Donnie Darko, 2001.
Written and Directed by Richard Kelly.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Mary McDonnell, Katharine Ross, Patrick Swayze, and Noah Wyle.
Donnie Darko has been released on Blu-ray a few times, but this new Limited Edition from Arrow promises to be the ultimate release for fans. The theatrical version and the Director’s Cut are included, along with the previously released bonus features, a new documentary, a 1996 short film by director Richard Kelly, a hardcover book, and some pieces of art printed on cardstock, found inside an envelope marked “Roberta Sparrow.” (Hmmmm…)
Donnie Darko is a perfect example of how a great movie will find its place in the world, even if it experiences a troubled theatrical release. (See The Iron Giant and The Shawshank Redemption for two other such examples.) In the case of Donnie Darko, any movie that used a plane crash as a major catalyst for its plot and which was released just a month after the 9/11 attacks had about as much of a chance of success as I would if I tried to get a gig writing a Star Wars movie.
If you’ve never seen Donnie Darko, one way to describe it could be: What if the artistic sensibilities of Steven Spielberg and John Hughes threw a party and Stanley Kubrick crashed the proceedings?
Another way might be: Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) is a troubled teen visited by “Frank,” a six-foot-tall chrome-headed rabbit that tells him the world will end in 28 days. Frank compels him to commit acts of vandalism, including flooding his high school by smashing a hole in a water main with an axe and setting fire to the home of a motivational speaker (Patrick Swayze) who turns out to be a pedophile.
Donnie’s parents don’t know what to make of his actions, nor do his sisters (one is played by Maggie Gyllenhaal). Even Donnie seems to be unsure why he’s doing those things, but he knows he must obey Frank to keep the world from ending. The plot accelerates in its third act, barreling toward a conclusion likely to compel the viewer to start the movie over to try to understand what has just happened. A third viewing may be needed.
Fans of the movie have likely taken in multiple viewings during the nearly 16 years since Donnie Darko was released, including the Director’s Cut that hit DVD in 2004 and was later issued on Blu-ray at least a couple times before Arrow secured the rights for this new Limited Edition. I don’t know for sure that all the bonus features in the previous releases were ported to this one, but I own a two-Blu-ray set of the Director’s Cut that Fox released in 2008, and it looks like everything from that one is found here.
Arrow has included the theatrical version and the Director’s Cut on separate discs to maximize the bit rates available to them, and they put both iterations through 4K restorations that have them looking as good as possible on Blu-ray. I’ve read online that they also included some physical artwork and a hardcover book in the retail release, but I was sent preview discs, so I can’t speak to those items (I’m hoping to get a retail copy).
The main new bonus feature is Deus Ex Machina: The Philosophy of Donnie Darko, an 85-minute making-of piece that features interviews with writer/director Richard Kelly, producer Sean McKittrick, cinematographer Steven B. Poster, editor Sam Bauer, and others. None of the cast members appear, except James Duval, who played Frank the bunny, but this is still a nice retrospective piece that takes us through the creation of the movie, from the earliest inspiration that struck Kelly to the difficulties getting it released in theaters and beyond. (Fun fact: The documentary was made by Ballyhoo, who have created many great special features for Shout! Factor’s Mystery Science Theater 3000 DVD sets.)
The other new bonus piece is The Goodbye Place, a 1996 short film made by Kelly that displays many of the themes that would later make their way into Donnie Darko. I always find it interesting to see how many filmmakers of the writer/director mold often latch onto certain ideas early in their creative careers and later come back to those themes many times.
I’m pretty sure everything else in this set has been ported over from various earlier DVD and/or Blu-ray releases, but since I’m only familiar with the 2008 Director’s Cut on Blu-ray from Fox, I don’t know for sure. Feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.
Here are the rest of the bonus features:
- Three commentary tracks, all of them featuring Kelly. Two of them are found on the theatrical version: One with Kelly and Jake Gyllenhaal and the other with Kelly, McKittrick, and the rest of the main cast members. The third track features Kelly and fellow director Kevin Smith chatting over the Director’s Cut. As you’d imagine, there’s a different vibe to each of these tracks (and kudos to Kelly for doing three commentaries).
- About half an hour of deleted and extended scenes, most of which are found in the Director’s Cut, along with four minutes of B roll footage
- A 52-minute production diary with optional commentary by Poster
- They Made Me Do It, featuring art inspired by the movie
- They Made Me Do It II (Too), which spends half an hour looking at the movie’s legacy
- #1 Fan: A Darkomentary, which won a contest held at DonnieDarko.com
- Storyboard comparisons and an image gallery
- The Cunning Visions infomercial from the movie, with optional commentary
- A music video with that now-classic version of Tears For Fears’ “Mad World” that was used at the end of the film
- Trailers for the theatrical version and Director’s Cut, along with five TV spots
If that’s not enough to satisfy the most ardent Donnie Darko fan, at least until a 4K UHD release comes along, then I don’t know what will make them happy, except maybe a visit from a six-foot-tall rabbit with a chrome head.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★