Middlesex, Virginia. 1988. Donnie Darko was killed when a jet engine fell from the sky and crushed him while he was sleeping. The government never located the plane from which the engine fell, nor did they even admit the incident ever occurred. But that was just the beginning of the tragedy...and the mystery. Now, 7 years later, Donnie's youngest sister, Samantha, seemingly alone and lost in the world, has run away from a home shattered by the death of her brother. Drowning in sadness and unable to dream, she has drifted deeper and deeper into the darkness of her sleep. And when darkness consumes the starlight, nightmares rule the night...
Why? Why did 'Donnie Darko' get a sequel, when it wrapped up its loose ends as tightly as it could have? Why would anyone think it would be a good idea to tread down that road again, and possibly damage people's feelings for the original? Why wait eight years to make a sequel, with the only tie between the two films being the actress portraying the main character? I suppose the answer is obvious: money. There is no other rational explanation as to why 'S Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale' even exists, other than to leech cash from the existing 'Darko' fans who have bought the original film three times already (DVD, Director's Cut DVD, Blu-ray).
This time around, Donnie's little sister Samantha is the focus of our apocalyptic tale. Sam (Daveigh Chase) is on the road with her best friend Corey (Briana Evigan), en route from Virginia to California, for a different, better life. It's late June, 1995, seven years after the events of Donnie's death. When car troubles strand the pair in the sleepy town of Conejo Springs, Utah, and a chance meteorite strike hits a local windmill, it is apparent to the viewers that something messed up is going to happen. Samantha is still struggling with the loss of her brother, her self-imposed alienation from the rest of her family, and, oh, yeah, visions, warnings of an impending doomsday. The end of the world is coming...or is it?
It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the world didn't end in 'Donnie Darko,' and the use of the apocalyptic message merely feels like a ploy to create some tension and mystery. In fact, the entire film tries to trump up some similarities to the original, with a town full of characters who may play an important role in events to come, just like in the original...
To be frank, the movie feels like a true rip-off of 'Donnie Darko,' the brilliant work of Richard Kelly. His absence is obvious here, as writer Nathan Atkins and director Chris Fisher fail to capture the uncanny brilliance of the original film, piggybacking a tale of action and reaction, and destiny. The film summarily dismisses Elizabeth (Maggie Gyllenhaal), Samantha's older sister, with a one line notation, that exists solely to answer questions on where the hell she is. It has nothing to do with the plot, it's just one of those "Oh shit. We're making a sequel to 'Donnie Darko, but forgot he had another sister. What excuse can we write up for her non-appearance?" type moments that many unnecessary, ill thought sequels possess. The film is just lazy. It takes place in the summer of 1995, yet strolls past a marquee showing a double feature of 'Strange Days,' and 'Twelve Monkeys,' two apt films to make reference to, only there's one problem, neither film had been theatrically released at the time. Oops. Character interactions are bizarre and forced, dialogue is terrible, and the acting is beneath sub-par.
The film focuses on tragedy, just as the first did, but it doesn't let anything resonate, as it quickly (and constantly) presses the reset button. We aren't given a shocking ending like we were in 'Donnie Darko,' either, as the crescendo to 'S.' is more of a cop out. A mea culpa. But then again, so is the whole film, so how could one expect anything more? The film is summed up early, in a scene as Corey is driving, and Samantha is focusing on her pinwheel slightly sticking out her side of the car. She loses control of it, and as the car drives on, a car they had just passed runs over the once beautiful item, that was so full of life. That pinwheel is 'Donnie Darko,' while the car that demolishes it is 'S. Darko.'
Argue all you want about the movie's qualities, purpose, or point, there is no arguing over how stunning the film looks. 'S. Darko' hits Blu-ray with an AVC MPEG-4 encode that almost makes this purchase tolerable. Almost.
From the opening shots, we are presented a film with fantastic clarity and detail, striking colors, and a picture that doesn't lose its intricacies in the far meandering backgrounds. These qualities do not let up, throughout the entire film. The film is super clean and sharp, for most scenes, you have to strain to see the grain, while stray hairs, bumps, moles, pores, freckles, peach fuzz, it all pops. Constantly.
The color bombardment from Corey's holographic shirt is fantastic and rich, and is paralleled with the "destiny spirit" bubbles that lead characters, that sparkle in its luminescence. Blacks, for the most part, are sharp. The only negative aspects that can be crusaded against are the few dark shots that have an increased grain, with lowered detail, to the point that it's somewhat smeared, with the party shot having a blue tint, while a late shot of similar circumstances had a bit of noise. Also, the high resolution made some of the dirt cheap CGI stand out a bit. Still, all that's nitpicking. 'S. Darko' boasts a natural, borderline realistic picture quality, that wowed me on numerous occasions.
The other side of the technical department, the audio, is no slouch either, with a DTS HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that's impressive, to be sure.
The most active part of the sound design in 'S. Darko' is the bass level, which constantly set my subwoofer off. There's no rest for the wicked, and on this track, no rest for the sub, either. The score rumbles, thumping and thudding like nobody's business, while the effects for the film all have a bit of boom to them. In short, don't play this film late at night in an apartment complex, as it's sure to draw complaints from the neighbors.
Dialogue is clear, from the normal talking tones, to the disturbed "dream speech" that Samantha and Iraq Jack partake in. That said, the spoken word from numerous characters had a bit of a bassy undertone to them that was a bit annoying. Surround activity isn't over the top, but it's utilized sufficiently, with some nice atmosphere, some subdued effects, light echoes from the front activity, and some score presence.
The supplement package from the DVD is directly ported over onto this Blu-ray release.
I can't imagine any 'Donnie Darko' fan walking into 'S Darko' without the slightest bit of trepidation. It's much like the intricate trap sequences in the 'Indiana Jones' movies...you just know something bad is going to happen. Love it, hate it, this may be a heated debate, but there's no debating the audio and video qualities for this release, which are fantastic. The extras package isn't too bad, though it's far from great. Much like 'Hamlet 2,' 'S. Darko' takes the tragedy out of the tragedy, and we're left with something entirely different: crap. The only thing it succeeded in was making me want to watch the original again, perhaps to wash the taste out of my mouth.