Blu-ray and DVD Reviews

Donnie Darko - The Director's Cut

Reviewed by: Scott Chitwood
Movie Rating:
7 out of 10
Extras Rating:
9 out of 10
Movie Details:
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Rating: R

Starring:
Jake Gyllenhaal as Donnie Darko
Jena Malone as Gretchen Ross
Holmes Osborne as Eddie Darko
Maggie Gyllenhaal as Elizabeth Darko
Daveigh Chase as Samantha Darko
Mary McDonnell as Mrs. Rose Darko
James Duval as Frank
Arthur Taxier as Dr. Fisher
Patrick Swayze as Jim Cunningham
David St. James as Bob Garland
Tom Tangen as Man in Red Jogging Suit
Jazzie Mahannah as Joanie James
Jolene Purdy as Cherita Chen
Stuart Stone as Ronald Fisher
Gary Lundy as Sean Smith
Alex Greenwald as Seth Devlin
Beth Grant as Kitty Farmer
Seth Rogen as Ricky Danforth
David Moreland as Principal Cole
Noah Wyle as Prof. Kenneth Monnitoff
Drew Barrymore as Karen Pomeroy
Kristina Malota as Susie Bates
Marina Malota as Emily Bates
Carly Naples as Suzy Bailey
Tiler Peck as Beth Farmer
Patience Cleveland as Roberta Sparrow/Grandma Death
Katharine Ross as Dr. Lilian Thurman

Special Features:
Commentary by writer-director Richard Kelly and director Kevin Smith

Production diary with optional commentary by director of photography Steven Poster

"They Made Me Do It Too: The Cult of Donnie Darko"

Storyboard-to-screen featurette

#1 Fan: A Darkomentary

Director's cut theatrical trailer

Other Info:
Widescreen (2.35:1)
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound
Spanish Subtitles

Synopsis:
This film was originally released in 2001. This is the new Director's Cut. The following is from the DVD cover:

"Critically acclaimed director Richard Kelly brings new depth to his 2001 cult smash in this Director's Cut edition of the mysterious odyssey of suburban teen Donnie Darko.

A high school student must face his dark destiny as delusions bring him face to face with a demonic rabbit who has eerie visions of the past and deadly predictions for the future in this intricate web that will leave you questioning what is real and what is mere hallucination. Jake Gyllenhaal leads an all-star cast including Drew Barrymore, Noah Wyle, Jena Malone, Patrick Swayze, and Mary McDonnell in the mesmerizing story that took audiences by storm."

Donnie Darko The Director's Cut is rated R for language, some underage drug and alcohol use, and violence.

The Movie:
When I was at the San Diego Comic Con this past year, I was talking with some friends who were raving about Donnie Darko. They absolutely loved it, but they couldn't seem to explain it. It was just one of those cult films that you had to see to believe. So based on their recommendations, I decided to pick up Donnie Darko The Director's Cut. Now having seen it, I can see why they couldn't explain it and why they raved about it. While I didn't love the movie quite as much as they did, I thought it was certainly unique, interesting, and worth checking out.

Donnie Darko is a lot of movies in one. It is part teen drama, part science fiction, part horror, part love story, part messianic tale, part social commentary, and more. Because it borrows from so many different genres it speaks to people in a lot of different ways. I think sci-fi fans will enjoy portions of it while fans of teen dramas will enjoy an entirely different portion. And the fact that Donnie Darko is a lonely disenfranchised teenager means that it will also speak to teens that are searching for some sort of guidance or meaning in life. It's easy to see why it got a cult following, especially online.

And also, as advertised, the plot is quite confusing at times. The movie keeps you guessing the entire time and when it's all said and done, you understand the basic plot but you're still left with almost as many questions as you began with. You'll find yourself scratching your head for hours and possibly days afterwards. I can't say much without ruining the story, but this is not light fare. (Listening to the commentary afterwards helps a lot, though, in figuring out what was going on.)

The cast of Donnie Darko is excellent. Jake Gyllenhaal leads the film as Donnie Darko. He is perfect in the role. He plays the character with frustration, teen angst, and at times complete lunacy. As Donnie sees his visions, you really wonder if the character is seeing something real or if they are psychotic hallucinations. In a bit of wise casting, Jake's sister Maggie Gyllenhaal plays Donnie's sister Elizabeth Darko. They have some pretty good sibling rivalry going on. Jena Malone plays his love interest as Gretchen Ross. Her role is especially important since one aspect of Donnie Darko is that it is a love story. The movie takes other random favorites like Patrick Swayze, Mary McDonnell, Noah Wyle, and Drew Barrymore and puts them in significant roles.

The music in the movie is interesting. It's an retro mix of 80's hits, all of which have lyrics that apply to the plot. You'll hear Duran Duran, INXS, Echo and the Bunnymen, Joy Division and Tears for Fears. I can't compare the original version to this Director's Cut, but I do know that they changed some of the music in this one. The new opening features INXS' "Never Tear Us Apart".

While I don't think I'm likely to start following the cult of Donnie Darko, it was an interesting film and a great early picture from writer/director Richard Kelly. At the very least it's worth checking out for the fine performances and intriguing story if not for the hype. But I'd definitely recommend tempering your expectations.

The Extras:
The following are the highlights of the bonus features on this 2-disc set:

Commentary by writer-director Richard Kelly and director Kevin Smith This is probably one of the best commentaries I've heard on a DVD. It adds a lot of insight about the characters and the plot while still being entertaining. Having Kevin Smith join in helps quite a bit. He adds discussion about the comic book aspects of the film, asks questions from fans on the internet, and grills Kelly with his own questions about the movie. Of course including Kevin Smith means a lot of profanity and vulgarity comes along, but I don't think the commentary would have been as good without him. Kelly's comments gave me a lot more appreciation for what Donnie Darko was trying to do.

Production diary with optional commentary by director of photography Steven Poster These are a combination of home movies from director Richard Kelly before production started and behind the scenes footage shot during filming. It's interesting to watch some of the key scenes from the movie from a different point of view. You see much of the crew, some clowning around, and other fun stuff.

"They Made Me Do It Too: The Cult of Donnie Darko" This is a 30 minute British documentary interviewing a number of Donnie Darko fans. The film was apparently more warmly received there. The fans discuss their interpretations of the movie, why the UK accepted it quicker, the music, and more. Richard Kelly is also interviewed by phone. It is certainly interesting to get a closer look at the film's fans overseas.

Storyboard-to-screen featurette A few of the key scenes from the movie are shown simultaneously in storyboard format and the final version. It is standard DVD fare these days.

#1 Fan: A Darkomentary The premise of this mockumentary is that the world's #1 Donnie Darko fan submitted a video to a contest and won, thus getting it included on the DVD. However, they don't ever let you in on the joke. You have to figure it out for yourself later. As I watched this video, I thought the guy was a little crazy. Halfway through I thought he was a total nut. But then I realized it was all a parody and it immediately became hilarious. This fan stalks the cast from the movie, corners Richard Kelly at the San Diego Comic-Con, and even kisses him before running away. It turns out that this video was made secretly by the documentary crew from the DVD and done as a joke without the knowledge of the cast. The final result is one of the funniest DVD additions I've seen in quite sometime.

The Bottom Line:
If you're a fan of sci-fi, drama, horror, or just really bizarre films, then you'll enjoy Donnie Darko The Director's Cut. It may or may not be worth the cult hype, but it will certainly stick with you well after viewing it.

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