’s about it. It’s a smug and self-congratulatory piece without much value.
In Storyboard to Screen, we get exactly what one would expect: a collection of storyboard-to-movie comparisons. The art resides in the top half of the screen, while the final flick shows up on the bottom. This seven-minute and 57-second feature looks at four scenes, most of which come toward the film’s end. It’s a nice way to look at the planning that went into the movie.
In addition to the theatrical trailer for the Director’s Cut, we find #1 Fan: A Darkomentary. This lasts 13 minutes and 16 seconds as it follows a website competition to locate the movie’s biggest admirer - or at least the top fan who could create a decent featurette. We see the efforts of Darryl Donaldson in his victorious piece. It’s tongue in cheek - or at least I hope it is. Anyway, it shows a strong affection for the flick while it also takes the piss out of the cult. It straddles the line between clever and stupid but mostly is pretty amusing, especially during Donaldson’s climactic encounter with a clearly weirded-out Kelly.
With that we head to Disc Three, which literally re-issues the original 2002 DVD. This means it includes a standard-def version of the theatrical film itself plus the two commentaries that accompany it.
I’ll not discuss those again; instead, I’ll move to the DVD’s exclusive components. We get a whopping 20 deleted/extended scenes; 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.
Finally, Disc Four offers a digital copy of Darko. With this, you can easily – I guess – transfer the movie to a computer or portable viewing gizmo. Hooray!
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 Blu-ray offers good audio and the most complete roster of Darko supplements you’ll find in one place, but the soft, mushy picture quality disappoints. If you don’t own any of the Darko DVDs, this is worth a purchase – especially since it includes the original DVD and you can decide which you prefer – but I find myself displeased with the lackluster visuals and less than enthusiastic about this Blu-ray.
To rate this film, visit the original review of DONNIE DARKO