Donnie Darko appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The movie looked good as a whole, though it displayed a few moderate issues.
Sharpness seemed fine. The movie always appeared crisp and well delineated, and I saw no concerns related to softness or fuzziness. Jagged edges and moiré effects also caused no problems, and I saw no signs of edge enhancement. Print flaws caused some issues, however. Light grain cropped up periodically throughout the film, and I also witnessed some grit, speckles, nicks and a few small hairs. The defects never became pervasive, but they seemed a bit excessive for such a recent film.
Colors appeared good but not great. At times they came across as somewhat heavy, but they usually were reasonably accurate and distinct. Most scenes showed good saturation and vividness, with only a few parts that seemed a little thick. Black levels were deep and solid, while shadow detail could be somewhat dense. Low-light sequences came across as a bit opaque, though they usually were acceptable. Overall, Donnie Darko presented a satisfying image, but a few moderate issues knocked my grade down to a “B”.
Much stronger was the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Donnie Darko. The soundfield seemed surprisingly active and engaging. The movie featured a consistently vibrant and involving mix that used all five channels well. Most of the audio remained in the front, where music showed solid stereo imaging and effects were well placed and blended together cleanly. The surrounds added positive reinforcement of those elements plus quite a lot of useful unique audio. The movie’s occasional loud scenes – like explosions – were very impressive, but it still showed good sense of atmosphere as a whole.
Audio quality also appeared excellent. Dialogue seemed natural and distinct, and I heard no problems related to edginess or intelligibility. Music was bright and vibrant with good clarity and dynamic range. Effects were also clean and accurate, and they showed fine fidelity with excellent depth. Bass responses seemed terrific as a whole; low-end came across as tight and vivid. Overall, Donnie Darko provided a very strong auditory experience.
Did the Director’s Cut of Darko provide picture and sound that differed from those of the theatrical release? Not to my eyes and ears. I thought the pair looked and sounded virtually identical. Apparently the audio underwent a reworking, but I felt it still resembled the prior track, albeit with some song changes.
For this “Director’s Cut” release, Donnie Darko gets the two-DVD treatment. On Disc One, we find only one component: an audio commentary with writer/director Richard Kelly and filmmaker Kevin Smith, both of whom sit together for a running, screen-specific chat. Smith had nothing to do with the creation of Darko, but apparently he and Kelly are pals, and the director asked Kevin to come along to facilitate discussion and prevent dead air.
Ironically, even the chatty Smith doesn’t alleviate that concern. The commentary’s gaps aren’t enormous, but they pop up occasionally and create some dull moments. Otherwise, this is a terrific commentary. The pair go over many of the movie’s deeper elements. There’s not a lot about filmmaking nuts and bolts, though the guys occasionally compare styles and methods.
Instead, it’s mostly a look at the Darko phenomenon, Kelly’s challenges, and his intentions for the project. We find out a fair amount about the scenes restored for the Director’s Cut along with various alterations like the rearrangement of some songs. The self-effacing Smith plays a little dumb at times and as expected, he provides most of the track’s humor. How can you dislike a guy who jokes that his very young daughter has a pierced nose and a clit ring? Smith also makes sure that Kelly goes over his thoughts in a concise manner, as Kevin essentially plays the part of a movie fan who wants to know more.
Toward the end, Smith also tosses out questions culled from Darko fans. He also gives us funny queries, like when he asks Kelly if the movie got him some female fan action. (Of course, since this is Smith, he phrases this in a much cruder manner.) There’s a lot of useful material on display in this lively and engrossing discussion.
To Kelly’s credit, he never disavows the theatrical version here. This isn’t like the commentary for the longer take on Daredevil; its director greatly prefers his DC to the original and makes sure we know that. Instead, Kelly consistently refers to the Darko DC as an “extended remix”. He seems to see it as an alternate version but not the definitive – or even preferred – one. Honestly, it’s never clear which cut Kelly likes the best, as he even notes that the DC is self-indulgent.
Over on DVD Two, we start with the Donnie Darko Production Diary>. This lasts 52 minute and 40 seconds and can be viewed with or without commentary from director of photography Steven Poster. We see video footage from the set and watch a number of different sequences. The “Diary” starts with location scouts and then follows the shooting of various scenes. I enjoy this kind of “fly on the wall” perspective and think the “Diary” presents many interesting shots.
In his commentary, Poster adds nice notes. He lets us know the details and various elements about the production. His remarks help flesh out the piece and they make the “Diary” even more valuable.
Next we find a program called They Made Me Do It Too - The Cult of Donnie Darko. This 28-minute and two-second piece features movie snippets and remarks from film critic James King, Empire Magazine editor Colin Kennedy, artist Boyd, Heat Magazine film editor Charles Gant, The Cult Film Archive director Xavier Mendik, Metrodome Distribution’s Tom Grievson, Adventure Records co-owner Tom Conroy, Richard Kelly (by phone) and various unnamed fans. They chat about interpretations of the film, its audience, marketing in the UK, the film’s music, and its impact.
Don’t expect much insight into the Darko phenomenon from “Cult”. It focuses totally on the movie’s audience in the UK, where apparently every fan is quite pleased with him or herself. A few interesting elements develop such as the look at marketing the flick, but otherwise this program seems intended to pat UK film buffs on the back. We get a lot of notes about how perceptive and with it they are, and that’s about it. It’s a smug and self-congratulatory piece without much value.
In Storyboard to Screen, we get exactly what one would expect: a collection of storyboard-to-movie comparisons. The art resides in the top half of the screen, while the final flick shows up on the bottom. This seven-minute and 57-second feature looks at four scenes, most of which come toward the film’s end. It’s a nice way to look at the planning that went into the movie.
In addition to the theatrical trailer for the Director’s Cut, we find #1 Fan: A Darkomentary. This lasts 13 minutes and 16 seconds as it follows a website competition to locate the movie’s biggest admirer - or at least the top fan who could create a decent featurette. We see the efforts of Darryl Donaldson in his victorious piece. It’s tongue in cheek - or at least I hope it is. Anyway, it shows a strong affection for the flick while it also takes the piss out of the cult. It straddles the line between clever and stupid but mostly is pretty amusing, especially during Donaldson’s climactic encounter with a clearly weirded-out Kelly.
Note that none of the extras from the original DVD carry over to this one. Obviously it would have been tough to port over that set’s two commentaries since they’d no longer be specific to the action on screen. Many of the first DVD’s deleted scenes also became redundant since they now appear in the DC. Still, it’d have been nice to get some of the other bits and pieces found on the old DVD.
It made about 10 cents at the box office, but Donnie Darko turned into a serious cult phenomenon on home video. It did well enough to support the creation of a director’s cut that got a theatrical release as well as this DVD version. The movie remains impressive, but I think the DC robs of it much of its allure. It spells things out a bit too much and becomes a bit slow and tedious at times. The disc presents picture and sound quality that are good to terrific; both echo the presentation of the original movie’s DVD. The extras boast a solid audio commentary and a couple of other fun pieces, though I dislike the smug look at the film’s fanbase.
I suspect that diehard Darko fans won’t care about my recommendation – or anybody else’s, for that matter – and will be all over this sucker. And I won’t attempt to dissuade them; while I didn’t much care for the DC, as a fan, I would definitely want to see it with my own eyes. However, I wouldn’t advise casual admirers to give it a look, as I don’t think they’ll get much out of it. I’d also definitely steer newbies toward the original version. It’s much more satisfying and is the way to go if you want to get a feel for what made the experience special.
To rate this film, visit the original review of DONNIE DARKO