Certainly not one of the more well-known films of the past decade, Donnie Darko debuted in a mere fifty-eight theaters in 2001 and made barely over a million dollars total. The film, wildly praised by critics and fans alike, went on to grow a cult following on DVD, eventually triggering an all-new director’s cut release in 2004 with a myriad of new bonus features to boot. While this new cut didn’t please as many fans as the original one did (mainly due to how much the director’s cut ended up explaining everything in better detail—fans would’ve rather it was left vague), Donnie Darko would still stand tall as one of the better horror/psychological thriller’s of its day. With solid performances from all involved, including Jake Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Noah Wyle and more, this cult classic is now available on Blu-ray for the first time, with both the theatrical and director’s cuts included.
Donnie Darko is a disturbed adolescent from a dysfunctional upper middle class family who narrowly escapes death when a jet engine crashes in his bedroom. He has visions of a giant rabbit, Frank, who instructs him to make violent acts and informs him that the world will end in 28 days. In this edgy, psychological thriller, Jake Gyllenhaal leads a star-filled cast (including Drew Barrymore, Noah Wyle, Jena Malone, Patrick Swayze and Mary McDonnell).
Quite honestly Donnie Darko didn’t even blip on my radar until a friend recommended the film to me. I put off buying it because I just wasn’t sure if such a strange looking film would be up my alley, but I eventually took the plunge on one of my used DVD buying excursions I take a couple times a year. The film sat on my shelf for months before I finally got around to watching it and within a half hour of watching the film, I was immediately impressed by what I was seeing. It was such a truly and genuinely screwed up movie, with confusing visuals, an eerie plotline that made very little sense and just an overall sense of excitement that stayed with you through the end of the film.
Donnie Darko really is probably one of the better thrillers I’ve seen, because even by the time the end actually happens, it’s still so random and crazy that it’s hard to fully accept it. It takes another few viewings to fully understand and appreciate the film and because of that this film immediately has plenty of replay value (assuming you stuck with it close enough for the first viewing, anyway). I’m sure there are those who will grow tired of it after awhile, but even after the second or third viewing the film feels fresh simply because you pick up on things you didn’t before and slowly begin to fully understand the film.
Some will call that sloppy writing if you have to piece it together like that, but honestly that’s what I like so much about this film. It’s either sloppily written or brilliantly written, as it isn’t something you can fully understand with just one viewing. Of course that’s what the Director’s Cut attempted to rectify, but with the inclusion of deleted scenes into it, it really only made the film easier to understand. For some that’s enough, but for me it takes away some of the mystery and intrigue that the original cut brought—on top of that it’s a bit weird for a director’s cut to actually add more explanation to it, but I guess that’s just the way Richard Kelly felt.
With either version of the film you watch you get a solid production from beginning to end. I honestly recommended the theatrical cut over the director’s cut if you like to figure out puzzles for yourself, but it’s really up to you how much you feel like having your brain turned to mush. The Director’s Cut is always there for backup if you so desire, but given the choice I recommend you check out the Theatrical Cut first. Recommended.
Fox has released Donnie Darko in a two disc release without any notices other than a firmware upgrade and disc art that mimics the cover. No slipcover is included and the menus for the film are simple and easy to navigate. Also interesting to note that the second disc is actually full of content; in reality it’s the second disc from the previously released two-disc Director’s Cut from 2004, so if you already own that set you’re basically getting the same second disc. The first disc, however, contains multiple audio commentaries and the two versions of the film.
The AVC encoded transfer for this film is a bit of a mixed bag. Perhaps in order to fit two different versions of the film on one disc they had to compromise a bit, as Fox’s usually obnoxiously high bitrate (usually around 25-30mbps) is down to a mere 18mbps this time around. This may just be due to the films predominantly dark and gloomy picture, however, as I really didn’t see any instance where the 18mbps transfer hurt the film any. It’s a predominantly clean transfer for the most part, with solid detail from beginning to end, although the picture does get a bit soft looking at times. The included 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks included are a varied mix as while the film has some heavy bass at times (usually during the trippy Frank sequences), most of the film is front focused so your front channels will be the heavy lifters on the track, although the surrounds do have some creepy sound effects fluttering around them at a few times during the film. Also included is a French Dolby Surround (Theatrical Only) track, as well as French (Director’s Cut Only) and Spanish subtitles.
Commentary with Writer/Director Richard Kelly and Jake Gyllenhaal (Theatrical Version)
Commentary with Cast and Crew (Theatrical)
Commentary with Writer/Director Richard Kelly and Kevin Smith (Director’s Cut)
They Made Me Do It Too
Director’s Cut Theatrical Trailer
As you can see the first disc contains the three commentaries from the previous releases, while the second disc is an exact clone (and is even on a standard DVD) of the previous two-disc director’s cut release.
This release is a bit of a mixed bag, as the film looks and sounds great in high-definition, but it’s not really enough to require one to upgrade if they own the previous releases already. However, if you’re like me and only owned the theatrical cut, then this edition may be worth it. Not only do you get both versions in one package, but you also get the new bad-ass cover art to accompany it. That’s one thing I really like about these Fox Blu-ray re-releases—they aren’t just reusing the old cover art and instead are using something new (in the case of Donnie Darko and Boondock Saints, at least).
Overall a solid release and Recommended for those that don’t already own the previous two releases. Otherwise, Skip It.
Donnie Darko – The Director’s Cut is now available on Blu-ray.