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Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut DVD Review

Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut

August 27, 2005

Director: Richard Kelly,
Starring: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Holmes Osborne, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Daveigh Chase, Mary McDonnell, James Duval, Arthur Taxier, Patrick Swayze, Mark Hoffman, David St. James, Tom Tangen, Noah Wyle, Drew Barrymore, ,

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DVD Review

Donnie Darko (2001) had the misfortune of being released right around the time of 9/11. At the time no one was interested in seeing a strange time travel movie involving a teenage boy who talks to a large rabbit and is almost killed by a jet engine fallen from the sky. The film promptly disappeared from theatres but enjoyed a new life on DVD where it gradually developed an intensely loyal cult following that was obsessed with its tantalizing ambiguities. Writer/director Richard Kelly has gone back to the well again and re-released the movie in a new Director’s Cut that integrates deleted footage back in, better visual effects and a soundtrack closer to his original vision. Does this re-imagined new cut offer something substantial or is it merely a shrewd marketing ploy to get the loyal fan base to double dip?

Donnie Darko (Gyllenhaal) is a troubled teenager growing up in the late ‘80s. He’s prone to walking in his sleep and one such episode saves his life. A jet engine mysteriously crashes into his parents’ house and totals his bedroom, surely killing him if he hadn’t been sleepwalking. He awakens from the episode with the knowledge that the world will end in 28 days (on Halloween no less). Donnie begins to realize that he has the power to prevent this from happening.

In the meantime, he attends a high school that is becoming increasingly conservative, much to the dismay of smart, young teachers like Ms. Pomeroy (Barrymore) and Mr. Monnitoff (Wyle). They are fighting a losing battle against narrow-minded mothers who, under the guise of the PTA, put pressure on the school to ban books that they don’t like (or understand). Donnie falls for the new girl (Malone) in school who also shares his youthful angst and plays a pivotal role in the fate of the world.

Kelly perfectly recreates the look and feel of 1980s suburbia that was featured so prominently in Steven Spielberg movies, like E.T. (1982) with a time travel story that was a popular sub-genre during this decade (see Back to the Future and The Terminator) but with a dark, foreboding atmosphere that eats away at the wholesome façade of America reminiscent of David Lynch’s Blue Velvet (1986). There are even characters like Grandma Death that seem to have walked right out of a Stephen King novel. To complete the ‘80s vibe, Kelly populates his film with a killer soundtrack of period music, including the likes of INXS, Tears for Fears and Duran Duran.

Donnie Darko explores the fascinating possibilities of alternate realities and how the jet engine crash creates a new reality. Or is it all happening in Donnie’s head? The film provides clues and evidence to support both theories and this new cut places more emphasis on the fantasy elements of the story as it integrates the deleted scenes featured on the original DVD. For the most part, this additional footage doesn’t shed much more light on the unexplained mysteries of the movie but rather fleshes out the relationships between characters. Some fans may gripe that Kelly is messing with an already perfect film but he has stated that this new version is much closer to his original vision. Personally, I don’t find this new version better or worse – just different.

Special Features:

If you own the first DVD don’t get rid of it as none of the extras are included on this new version, which has its own collection of new supplemental material.

The first disc features a brand new audio commentary by Richard Kelly and filmmaker Kevin Smith. Kelly talks about the changes in this new cut and how they are intended to enhance the comic book/science fiction elements. Smith grounds the track by bringing a good dose of humour and keeps things going by asking Kelly a lot of questions. It’s great to hear these two filmmakers talk about their craft and this results in a strong track.

The second disc starts off with the “Donnie Darko Production Diary,” a 52-minute collection of on-the-set footage tracing the making of Donnie Darko from location scouting to certain scenes being shot. The lack of structure and voiceover narration makes this extra tedious to watch after awhile so cinematographer Steven Poster’s optional audio commentary is a welcome addition as he imposes a structure and puts what we are watching into its proper context.

“They Made Me Do It Too – The Cult of Donnie Darko” is a look at the dedicated U.K. fan base that worships this movie. Film critics and fans gush about why they like this movie and what makes it so great in this featurette that tends to be a little to self-congratulatory for its own good.

“Storyboard to Screen” allows one to watch a few scenes from the movie and the corresponding storyboards simultaneously.

“#1 Fan: A Darkomentary” is the winning entry from a contest held on the official website to find the most devoted fan of the movie. The winning short film is included and we are presented with a devotee who clearly needs to get out more often.

Finally, there is a trailer for the Director’s Cut of the movie.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 90%

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