Donnie Darko: The Directors Cut (2001)
20th December 2004
During the presidential elections of 1988, a young and troubled teenager named Donnie Darko is struggling with emotional problems. Unusually intelligent and with a keen analytical mind, he has huge potential for his future. However, he is wandering through life with no real direction and sees a therapist on a weekly basis. Matters aren't helped by his tendency to skip his medication. But Donnie's biggest problem is his tendency to sleepwalk and most mornings he finds himself waking up in the strangest of places with no idea of how he got there. During one of his sleepwalking episodes he meets a giant demonic looking rabbit called Frank who proceeds to tell him that the world will end in 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes, and 12 seconds.
Waking up on the local golf course, Donnie, much to the relief of his parents, returns home only to discover that a jet engine has fallen off a passing aircraft and crashed right through his bedroom, destroying everything in its path. Had he been in bed that night he would have surely been killed. But as Donnie continues to take his medication he is regularly visited by Frank who keeps reminding him that the world as he knows it will end in 28 days. But is Donnie imagining it all? Is it his medication? Has he some sort of schizophrenia or is there some form of divine intervention at work? But either way, the incident has left Donnie with a heightened sense of what it means to be alive and to be in love.
But Frank refuses to leave Donnie's mind and he continues to weald an unnerving control over him. This results in Donnie conducting some mindless violence against his school and the home of local self help guru Jim Cunningham. And as Frank influence grows he even starts to question his teachers authority and that of the people around him. Armed with an arcane text entitled The Philosophy of Time Travel, Donnie soon uncovers the ability to unravel the threads that bind the universe together, along with the temptation to alter time and his destiny.
The picture quality is a bit of a mixed bag really with a transfer which veers from good to poor from one scene to another, although initial budget restraints may have accounted for some of these problems. Never the less, the outdoor scenes are bright and colourful with some good textures and detail, even if these scenes do tend to highlight problems with grain and dust scratches on the print. However, since the majority of the film takes place either at night or in dimly lit halls or rooms, the black levels play an important role in the picture reproduction. Again, the picture remains detailed enough, but I felt that there could be too much contrast at times which resulted in black levels that weren't as good as they could have been. Trouble is, given the shear audacity of the director, I couldn't actually make my mind up whether this was a deliberate ploy.
Unlike the original DVD release of Donnie Darko, this director's cut of the film is also presented with a DTS 768Kbps soundtrack to complement the existing 448Kbps Dolby Digital version. Although the film offers very little to differentiate between the two competing formats, it is the superior separation of the DTS soundtrack that ensures that it is the outright winner. Never the less, both formats are extremely dynamic and manage to offer some superb separation, stereo steerage, good use of the LFE channel (especially by the musical score) and excellent use of the surround channels. But it is the surround channels which really shine and they really do help make Donnie Darko the film it is. And one thing is for sure, the uninitiated viewer will certainly jump when the channels come alive properly for the first time. There's also a definite improvement with the sound quality over the original release, even if some of the ambient effects are a little overpowering at times.
Upon it's original release, and due to copyright and monetary restraints, director Richard Kelly was unable to get clearance to use the musical numbers that he originally intended. But with the success of the film those restraints have been broken and a number of new audio tracks have been added or changed. The biggest of those changes is in the opening scenes where Donnie cycles home to the sounds of INXS rather than Echo and the Bunnymen. Trouble is, I preferred the original opening, it just seems to work that much better. Still, at least the all important Michael Andrews and Gary Jules version of Mad World is retained during the closing scenes and credits.
Whilst the film is ultimately a rewarding one, the menu system on the main film disc is a total disaster. Although it's animated and scored it is just so complicated that it took me a few minutes to work out just how to start playing the film, never mind selecting my preferred audio soundtrack. In fact, the only thing I could manage to do was select one of the four chapters from the confusing menu. Whether there are other options or chapters available on this menu is a mystery to be solved on another day. Fortunately, the menu system on the second disc is much more sensibly arranged and easier to navigate through.
Extras wise, owners of the original release of Donnie Darko may be disappointed to learn, and also feel a little short changed, that some of the extras are repeated on this new edition. With the additional of the capacity guzzling DTS soundtrack on the first disc, plus the duplicated extras from the original disc, you really do have to wonder whether this package has been deliberately padded out to two discs.
The main, and only extra, one the first disc is a new Audio Commentary from director Richard Kelly and Kevin Smith. And if you're wondering just why Kevin Smith has been drafted in to provide an audio commentary, then join the club as also have no idea why the director Clerks, Chasing Amy and Dogma would have any interest in Donnie Darko. Perhaps he just happened to be passing the door at the time of recording. Fortunately, the commentary from Kelly is interesting enough, and he does explain that Kevin Smith was brought in to help prevent any quiet moments in the commentary. Unfortunately, this doesn't turn out to be the case and whatever Smith does offer in the form of comments doesn't really help explain what is going on. Owners of the original DVD release are sure to be much happier with the two audio commentaries which accompany the film and I'm sure that the DTS soundtrack could have been sacrificed in order to accommodate them again here.
The second disc is reserved for the extras and things start off with the short, but interesting, They Made Me Do It (which is already available on the original DVD release) where a team of graffiti artists were given six hours, forty two minutes and twelve seconds to come up with a piece of artwork inspired by the film. Needless to say, each artist has completely different interpretations of the film and with the additional feature They Made Me Do It Gallery you can view, using your remote, their creations with ease.
Next up is the extremely interesting thirty minute They Made Me Do It Too featurette which contains numerous interviews with diehard fans, various critics (including the editor of Empire magazine) and, via a poor quality telephone link, director Richard Kelly. As a reader of the film magazine Empire, I seem to remember them running a competition some time back where the winners were invited to give their opinions for this DVD release. And judging by some of these characters, I think I'd better cancel my subscription, and fast! Still, their opinions and interpretation of the films meaning are certainly interesting and they do raise a few interesting points which I hadn't previously considered.
The featurette also looks at Donnie Darko's popularity with UK audiences and although director Richard Kelly is asked why he thinks that the UK "got" the film better than the US audience, he fails to identify that we're far more analytical than our action hungry cousins. The feature goes on to examine the various, and novel, marketing techniques used to promote the film including the graffiti work and obscure posters along with the phenomenal success of Michael Andrews and Gary Jules cover of Mad World. This featurette is probably the best thing on the disc.
A forty minute Production Diary is interesting enough and has the added bonus of an optional audio commentary by Director of Photography by Steven Poster. Whilst the commentary track adds some valuable information, it can actually be rather annoying when you're trying to pick out what is being said by the various cast and crew members in the diary. Although none of the featurettes are subtitled, this particular feature would have benefited from subtitles so that you could have listened to the main audio whilst having the audio commentary subtitles enabled. The four minute B-Roll Footage is of little interest, with very little to get excited about. Duplicated from the original DVD release, if this footage is the best of what they managed to film, then I'd hate to see just what failed to make the grade. I've seen some poor B-Roll footage features in my time, but this pretty much takes the biscuit.
Next up are fifteen minutes worth of Cast and Crew Interviews. Again, this feature is available on the original DVD release, but as they form an important part of the extras it would have been a major disappointment if they hadn't been repeated here. Each interview is split into individual chapters and covers director Richard Kelly plus all of the major cast members who give their own thoughts on the characters and their reasons for taking on the role. The interviews do contain a lot of editing so the flow of the interview is not always consistent, but what they do have to say is certainly interesting. As well as the interviews, a textual Cast and Crew Filmography is available and it's quite interesting to see just how busy some of the cast members have been over the years.
The Promos section, again duplicated from the original DVD release, contains two trailers for the film. One is the director's cut whilst the other is the original version, along with five short television spots. It's all pretty much standard stuff. Also included is rather lame and hurriedly put together music video to Mad World. Finally, there's the two Cunning Visions Infomercials. They appear to be both the same, but the second one contains an audio commentary from infomercial director Fabian Van Patten and Cunning Visions CEO Linda Connie. Although the commentary is a spoof, the infomercial is so bad it is completely believable and is the sort of rubbish you'd see on desperate satellite television channels. There's also an Easter egg which contains live concert footage of Echo and the Bunnymen performing The Killing Moon track which was dropped from the opening section of the film.
The final set of extras on the disc is the Additional Scenes section. Again, repeated from the original release, these are twenty deleted and extended scenes with an optional commentary from director Richard Kelly. Quite why these have been included is a bit of a puzzling one as the majority of these scenes have been restored back into the director's cut of the film. It's almost as if they have been added for filling purposes and to bulk up the second disc.
Ultimately, owners of the original single disc theatrical release of the film could be rather disappointed by this release. Although I always tend to welcome a director's cut of the film, this is one instance where some of the shine is taken away from the film by revealing too much of the plot to the viewer, be it with restored scenes or additional transition effects using clips from the The Philosophy of Time Travel book. However, some may take this as a bonus as even Radio One DJ Chris Moyles exclaimed live on air that he had absolutely no idea what was going on. Never the less, now that I do know what is going on in the film, I prefer the original theatrical cut. Still, it's nice to see the cut the director originally intended, even if an option to view the original cut would have been an excellent additional to the disc. After all, hasn't anyone ever heard of seamless branching? It's a definite missed opportunity.
Upon it's theatrical release Donnie Darko was unjustly criticised by many. Originally released in the UK on October 25th 2003 it became the highest grossing independent feature of the year. The film received great critical praise, with 4 and 5 star reviews across the board, and established Richard Kelly as a first time feature director with a distinctive and original voice. It opened with a screen average of £5000 and within two weeks due to strong word of mouth, the bookings went from 37 to 55 screens, taking over £1.5 million at the box office. Even the absolutely superb and haunting Mad World performed by Michael Andrews and Gary Jules made it to the UK Christmas number one slot in 2003, storming to the prized spot with a remarkable 228,000 copies sold. And if you ever want a song to make the hairs on the back on your neck stand up, then look no further than this.
But the question remains, should owners of the original cut of the film buy this director's cut? Well, if you're one of the many fans then the answer should be a definite "yes", whilst film fans in general could probably avoid it without losing any sleep. However, if you don't already own a copy then you should still consider a purchase. But in addition to buying this director's cut you should also buy the original, and extra-less, version of the film which is being sold at a very reasonable RRP of £4.99. But what ever you do, just make sure you watch the original version first as it makes the experience so much better.
The two disc set is also available in some rather splendid looking, and limited edition, 3D lenticular packaging. Although this sleeve is in the extremely hated, and easily damaged, paper packaging the standard case is easily removed without too much effort and damage to the precious paper outer. If you're a fan of the movie then you're best advised to get hold of this version before it's too late.
- Commentary with Richard Kelly and Kevin Smith (director of Clerks, Chasing Amy and Dogma)
- They Made Me Do It UK Art Exhibition Doc
- They Made Me Do It Too The Cult Of Donnie Darko UK Documentary
- They Made Me Do It Gallery
- Donnie Darko Production Diary with Optional Commentary by Steven Poster, Director of Photography
- B-roll Footage
- Interviews with Cast and Crew
- Cast and Crew Filmographies
- The Director's Cut Trailer
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Original TV Spots
- Mad World Music Video
- Cunning Visions Infomercial
- The Killing Moon Easter Egg
- 20 Scenes with Optional Commentary by Richard Kelly
- Deleted and Extended Scenes from the Original Theatrical Cut