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Donnie Darko-Despite all the post hype, it rocks
Donnie Darko (DVD)
Member Name: jonnyfun06
Donnie Darko (DVD)
Advantages: A total mind twister
Disadvantages: You will talk about it for days and days and days and...
Here I am, jumping onto the bandwagon long after the music has gone out of style yet again. Donnie Darko was the sleeper hit of 2001, one of those rare films that succeed through word of mouth and audience acclaim, rather than studio hyperbole and clever marketing.
It's October 1988. Donnie Darko is a troubled teen growing up in a sleepy suburb. He's in therapy, on medication and a chronic sleepwalker. Then one night he's drawn to the local golf course, where a giant rabbit named Frank appears to him. Frank tells him that there are 28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds until the world ends. That's barely enough time to meet a girl and fall in love. Then a jet engine falls on his house!
Donnie Darko gets a quite pleasant 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. It's pretty clear throughout, with only a hint of grain and occasional softness. There is a low budget, indie feel to the film certainly, but that doesn't extend to the effects and CGI work, which is top-notch.
You have a choice between DD 2.0 and DD 5.1 English, with optional English and Spanish subtitles. In an odd move, the audio choices can only be made from the special features menu. This film has some really effective use of surround. There is a palpable atmosphere to the film, some really dark moments, and of course a sublime selection of music to accompany it.
Some really neat animated menus showcase this film, and the disc design is impressive. Look out for an Easter Egg on the main page that leads to some extra deleted scenes.
The main deleted scenes are in the Behind Frank's Mask section of the disc. There are 16 in all, and most if not all add quite a bit of detail to the film. It's understandable why there is a Director's Cut. These scenes are presented with optional commentary, but are in a rough-cut form. You'll also find b-roll footage/outtakes, the Cunning Visions Infomercials in full, as well as with a spoof commentary, finishing with production stills in this section.
The theatrical trailer and 5 TV spots get a section of their own.
Cast and Crew has 20 text filmographies, along with 15 interviews. These interviews are brief, and in sound bite form, and are hardly informative.
I'm Seeing Stuff collects the artwork of the film in one section, totalling 4 galleries, and one featurette. You can also read "The Philosophy Of Time Travel" if you so choose.
Finally there are two commentaries with this film. The first is with Richard Kelly and Jake Gyllenhaal, which is nice, informative and eventually yields much information about the film. The second commentary, which collects much of the remaining cast and crew together, is a loud free for all that is difficult to unravel.
It seems like a lot written down, but only the deleted scenes and the first commentary really offer any replay value. The interviews are a little pointless, and a couple of the featurettes have only the most tenuous link to the film.
Donnie Darko is almost textbook when it comes to cult breakthroughs. It's this decade's Star Wars, gaining notoriety through word of mouth, and becoming fashionable to watch and to talk about at dinner parties. I never encountered any "I watched Donnie Darko" T-Shirts, but I wouldn't be surprised. Fortunately the likelihood of Donnie Darko sequels and prequels is remote.
The bright side is that it is an enjoyable mind twister of a film. It's one of those films that demands repeat viewings, as the director has secreted little hints and winks in the film that pay off the second or third time around. It's also useful in figuring out what's going on.
In Donnie Darko, the sci-fi elements are integral to the story, but the 1988 setting, the richly coloured in background to Donnie's world is what makes it such a nostalgic draw. We're taken right back to a world without the Internet, without mobile phones, but with some of the most memorable pop music ever laid to CD. Donnie Darko takes all those eighties teen movies and gives them an ironic twist.
Like any good satire it pulls out those aspects that we are uncomfortable remembering. We have the slightly dysfunctional family, the mother who chooses not to accept that her son is growing and changing. Like all such eighties' families, she's handed off responsibility to an overpaid therapist, who insists on talking Donnie through his feelings. Also a painful memory of the decade is the motivational speaker, the kind of conman who made millions by writing a book telling you how to think yourself into success, creating his own lingo to give him an air of credibility.
Of course this is just background, as Donnie Darko is a far more complex and eerie film. It has that cult cachet of not settling for one genre. There are elements of comedy, drama, and teen romance to it. But most of all is the overlying strangeness and undercurrent of horror.
Frank is not the most pleasant creation to ever grace the screen, and the way that he and Donnie interact is certainly unsettling. Perceptions are twisted and the laws of cause and effect rendered meaningless. Yet the film remains consistent to its own internal rules, so that when the denouement arrives, it doesn't disappoint.
If cult could be a genre, then Donnie Darko does follow some of the same conventions. One is that it gives a world that appeals to its audience; here it is the rose-tinted vision of a bygone decade. The mix of genres is another, while the third is how quotable the film is. The dialogue can be totally irrelevant as long as it is memorable.
The story is strong, the twist appealing, as is the films setting, but perhaps the strongest part of Donnie Darko is the richness of the characters and how well they are written. While the story may be fantastic, the way that they interact is natural, moving and funny. It is the core of the film, and it is this that gives it its real repeat value, above the sci-fi and the nostalgia.
Donnie Darko isn't the earth-shattering revolution in cinema that was acclaimed five years ago, but it builds on established ideas and presents itself in an original way. It is entertaining though, and if a good film can be defined as something that provides talking points for the drive home from the cinema, then Donnie Darko is a must see.
Summary: Its now a must see film...but you really must see it.