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Blu-ray Review

DVD cover

Donnie Darko
The Original & The Director's Cut


Starring (voice): Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Katharine Ross, Drew Barrymore and Patrick Swayze
RRP: £24.99
Certificate: 15
Available 19 July 2010

Donnie is a disturbed young man having therapy. Although he suffers from sleep walking, this takes on a much stranger aspect when one night he is called from his bed by Frank, a six foot rabbit, who tells Donnie that the world is about to end in twenty eight days...

Donnie Darko (2001) is a dark tale of time travel, madness and love written and directed by Richard Kelly. The film won eleven awards and was nominated for a further ten. The film has finally been released as a two disc Blu-ray edition, which contains both the original cut of the film (1 hr, 53 min, 17 sec) and the extended Directors Cut (2 hr, 13 min, 49 sec).

It’s difficult to discuss Donnie Darko without either giving too much of the plot away or imposing my personal interpretation of the film, because the movie is so dense in ideas that the eventual meaning of it all remains open to individual interpretation. This was a major strength of the film on its first release and its meaning sparked many a drunken discussion in pubs.

Donnie’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) meeting with Frank not only warns him of the coming apocalypse but also saves Donnie from being killed by an airplane engine which crashes through his home and especially his bedroom, although the other members of his family are unharmed including his mother, Rose (Mary McDonnell), his father, Eddie (Holmes Osborne) and his elder sister, Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal).

The family try to get back to normal life with Donnie and his sister, Samantha (Daveigh Chase) returning to school, she returns to her dance practice with Sparkle Motion, whilst Donnie meets a new girl, all the time worrying that he is finally having his much feared mental breakdown. But there is something about Frank’s warning that makes Donnie seek answers from those which surround him including his new girlfriend, (Jenna Malone) his English Teacher (Drew Barrymore) and Science teacher (Noah Wyle). It is through the discovery that a local eccentric had written a book about time travel that Donnie finally starts to piece the problem together, a problem which confronts him with the ultimate choice.

The film didn’t do well on its first release, especially in America where it’s dark and moody tone turned audiences off. In England it was a different matter and slowly as it got more exposure it attained the status of a cult classic.

Disc one has the original cut of the film, which has less explanation than the director’s cut and while both are splendid films I have a personal preference for the first which maintained a higher level of mystery right to the end. Is Donnie going mad, after all it’s not every day you talk to a six foot rabbit, but listen to the dialogue closely and you’ll discover that virtually every scene and every interaction that Donnie has is leading him in one single direction. Through the film Donnie also subconsciously takes on the role of the town's superhero, flooding the school and burning down the home of a local infomercial celebrity Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze) though the meaning of these action are often left deliberately obscure.

Considering that this 2-disc Blu-ray set costs about the same as a single disc Blu-ray release it makes for remarkable value, especially if you include the extras.

Between the two discs there are three full length commentaries. On disc one you get one with the director and another with the cast and crew, the best commentary is to be found on disc two where director Richard Kelly is in discussion with Kevin Smith, having two film makers means that the discussion is very broad, not only taking in the film, but also its influences and meaning. Disc one also contains They Made Me Do It (4 min, 48 sec) which is a small piece about an exhibition of graffiti art based on the film, it also contains the They Made Me Do It Art Gallery (3 min, 11 sec) which as static shots of the finished pieces.

There are fifteen short interviews with pretty much everybody and twenty deleted and extended scenes, with optional commentary from Richard Kelly. Most of this material has been put back into the director’s cut, but there are a few nice pieces which never made it back in, including a shot of Donnie’s final ending, which is just implied in both versions.

Disc one is rounded off with a generous helping of TV spots, theatrical trailers and Cunning Visions Infomercials, as well as a copy of the book The Philosophy of Time Travel, which goes some way to providing a logical framework for the film.

There are numerically less extras on disc two, but you do get They Made Me Do It Too (30 min, 17 sec) which is pretty much like all those discussions down the pub with a great many of the film's fans giving conflicting interpretations of the plot and its meaning. There is also a production diary, allowing you to peek behind the making of the film, with optional commentary from the director of photography Steven Poster. The disc is finished off with the director’s cut trailer (55 sec).

So, it’s a Blu so what about the sound and vision? There is little doubt that this is the best Mr Darko has looked, however this is an independent film, so the colours are brighter and the image sharper, but the limitations of the original print cannot be overcome, so while the picture is undoubtedly good, it could not be considered great. The sound on the other hand is something else, from the opening track, through the ambient landscape to the deeply resonant sound of Franks voice the new discs are an aural revelation.

Both discs have options for either a 2.0 stereo or 5.1 DTS HD audio tracks. The films are presented with an aspect ratio of 2.35:1.

So, depending on just how enigmatic you like your films Donnie Darko is likely to be either the biggest turn off you’ve seen or one of the best films of the last twenty years. Deeply complex, thoughtful, with a cast who to a man and woman give riveting performances, I know which side of the fence I’m on.


Charles Packer

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