Blu-ray
Highly Recommended
4.5 stars
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Overall Grade
4.5 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
3 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
4 Stars
High-Def Extras
1 Stars
Bottom Line
Highly Recommended

Donnie Darko: 10th Anniversary Edition

Street Date:
July 26th, 2011
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
August 1st, 2011
Movie Release Year:
2001
Studio:
20th Century Fox
Length:
113 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated R
Release Country
United States

Editor's Notes

Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of 'Donnie Darko

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

There must have been something in the drinking water during the 1980s, because the decade seems filled with a sense of general apprehension, paranoia, doubt, and political unease. Just listen to the music of the period. Anything from the widely popular U2, Genesis, Paul Simon, and Live Aid to Midnight Oil, The Clash, Nena, and Devo. The air was thick with anxiety and doubt about the world, but contradicted by a desire to live it up without a care and be a good consumer. And if for nothing else, Richard Kelly ('The Box') perfectly captured this mood and atmosphere in his puzzling feature-film debut 'Donnie Darko.' As a combination of teen drama, fantasy, horror, comedy, and sci-fi, the genre-bending descent into the disturbed imagination of a troubled teen eludes easy comprehension, yet it refuses to be forgotten.

On the surface, the simple but impressive storyline is one of the craziest sci-fi journeys on time traveling. While Kelly has been known to welcome any and all interpretations, this one aspect is made much more apparent in the Director's Cut of the film. Seen as an analysis of his own movie, this version takes teen angst to another level of bizarreness, one that's highly original and exciting. With ideas of tangent universes, wormholes, the "manipulate living," and mentions of DeLorean time machines, Donnie's (Jake Gyllenhaal) quest to figure out the significance of his visions and create a sense of purpose is mesmerizing and absorbing. Gyllenhaal's portrayal, along with Kelly's direction, does a marvelous job drawing viewers in and making them care for this kid, eventually having us feel for Donnie's anguish and confusion as the world crashes around him.

Without giving too much away, his investigation ultimately leads him to realize how he affects the lives of others, especially those closest to him. As far as we can gather, Donnie struggles with finding meaning, often seen as depressed and wandering without a thought of what he wants from his life. What if he was meant to die when the jet engine crashed into his bedroom? What are the effects or consequences of his cheating death? Are the people around better off without his destructive presence? These are the puzzling questions that arise — at least, internally — as Donnie researches the possibilities while under the guidance of a giant, demented bunny named Frank (James Duval). Along these lines, it almost seems as if his realization of wormholes is a chance to redeem himself in a very baffling, weird way and not ruin the lives of those he cares about.

Considering all the unusual events that followed after the jet engine crash, I'm tempted to suggest the whole thing is one really strange, drug-induced dream. After all, Donnie's sister (Maggie Gyllenhaal), in an earlier scene, suddenly announces out of spite that he hasn't been taking his medication in a while. Possibly out of guilt towards his mother (Mary McDonnell), Donnie finally pops some pills from a bottle dated in July. (This story takes place in October.) That same night, he meets the deranged-looking, six-foot bunny rabbit for the first time and starts seeing trippy, 'Abyss'-like portals come out of his chest, as well as from others. This next part could be a spoiler, so be warned. In the concluding minutes, we see Donnie laughing his butt off as if he were flying high like a kite.

Is it possible Donnie is simply hallucinating and the people in his small town are all a bunch of anxiety-ridden individuals? I don't know, and I don't pretend to know the answers surrounding this labyrinthine film. It's a tough nut to crack. The fact that Donnie's apocalyptic, nightmarish visions begin the night he decides to retake his medication — after who knows how many months! — could all just be a coincidence. Then again, it also adds another layer of complexity to this bizarre coming-of-age tale. In the end, however, I really enjoy the time-traveling angle, as it offers what I think is at the heart of 'Donnie Darko.' Ultimately, this psycho-thriller in my eyes is an eccentrically perplexing journey of adolescent awkwardness. Or to be more precise, it's a social commentary on being a teen during the 1980s culture.

The plot takes place at the end of the Reagan years, at a time when many believed a major change was coming with the presidential elections of 1988 (That is until the "Dukakis in a tank" fiasco). Popular reads, like Stephen King's It and Stephen Hawking, are shown throughout the film. These pop culture references make room for critical jabs at people's fascination with new-age mysticism and the unexplainable. One of Donnie's teachers Kitty Farmer (Beth Grant) goes on to use a self-help program as an instructional tool, even likening it to the level of a religious practice. The fact that the program's creator, Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze), turns out to be a fraud only shows that those who speak loudest, or in this case, espouse a false belief, are often the ones with the most to hide, lacking the conviction of what they advocate. Much of this interplay could be suggestive of the pseudoscience which resulted from Dianetics, another immensely popular book with a strong religious following.

Most interesting is the concern over creative thinking and originality going unnoticed or ignored — at one point, even ridiculed as obscenely dangerous — while fashionable, widely accepted trends are celebrated and rewarded. While the quarrel between Ms. Farmer and Ms. Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore) makes this fairly clear, I personally enjoy the talent show as the point where it's most apparent and emotional. Poor Cherita Chen (Jolene Purdy) tries to share her talent for unique interpretative dance, even titling it "Autumn Major," but the unappreciative audience struggles to keep their giggles unheard. Then, when the dance group Sparkle Motion — yet another popular trend of the eighties — takes the stage, people quickly respond with cheers and claps as Duran Duran's "Notorious" plays in the background. As is often the case, popular trends favor approval over fresh creativity and newness.

Naturally, these are just my thoughts on 'Donnie Darko,' an imaginative and original sci-fi feature in its own right. What makes it such an entertaining and impressive film debut from Richard Kelly is how it encourages and welcomes different theories from other points of view, including its own creator. The changes from the theatrical version and the Director's Cut range from minor to unmistakably obvious, particularly some new visual elements and excerpts from The Philosophy of Time Travel in later parts of the second act. Overall, I feel the alterations give the film a smoother flow, while making the time traveling angle a more prominent element. Still, I fall in the category of those who see the theatrical version as superior to Kelly's alternate vision. Either way, 'Donnie Darko' is a very impressive and remarkable film which continues to amaze after several, countless viewings.

The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment offers this four-disc Blu-ray package of 'Donnie Darko' as a 10th Anniversary Edition. Only the first disc is a BD50 while the next two are DVDs, and they are all Region A locked. The fourth and final disc is a digital copy of the movie for portable devices.

They're all housed in a slightly thicker than normal blue keepcase and on separate plastic holders. The cover art is a new design and comes with a glossy cardboard slipcover. At startup, we get skippable trailers for 'Mirrors' and 'The Day the Earth Stood Still.' Afterwards, viewers are greeted with the usual menu selection with music playing in the background.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

Anyone hoping for a remaster of this hugely popular cult favorite will be sorely disappointed with this 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.35:1). The transfer is the same, identical presentation seen on the 2009 Blu-ray, with the slightly out-of-focus, mostly blurry look. The picture comes with a lightly grayish tone and highlights that slightly bloom for a surreal, dreamlike appearance. Fine object and textural details never look very sharp or distinct, often coming across as an upscaled DVD in several sequences. Despite good clarity and resolution, contrast falls on the lower end of the grayscale, affecting black levels to lose much of their luster and making several poorly-lit scenes suffer weak shadow delineation. Film grain is plainly visible and unobtrusive, but a couple of scenes reveal instances of minor chroma noise. Colors benefit the most with bold here, with accurate saturation making it a nice upgrade from the DVD, but not much else.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

Unlike the video, the audio is the clear winner on this Blu-ray of 'Donnie Darko.' As I mentioned in the original review, the lossless mix is a clear improvement with greater fidelity and depth. The Director's Cut is a bit better than the Theatrical Version by exhibiting more surround activity, accuracy, and a full-bodied presence. Frank's voice is also immersive as it bleeds into all five channels while the song selections and musical score satisfyingly envelop the listening area. Atmospherics are light and used sparingly, but they extend and broaden the soundfield nicely. Dynamic range is warm and inviting with sharp clarity and definition, and low-frequency effects support the music with good weight and appropriate response. Dialogue and character interaction are very well prioritized and intelligible throughout, making it a highly-enjoyable and satisfying high-rez presentation for a mysteriously original motion picture.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

To celebrate 'Donnie Darko''s 10th birthday, Fox releases this Blu-ray edition with the same bonus material found in the already available two-disc HD set. The only difference is a third disc that's essentially a duplicate of the theatrical single-disc DVD with all the special features.

Disc One

  • Audio Commentary – Fans everywhere are given an excuse to watch 'Donnie Darko' repeatedly with the choice of three separate audio tracks, which range from mildly entertaining to nicely informative. Writer/director Richard Kelly and Jake Gyllenhaal provide the first commentary. The two are quite chatty and have fun talking about the production, character motivation, and various things that inspired the film. The conversation has its moments, especially for some interesting words from Kelly, but overall, it's an easy listen.

    The second commentary is with the cast and crew reminiscing about their experiences while shooting the film. The group is made up of Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone, Beth Grant, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katherine Ross, James Duval, and producer Sean McKittrick. Immediately clear is how the group enjoys each other's company and discuss mostly their thoughts of what they think the film is about.

    The third commentary is found only on the Director's Cut of the film and again with Richard Kelly, only joined by another writer/director, Kevin Smith. Not only do they discuss the drastic changes between the two versions, but both offer some great insights into the film. While the other two commentaries are entertaining, this one was most enjoyable and arguably the best.

Disc Two

  • Production Diary (SD, 54 min) – The lengthy featurette is exactly as the title implies, with on-set footage during production. Coming with an optional commentary track from cinematographer Steve Poster, fans have behind-the-scene access as filmmakers prepare to shoot certain scenes.

  • "They Made Do It Too: The Cult of 'Donnie Darko'" (SD, 28 min) – This short doc takes a look at the cult following which developed in Great Britain after the movie's box office failure. With interviews of journalists and film fans offering some insightful thoughts, the piece is enjoyable and worth a watch.

  • Storyboard to Screen (SD, 8 min) – Exactly as the title implies, we are given several scenes to examine and compare with their storyboard renderings.

  • #1 Fan: A Darkomentary (SD, 13 min) – Winner of the 2004 contest to determine the #1 'Donnie Darko' fan, this hilarious (and hopefully fictional) short film by Darryl Donaldson follows the daily activities of a borderline obsessive fan.

  • Theatrical Trailer (SD) – The original theatrical preview for the Director's Cut is also included on the disc.

Disc Three

  • Cunning Visions (SD) — A small collection of the videos made for Jim Cunningham's motivational speeches, such as trivially different versions of his lame, low-budget infomercials (6 min) and the slideshow from the school assembly. The infomercial also comes with an optional commentary by Cunning Visions CEO Linda Connie and director Fabian Van Patten — actors in character, of course. The collection concludes with pics of Cunningham's book covers.

  • The Philosophy of Time Travel (SD) — The book is presented here in its entirety, though it's not very long.

  • Art Gallery (SD) — Two set are offered; one an assortment of production stills, the other an album of concept art.

  • Website Gallery (SD) — A still gallery of screen-captures taken from the movie's official website.

  • Music Video (SD) — Gary Jules performs his version of the Tears for Fears classic 'Mad World,' which was directed by Richard Kelly.

  • Deleted Scenes (SD) — With optional commentary from the director, we get twenty scenes that did not make it to the final cut, most of which are extended conversations.

  • Cast & Crew Information — Just as it sounds, bio and filmography info on the cast and crew.

  • The Soundtrack — Nothing more than a pic of the movie's soundtrack with liner notes by writer/director Richard Kelly.

  • Trailers (SD) — The original theatrical preview is joined by five TV spots.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

This Blu-ray edition of 'Donnie Darko' comes exclusively with both the Theatrical Version and the Director's Cut on the same disc. The disc is also embedded with a D-Box Motion Code for folks that can afford the equipment to enjoy its purpose. The entire package is completed with a Digital Copy of the movie on a separate disc.

Easter Eggs

The third DVD disc comes with a few hidden gems fans can enjoy. Go to "Special Features" and click on The Philosophy of Time Travel option. There, move the cursor to the right until you reach the two Appendix chapters towards the end. In Appendix A, click the cursor up on your remote and highlight the center of the picture with the anatomical body. When pressing "Enter," you find a deleted scene with Drew Barrymore and Beth Grant quickly discussing the school flooding before the PTA meeting commences.

On the Appendix B page, click up again on the remote to highlight an arrow pointing to the right of the skeleton figure. Press "Enter" and you find an alternate, darker version of the theatrical preview. The last Easter Egg can be found under the "Cunning Visions" featurette where a small icon with Patrick Swayze's eye sits on the bottom right, just to the top of "Special Features." To highlight it, scroll down to "Special Features" and then right. Click "Enter" and you can glance though screen-captures of the Cunning Visions website with testimonials and newspapers.

Final Thoughts

'Donnie Darko' is a very strange journey through the disturbed imagination of a troubled teen. The film has amassed an immense cult following (and warranted one less than stellar "sequel" of sorts). Making an impressive film debut, Richard Kelly's genre-bending nightmare encourages various interpretations from the viewer, yet refuses easy comprehension, and doesn't reveal its meaning as it explores 80s pop culture at the end of the Reagan era. This 10th Anniversary Blu-ray edition of the sci-fi drama comes with the same audio and video presentation as the previous release. Supplements are ported over from the previous two-disc DVD edition as well as the single-disc DVD version and accompanied by a Digital Copy. Ultimately, this is the package to pick up if you haven't already purchased it. Otherwise, wait for a sale price to replace the first Blu-ray if you really feel the need.

Technical Specs

  • Four-Disc Combo Pack
  • 1 BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc / 1 DVD-5 Single-Layer Disc / 1 DVD-9 Dual-Layer Disc
  • Digital Copy
  • Region A Locked

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.35:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • French Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Theatrical Version Only)

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • Spanish
  • French (Director's Cut Only)

Supplements

  • Audio Commentaries
  • Featurettes
  • Short Film
  • Documentaries
  • Deleted scenes
  • Storyboard Comparisons
  • Website & Still Gallery
  • Cast-and-crew Bios
  • Trailers

Exclusive HD Content

  • Two Versions of the Film
  • Digital Copy
  • D-Box Motion Code Enabled

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