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Donnie Darko

Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut

After watching the director’s cut of Donnie Darko, it makes you wonder what imbecile gave the original version the greenlight.

The theatrical version of the film, now a cult classic, was a well-written, stylish, and entertaining film that didn’t make a lick of sense. The ending left a whole bunch of unanswered questions and didn’t seem to wrap things up at all.

A few years later, writer/director Richard Kelly was given a budget and the opportunity to create his true vision, adding nearly 20 minutes of footage and altering certain scenes drastically.

You’ll probably be pleased to know that this new version ties up all the loose ends and now – believe it or not – it actually makes almost perfect sense.

The main addition, and the aspect that helps the most, is that the director’s cut features excerpts from Roberta Sparrow’s book “The Philosophy of Time Travel.” With these excerpts, we learn a great deal about why certain things are happening, why characters are doing the things they’re doing, and more importantly, why Donnie is doing the things he’s doing. Without these bits, we’re left to figure these things out for ourselves, but since the book is fictional and only created for the film, there’s no possible way for us to know what is written inside. Who allowed this movie to be produced without the excerpts???

Pacing is improved by a few scenes being stripped of dialogue and instead having really intense 80s tunes playing really loudly. Before the change, the scenes were merely endless bouts of talking that were necessary to propel the story forward. But we still get the gist of what’s happening, even if we can’t hear what they’re saying. The new method may not be as practical as a filmmaking technique, but it adds to the overall mood and doesn’t seem to take nearly as long.

Most of the added minutes seem to appear closer to the end of the film. While not essential to the story, many of them enhance Donnie’s relationship with his family, and assist in making us feel for him. Originally, the entire family came across as a bunch of bickering Bickersons, but now they seem much more like a normal family with normal conflicts between their members. And we can tell that Donnie, despite the many problems as he may have in his life, loves them dearly and is just at the stage in his life where he doesn’t like to admit it.

There are a few other additions and changes, most notably the inclusion of close-ups of Donnie’s eye during his “visions,” and some changes to the musical score.

Perhaps it’s the fact that people can gain a lot of knowledge in three years and can therefore decipher clues more effectively, but all in all, Donnie Darko works much better in its true form. The pacing is better, the characters more solid, and hey, the movie finally makes sense. It still isn’t for everybody, but those intrigued by the film’s originality and style (and confused by its lack of sensibility) should be pleased with the director’s cut, which finally gives us the Donnie Darko that Donnie Darko should be.

The film is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, but doesn’t look very good. Detail is pretty bland and there is plenty of grain all over the place, and certain scenes look almost as though they were shot with a consumer grade camera. Now, in all fairness, the movie is set in 1988 so perhaps it’s a choice of the filmmakers to make it look authentic, but it doesn’t work; it just looks like bad picture quality.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is very impressive, however. The voice of the bunny uses the rear speakers primarily, a very nice touch that could creep the heck out of you if you were by yourself. The 80s tunes are boisterous, filling the room from every direction, and are so loud they’d probably overstay their welcome were they not so effective at setting the mood. Most other elements are pretty standard, with dialogue and score coming from the front channels, while the sound effects are spread fairly evenly.

Richard Kelly teams up with Kevin Smith (yes, of the Jay and Silent Bob movies) for an audio commentary. Kelly spends plenty of time discussing the differences between the two versions, the mythology behind the film, and so on and so forth. Smith (who had nothing to do with the movie, but is a friend of Kelly’s and a fan of the film) keeps things going smoothly, often asking Kelly questions from fans and whatnot.

Disc two begins with 50+ minutes of behind-the-scenes footage shot during production. It’s interesting enough to see the trials of such a film, but it’s some of the more boring BTS footage we’ve seen. It’s probably only for really hardcore fans, but it does feature alternate audio commentary by Director of Photography Steven Poster. “They Made Me Do it Too” is a half hour feature on the cult following of Donnie Darko. It features mostly British folk talking about why they love the movie so much, but they also go on about how Europeans are smarter than Americans and therefore were able to understand the movie a lot better.

Or maybe they just like to think that…

In the summer of 2004, there was a contest held to see who could make the best short feature relating to Donnie Darko, and the winner was to be featured on the Director’s Cut DVD. The winner was Darryl Donaldson, a man who really, really, really, really needs to get a life. He seems to devote every waking moment of his existence to paying homage to his favorite movie, and (this may be an unfair thing to say) comes across as a psychotic stalker kind of person (just check out those pictures he drew). We can only hope he got some money for being featured on the DVD.

Finally, we get a storyboard-to-screen featurette and a theatrical trailer for the Director’s cut.

Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut, from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
132 minutes, anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) 16x9 enhanced, Dolby Digital 5.1
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle
Produced by Sean McKittrick, Nancy Juvonen, Adam Fields
Written and directed by Richard Kelly


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