Donnie Darko: 10th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray Combo Pack)
Directed by Richard Kelly
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 113/134 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo French
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, French
MSRP: $ 24.99
Release Date: July 26, 2011
Review Date: July 24, 2011
A movie becomes a cult sensation usually for one of two reasons: it offers an anarchical point of view that appeals to idealists and nonconformists or it has been put together in such a mind-spinning, ingenious fashion that many resist it initially but those who return for repeated visits ferret out its secrets and see how the pieces all fit together. Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko fits both criteria. It’s a nonconformist’s dream movie with a completely engaging main character who speaks truths many people often think but don’t have the nerve to espouse. It also has a narrative line that’s diffuse and muddled through much of the telling but whose pieces come together with surety at the conclusion making for a heart-breaking and yet strangely triumphant ending. The tenth anniversary edition of this modern cult classic brings nothing new to the table (only a digital copy has been added to what’s come before), and older discs (both Blu-ray and DVDs) are simply recycled into the package. Still, if you don’t already have this intriguing and wonderfully unique film as part of your disc collection, the price is right at the moment to add it.
Deeply troubled teen genius Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is in early stages of paranoid schizophrenia, but it’s his very illness that offers him epiphanies (courtesy of a visionary rabbit-suited friend named Frank – James Duval) of an upcoming end of the world in twenty-eight days along with lesser insights into some of the secretive elements going on behind closed doors in his town of Middlesex. His family, mother Rose (Mary McDonnell), father Eddie (Holmes Osborne), sister Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal), his psychiatrist (Katharine Ross), and his teachers (Drew Barrymore, Noah Wyle) all realize he’s brilliant but troubled but also find it hard to be patient with what seems to them to be his sometimes lunatic assertions and bizarre, sometimes unexpected outbursts. Only his new girl friend Gretchen (Jena Malone) seems to hold the promise for some stability for Donnie, but the clock is ticking toward doomsday, and a seemingly random number of visions takes Donnie all over his shady town.
Richard Kelly’s outrageously original and often bewitching script depends on his audience’s willingness to follow him anywhere and trust that the murky muddle will eventually clear away and reveal the meanings behind its intricate construction. To that end, some of the events in the film, even though wonderfully effective, seem at cross purposes to its overall story (the self help guru played by Patrick Swayze and the entire subplot involving his dark, nefarious secrets and Donnie’s subsequent involvement with him) and only become clear as to their importance much later and in retrospect. A labyrinthine movie like The Sting brought all of its diffuse elements together before one left the theater to better allow the audience to realize the brilliance of its construction. With Donnie Darko, the writer-director hasn’t offered so neat a resolution to his film’s mysteries with audiences sometimes needing days to piece together its disparate elements in order to see how its puzzle pieces fit together. It’s a very cagey way to present your first feature, but it’s not exactly audience friendly. Kelly’s fluid and hypnotic style, however, is clearly in evidence in every frame. His handling of the film’s special effects, the way Donnie’s delusions are portrayed to the viewer, is often unsettling and always intriguing.
Donnie’s mesmerizing persona is brought to life by the young Jake Gyllenhaal who suggests both Donnie’s manic highs and utter lows, his complex intelligence and his childlike wonder, and is as thoroughly convincing in his paranoid behaviors as he is as a young student doing all he can to cope with matters that seem far bigger than his abilities to understand or manipulate them. Mary McDonnell captures perfectly the mother’s equal parts of pride in her genius son and shame at some of his behaviors that baffle her. As Jake’s real-life sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal is certainly on rock steady ground, and their sibling relationship lends a very real air to the film’s sometimes preposterous other characters. Beth Grant is the hilariously narrow-minded and outrageous gym teacher while Noah Wyle and Drew Barrymore offer opposite sides of the conservative coin as teachers with more open-minded attitudes toward education. Katherine Ross is a welcome sight as the concerned psychiatrist, and Patrick Swayze is made to order as a sleazily attractive snake oil salesman masking a dark interior with a slick exterior.
The film is framed at its Panavision aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. This is the same transfer that was offered on the 2008 Blu-ray release (in fact, it’s the same disc) and offers the same good but not great video quality. Sharpness isn’t always all it could be with some scenes a bit cloudy and hazy while others are clearer and better defined. Color saturation is very good and flesh tones are natural. Black levels are certainly acceptable, but details in shadows sometimes get crushed due to the hazy contrast. The film, both the theatrical cut and the director’s cut, has been divided into 28 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix offers exceptional audio clarity and wonderful spread through the soundfield of all elements – dialogue (which is sometimes directionalized but is usually residing in the center channel), ambient sounds (which have some nice pans through the soundstage), and Michael Andrews’s bristly lilting score and some period songs which occupy both fronts and rears (but are especially well delivered through the front soundstage). Bass is superbly realized in the mix, and the LFE channel will get a healthy workout.
The set collects the 2008 Blu-ray, the 2004 DVD release of the director’s cut, and the original 2001 DVD of the theatrical cut, but the only bonus features on the Blu-ray are three audio commentaries. The best is the commentary attached to the theatrical cut featuring writer-director Richard Kelly and star Jake Gyllenhaal. They reminisce easily and warmly about their experience in making the movie. Jake shows a lot of personality, and Richard is rather humble about what he accomplished with the movie. The other theatrical cut commentary is a cast get-together with Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, James Duval, Holmes Osborne, and director Kelly. They laugh a lot and remember incidents and feelings about making the film, but the party atmosphere doesn’t always lead to fun for the listener. Still, fans will want to hear what they have to say. With the director’s cut, director Kelly sits with writer-director Kevin Smith who’s a huge fan of the movie and bats around ideas about the added scenes and music in the (then) new cut that explain what Kelly was attempting to accomplish by making his film twenty minutes longer.
The promo trailers on the Blu-ray are for Mirrors and The Day the Earth Stood Still remake.
The 2004 DVD of the director’s cut offers these bonus features:
- Production diary with cinematographer Steven Poster (52 ¾ minutes)
- “They Made Me Do It Too” featurette about the film’s cult audience (28 minutes)
- “#1 Fan: A Darkomentary (13 ¼ minutes)
- Storyboard-to-Screen featurette (8 minutes)
- Theatrical trailer of the director’s cut (released theatrically in 2004)
- Deleted/extended scenes with optional director commentary
- “Cunning Visions” infomercials featuring Patrick Swayze used in the film
- “The Philosophy of Time travel book which features in the movie
- website gallery
- “Mad World” music video
- art gallery and production stills
- theatrical trailer and TV spot ads
4/5 (not an average)
Donnie Darko is a modern cult classic, but this tenth anniversary release is merely a package of all previously released versions of the movie on Blu-ray and DVD. It would have been handier if Fox had seen fit to port all of the bonus features from the DVDs and place them on the Blu-ray in one location, but that didn’t happen. So, for those who don’t already own Donnie Darko or who need a digital copy of the film, this is the package that has it all.