DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
Donnie Darko, Blu-ray Director’s Cut (2001)
Published on March 8, 2009
Director: Richard Kelly
Starring: Jake & Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze
Studio: Fox [Release date: Feb. 10, 09] 2 discs
Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic/enhanced for 16:9 color 1080p HD
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, French Dolby Surround
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Extras: Both theatrical and 2004 director’s cut versions, Commentary track with Richard Kelly & Kevin Smith, Commentary track with cast and crew (theatrical version only), Commentary track with Jake Gyllenhaal and Richard Kelley (theatrical version only), D-Box motion control system, Production diary with optional commentary, “They Made Me Do It Too” – The cult of Donnie Darko, Darkomentary by #1 fan, Storyboard-to-Screen featurette, Director’s cut theatrical trailer
Length: Dir. cut: 134 min.; Theatrical: 113 min.
A very unusual film that viewers will probably either love or hate, Donnie Darko has become one of the top cult films, with many Net sites devoted to detailed discussions of it. The story is entirely unpredictable, and encompasses many different film categories - teenage/school angst, parodies of middle-class life, sci-fi, humor, horror, thriller, psychological. The acting on the part of the large cast is universally tops, but Jake Gyllenhaal just inhabits the role of the possibly schizophrenic young man, with his hunched shoulders, odd smiles, everything. Mary McDonnell as his concerned mother is also a standout, and casting of Patrick Swayze as the motivational leader was perfect.
The story begins with Donnie as a sometimes delusional high school student who talks to a person named Frank with a demonic-looking rabbit head. Frank predicts the end of the world in 30 days after drawing Donnie outdoors at night – just prior to a jet engine mysteriously falling out of the sky into Donnie’s room where it would have killed him. Then things begin to really get confusing. Frank urges Donnie to break a water main at the school, flooding it, and later to torch the home of pushy motivational speaker Swayze. Donnie has found a book on time travel by a strange old local lady and tries to explore its meanings, but writer-director Kelly said he just brought in time travel at a comic book level, and intended it more as a deus ex machina than anything that could be analyzed (as a couple web sites do). According to the time travel framework, most of Donnie’s 30 days take place in a tangent universe rather than the present one.
I was hoping the extra 21 minutes of the director’s cut might explain some of the confusion toward the end of the film, but it actually seemed to add to it. The general opinion online seems to be that the theatrical cut is the better movie. Perhaps listening to all of the three different audio commentary tracks on the theatrical version would fill me in on some of my questions, but time doesn’t permit that.
There are complaints that the quality of this Blu-ray release is no better than the previous standard DVD. The problem seems to be that the director used a special high speed Kodak film stock for the entire film because he liked its look. However, it is not as sharp as slower films, is more toned-down in color – and what I found most disconcerting – doesn’t have low enough black level. However, the Blu-ray version is definitely higher resolution and the soundtrack is cleaner and more immersive.
- John Sunier