Donnie Darko (The Director's Cut) 
Blu-ray Sci-Fi-Fantasy
Written by Noah Fleming   
Wednesday, 04 March 2009

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In 2001, "Donnie Darko" came to the screen and has since developed a cult following.  Unfortunately, the laymen of the world are unable to grasp the artwork that is this film.  The movie only gross $515,000 at the box office, in a five-month period.  The film was re-released in theaters in 2004 for another four months, in which it grossed another $725,000.  Nonetheless, "Donnie Darko" contains serious thematic elements, while retaining a sense of comedy and irony as well.

Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Donnie Darko, a teenager who suffers from bizarre visions.  Many today may recognize it as schizophrenia.  He constantly is "possessed" by the vision of a demonic rabbit named Frank.  He is influenced by Frank into performing several crimes, including burning down a house and flooding the high school.  In one dream, Frank tells him that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds.  All the events seem strange on their own, and you wonder how it is possible that everything will be tied together.  However, I assure you, it all comes together nicely in the end.

Donnie's social skills are poor, but he befriends the new girl to the neighborhood, Gretchen Ross (Jena Malone).  While seemingly, unimportant, she is crucial to the plot as a whole.  Each character has their place.  Donnie begins to take his dreams as a sign of the future.  He enlists the help of his physics professor to understand the possibility of time travel.  He is given a book called, "The Philosophy of Time Travel."  Once he reads the book, he begins to tie together all the events that have transpired.  He believes that he is seeing the path to the future.

Aside from his demonic visions, Donnie is extremely smart.  He is always challenging his parents, teachers and therapist.  The whole thing comes down to quite the revelation about time and how to change the future.  Many don't understand the ending or how it was derived, but give it a chance.

"Donnie Darko" consists of an all-star cast.  Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jake's real-life sister, joins the cast as Jake's on-screen sister.  The two of them play very natural together.  You can really see the brother-sister dynamic in the opening family dinner sequence.  Mary McDonnell, Patrick Swayze, Drew Barrymore, Noah Wyle, Katherine Ross, and Jena Malone all deliver superb performances, however brief some of them may be.

Daveigh Chase, who plays Donnie's younger sister, got her big break with this film.  She has gone on to been known best as Samara Morgan in "The Ring."  She will also be the star of the upcoming sequel to the "Donnie Darko" film, "S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale."  The film will pick up seven years after Donnie's story, when Samantha is 18 years old.

While the film is terrific, the image quality is sorely lacking.  I half expected the quality to turn out as it did, but I had held out hope for a top-notch transfer.  "Donnie Darko" is never going to look any better, which is so unfortunate.  The film's low-budget limited the quality in which it was shot.  I can't even say that this Blu-ray release is any better than the previously released 2004 special edition DVD release.  The black levels are weak.  Along with muted colors, the image does not have any type of dimensionality.  The image is covered with a glaze that makes the image appear soft and fuzzy.  The details are decent, but nowhere near good enough.  There are enormous amounts of grain covering the image and vertical banding is some of the worst I have ever seen.  There is no compression or motion artifacting in the image, but it still doesn't make up for the poor image quality.  I was not expecting a miracle and so I am just fine with the Blu-ray's presentation.  But in terms of the overall look for video fans, you will be utterly disappointing.

The audio on the other hand, is nicely represented on the Blu-ray format.  The dialogue is clear and clean.  There are a few moments in which the dialogue drops to a muddy level.  The surround channels are pleasantly engaged.  In fact the sound designers of the film took some liberties with the soundscape.  They spun music tracks around the 360-degree soundfield.  The effect was interesting and worked for the emotional context of the film's sequences.  There are several instances of discrete sound effects moving around the soudnfield.  The jet engine sequences are truly awesome.  The LFE channel delivers a nice amount of bass to the subwoofer.  Once again the jet engine impacts will demonstrate the bass nicely.  Dynamics are standard.  The film's audio track remains in the same range for most of the film, but can reach loud levels without making you reach for the remote's volume control.

The best part of this Blu-ray is the special features section.  The Blu-ray release actually comes with two discs.  The first disc is the Blu-ray disc.  It contains the theatrical and director's cuts of the film.  The director's cut is the same as the 2004 DVD release.  It contains 20 minutes of additional footage.  Fans of the film will appreciate the directorial cut, while others might only be interesting in testing the theatrical version first.  In terms of special features, the first disc contains three audio commentary tracks.  For the director's cut of the film there is a commentary with director/writer Richard Kelly and director Kevin Smith.  This commentary track is by far the best supplement material in the Blu-ray release.  It is entertaining and engaging.  The theatrical cut of the film has two audio commentaries.  The first commentary is with Richard Kelly and Jake Gyllenhaal.  This track is also interesting but to a lesser degree.  The third commentary track is with cast and crew members is a waste of time, even for fans.

The second disc in the release is a standard DVD.  It contains the other special features that were present on the 2004 DVD release.  First, there is a production diary with optional commentary by the Director of Photography Steven Foster.  "They Made Me Do It Too – The Cult of Donnie Darko" is a featurette covering the impact the film has had on fans.  "#1 Fan: A Darkomentary" is a collection of homemade fan documentaries.  There is a also a storyboard-to-screen featurette.

"Donnie Darko" is a well worth a watch.  It has inspired filmmakers all over the sci-fi genre.  The video quality is atrocious in terms of quality for Blu-ray.  Still, it is the best it is going to get.  The audio quality is much more impressive and deserves a listen.  Definitely add this one to your collection.
Studio 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
MPAA Rating R
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Noah Wyle, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Katherine Ross, Mary McDonnell, Daveigh Chase, Holmes Osborne, Patrick Swayze
Director Richard Kelly
Film Release Year 2001
Release Year 2009
Resolution(s) 1080p (main feature) • 480i (supplements)
Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Running Time 1 hr. 53 mins., 2 hr. 14 mins.
Sound Formats English DTS-HD Master 5.1 • French Dolby Digital 2.0
Subtitles English SDH • French • Spanish
Special Features Director/writer Audio Commentary (Director's Cut); Director and Actor Audio Commentary (Theatrical Cut); Cast and Crew Audio Commentary (Theatrical Cut); Production Diary with Optional Commentary by Director of Photography Steven Foster; "They Made Me Do It Too - The Cult of Donnie Darko"; "#1 Fan: A Darkomentary"; "Storyboard-to-Screen"; D-Box Enhanced
Forum Link
Reviewer Noah Fleming

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