“Why am I not f***-ing smart enough to get this?” Clerks director
Kevin Smith admits to thinking when he first saw this 2001 cult flick.
Probably a lot of people felt like this upon first seeing this willfully
obscure and often inaccessible time travel tale about a troubled teen (Jake
Gyllenhaal) who may or may not be a schizophrenic, obeying a creepy-looking
7-foot bunny rabbit who tells him to vandalize his school and burn down a
motivational speaker’s house. (We’ve all been there.)
The film flopped at the box office – it was released soon after 9/11 and
America didn’t seem to be in the mood for a movie in which a jetliner’s
loose turbine engine crushes a suburban house. Or maybe it was the giant
bunny that put them off. Who knows?
Despite – or rather because of - its general weirdness
Donnie Darko however became a bona fide
cult item particularly in the UK and a “director’s cut” version of the movie
actually saw a cinema release in 2004. As director Richard Kelly is at pains
to point out, the newer version isn’t the “preferred” version of the movie,
rather a “remix” (his own words). We agree with him: the original theatrical
version is better and the one which Donnie Darko newbies ought to
check out instead.
The so-called “director’s cut” bloats the original’s 122 minutes running
time to 133 minutes. (Many critics already pointed out that the film was
pretty self-indulgent to begin with – much of
Donnie Darko is cribbed from the director / writer’s own experiences as
a teen.) The new cut also tries too hard to “explain” onscreen events with
pieces of text from a book titled The Philosophy of Time Travel. Perhaps the
director was stung by criticisms that the movie was incomprehensible, never
realizing that for many followers that that was exactly its appeal in the
first place. For fans the “director’s cut” is however a must-see.
THE DISCS: The Donnie Darko Blu-Ray gets it right by packaging
both versions of the movie as a single double disc set instead of making
fans shell out twice for separate discs. Except for the great-looking
high-def transfer there isn’t much that is new on the Blu-ray though. Most,
if not all, of the special features are ported straight from the DVD
editions. This is a pity since it would have been nice to have some newer
director’s commentaries, especially now that the movie is almost a decade
In the interim director Richard Kelly’s promising career (Donnie Darko
was his debut feature film) seemed to have stalled after the debacle that
was Southland Tales and the
underwhelming Donnie Darko-lite effort The
Box starring Cameron Diaz, which simply sank at the box office last
year. Main actor Jake Gyllenhaal also seems to have shed his indie acting
roots and appeared in this year’s Jerry Bruckheimer blockbuster
Prince of Persia. Stalled careers and
selling out – that’s what happens in life, kids . . .
Still, the audio commentaries are all worth checking out. There seems to
have been a plot logic behind the movie after all according to director
Kelly even though it isn’t how we saw the movie at all. (We’re not the only
ones. On one commentary Kelly is joined by Chasing Amy and
Mallrats director Kevin Smith who points out exactly that.) To be honest
Kelly’s “explanation” of the film’s plot is still on the vague side, not
that fans of the movie would mind.
WORTH IT? Much of Donnie Darko’s cult appeal lies in the
accurate way in which it recounts awkward adolescence and teenage rebellion.
(“The Breakfast Club as filmed by David Lynch” is how one commentator
on the discs describes it.) Even if you’re no longer a troubled teen there
are still loads to appreciate. Donnie Darko is a stunningly original,
one-of-a-kind ride and rewatching it for the umpteenth time we again
realized that this is a cult worth belonging to. Unlike most cults they
won’t take you for every penny you’ve got. The membership fees - ₤14 for
this disc set – are quite affordable.
RECOMMENDATION: Some new audio commentaries would have been welcome.
Funny how quickly references to Napster became outdated, isn’t it? (Will it
be the same with Facebook one day? We think so.) Still, these discs boast
brilliant sound and image quality and are ideal both for long-time and new
fans. Get in contact with your inner emotionally disturbed teenager and buy