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Richard Kelly
Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Holmes Osborne, Daveigh Chase, Mary McDonnell, James Duval, Arthur Taxier, Patrick Swayze, Jena Malone
Writing Credits:
Richard Kelly

Dark. Darker. Darko.

During the presidential election of 1988, a teenager named Donnie Darko sleepwalks out of his house one night, and sees a giant, demonic-looking rabbit named Frank, who tells him the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds. He returns home the next morning to find that a jet engine has crashed through his bedroom. As he tries to figure out why he survived and tries to deal with people in his town, like the school bully, his conservative health teacher, and a self-help guru, Frank continues to turn up in Donnie's mind, causing him to commit acts of vandalism, and some things even worse.

Box Office:
$4.5 million.
Opening Weekend
$24.728 thousand on 7 screens.
Domestic Gross
$727.833 thousand.

Rated R

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby 2.0

Runtime: 133 min.
Price: $26.98
Release Date: 2/15/2005

Disc One
• Audio Commentary With Writer/Director Richard Kelly and Filmmaker Kevin Smith
Disc Two
Donnie Darko Production Diary with Optional Commentary
• “They Made Me Do It Too - The Cult of Donnie Darko Documentary
• Storyboard to Screen Comparison
• “#1 Fan - A Darkomentary”
• Trailer


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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Donnie Darko: Director's Cut (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 18, 2005)

In 2001, Donnie Darko hit American movie theaters with a resounding thud. Granted, no one expected a complex and inaccessible flick like this to become the next mega-smash. It had little potential to rise above “cult” status, and it received a very limited distribution that never put it on more than a few dozen screens. Still, the suits had to be disappointed that Darko only earned about a tenth of its modest $4.5 million budget, especially since its moderately noteworthy cast gave it some audience recognition.

Happily for all those behind Darko, it thrived on home video. The film became a cult success on DVD and got a whole new life. The movie did so well that the studio behind it authorized a “Director’s Cut” that hit movie theaters in mid-2004.

Attempts to synopsize Donnie 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.

When I originally reviewed Donnie Darko three years ago, I summarized the experience with this:

”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 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.”

Since this review covers the film’s Director’s Cut, obviously I need to discuss the differences between the pair and my impressions of the longer version. In short, it remains an impressive film, but one with a diminished impact in its longer format.

The DC indeed extends Darko by about 20 minutes. The majority of the additions come from small tidbits. Indeed, a casual fan like me will have difficulty spotting the changes on first view. I saw things I thought looked different, but I needed to consult a list of the alterations to be certain. There are no particularly major additions in the form of big new scenes or whatnot.

Instead, the DC tosses in many extensions to current scenes and smaller tidbits. The most significant variations come from shots of The Philosophy of Time Travel book. This tome takes on greater importance in the DC, and Kelly often superimposes its pages on the screen; that didn’t occur in the original cut. Other alterations go for more of a science-fiction bent as we see effects footage to depict Donnie’s visions and thoughts.

The main thrust of the changes is to make the DC more obviously a superhero/science-fiction film. The film remains difficult to delve into in many ways, but the DC does essentially explain things more clearly. It gives Donnie’s actions more obvious justification and doesn’t leave things as open to interpretation.

I don’t think this is an improvement. One of the beauties of the original was its delicious vagueness. It refused to spell everything out for the viewer and let us create our own theories.

The DC remains difficult to digest in many ways. It’s not like Kelly ever makes the story genuinely straightforward, as it continues to present a complex tale that requires close attention. However, the DC goes down a somewhat unsatisfying path. The concentration on Donnie’s visions and those elements alleviates viewer questions about the character’s grip on reality and emphasize his role as a hero. We don’t get to see Donnie as a mixed-up kid so much, as he takes on a different tone.

In addition, I thought the DC moved more slowly than the original version. That extra 20 minutes definitely affects the pacing. While the theatrical edition kept me consistently intrigued, I zoned out occasionally while I watched the DC.

One might blame a level of knowledge on this; after all, I’d already seen the film, so I couldn’t be as surprised by its events. However, a movie with as many layers as Darko should still hold up to additional screenings well. Also, since I’d not watched any version of the movie for almost three years, I’d forgotten a lot of it. My familiarity with it simply wasn’t great enough for me to get bored by repetition; this shouldn’t have been too different from seeing it for the first time.

But it was. Whereas I really felt impressed by the theatrical edition of Donnie Darko, the Director’s Cut largely left me cold. The movie still has a lot going for it, and fans will be very happy to see the changes. For me, I’d rather watch the original take. It was immensely satisfying and it doesn’t benefit from tinkering.

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

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 parts 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.

Did the Director’s Cut of Darko provide picture and sound that differed from those of the theatrical release? Not to my eyes and ears. I thought the pair looked and sounded virtually identical. Apparently the audio underwent a reworking, but I felt it still resembled the prior track, albeit with some song changes.

For this “Director’s Cut” release, Donnie Darko gets the two-DVD treatment. On Disc One, we find only one component: an audio commentary with writer/director Richard 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 the DC is self-indulgent.

Over on DVD Two, 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.

Note that none of the extras from the original DVD carry over to this one. Obviously it would have been tough to port over that set’s two commentaries since they’d no longer be specific to the action on screen. Many of the first DVD’s deleted scenes also became redundant since they now appear in the DC. Still, it’d have been nice to get some of the other bits and pieces found on the old DVD.

It made about 10 cents at the box office, but Donnie Darko turned into a serious cult phenomenon on home video. It did well enough to support the creation of a director’s cut that got a theatrical release as well as this DVD version. 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. The disc presents picture and sound quality that are good to terrific; both echo the presentation of the original movie’s DVD. The extras boast a solid audio commentary and a couple of other fun pieces, though I dislike the smug look at the film’s fanbase.

I suspect that diehard Darko fans won’t care about my recommendation – or anybody else’s, for that matter – and will be all over this sucker. And I won’t attempt to dissuade them; while I didn’t much care for the DC, as a fan, I would definitely want to see it with my own eyes. However, I wouldn’t advise casual admirers to give it a look, as I don’t think they’ll get much out of it. I’d also definitely steer newbies toward the original version. It’s much more satisfying and is the way to go if you want to get a feel for what made the experience special.

To rate this film, visit the original review of DONNIE DARKO