Donnie Darko: Limited Edition (US - BD RA)
Gabe compares Arrow's new 4K restoration to the original Fox Blu-ray...
Donnie is a troubled high school student: in therapy, prone to sleepwalking, and in possession of an imaginary friend, a six-foot rabbit named Frank, who tells him the world is going to end in 28 days 06 hours 42 minutes and 12 seconds. During that time, he will navigate teenage life, narrowly avoid death in the form of a falling jet engine, follow Frank’s maladjusted instructions, and try to maintain the space-time continuum. (From Arrow’s official synopsis)
Richard Kelly’s Donnie Darko – you know it, you love it, you joined the cult, and watch it several times every year. Or maybe you didn’t/don’t. Maybe you used to love it, but saw it recently and realized you were at a prime age to appreciate it back in 2001. Maybe it didn’t age as well as you thought it would. Or maybe you were turned off by the mystique-dampening director’s cut release. Or maybe you never saw it and totally will like it. Wherever you land on the Donnie Darko spectrum, if you’re interested enough to read a review of Arrow Video’s brand new, Limited Edition super-deluxe Blu-ray collection, you’ve probably already developed that opinion. You’ve probably also read some spectacular literature on the subject as well, so I’m not going to waste any more of your time – let’s rap about video quality!
Thanks to its cult reputation and the fact that it was released during an early point in the life cycle of DVDs – when everyone and their mother was still very excited about special features and double-dipping – Donnie Darko has had a healthy life on home video, including special edition DVDs, Director’s Cut collector’s edition DVDs, standard release Blu-rays, 10th anniversary Blu-rays, and Ultimate Edition Blu-rays. So what, if anything, does Arrow Video have to offer with this dual US/UK Limited Edition release? Well, quite a bit, it turns out, beginning with brand new 4K restorations of both the Theatrical and Director’s Cuts, which have been taken from the original camera negatives (and 35mm digital intermediate elements in the case of some Director’s Cut scenes), all exclusively for this release. The restoration work was supervised and approved by both director Richard Kelly and cinematographer Steven Poster.
Generally speaking, there is not a night & day difference between the two transfers, at least not at first blush. When the footage is compressed to 1080p and set alongside a different and not-all-that-old 1080p transfer, the clearly stated differences are slight changes in framing (the remaster is a bit tighter on all sides), brightness (the original disc is notably brighter, probably because it was mastered with a standard definition DVD release in mind), and colour-timing (more on that below). However, a closer inspection of the full-size comparison screencaps on this page (new Arrow restoration top, old Fox BD bottom) reveals improvements in fine detail, which is most clearly illustrated by the grain structure and the crispness of background shapes. The Fox BD is comparatively mushy with very soft textures. It isn’t necessarily DNR’d, just a relatively weak scan. Arrow’s 4K remaster features plenty of natural grain that never gets in the way of Poster’s diffused daytime backlights (some viewers might find the grain distracting, I guess, but it appears accurate to me). The tightening of background shapes and larger file size also helps to reduce a number of compression and over-sharpening effects seen in the Fox transfer. The colour quality is generally the same, though Arrow has boosted some of the blues, slightly desaturated some of the reds, and pumped up the dynamic range with better, more pure blacks. Considering Kelly and Poster’s participation, I assume that these slight temperature/contrast changes were given big ‘thumbs up’ from the filmmakers. Overall, this is certainly the best this film can look, outside of the 4K version of the restoration that Arrow is currently touring in theaters across the US.
Both the Theatrical and Director’s Cuts of Donnie Darko are presented in their original 5.1 sound and uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio. Arrow was handed the mixes directly by Lakeshore, who also produced the tracks for the older Blu-rays, so if there is a difference between the releases, it’s not particularly notable. All of this is fine, because the mix is clean, well-balanced, and features a bevy of subtle and not-so-subtle directional cues. Much of the film is dialogue-heavy and purposefully relatively quiet, but the sci-fi elements (Frank’s reverberating voice and the time tubes/columns/spears for example) and, of course, the plane crash, offer plenty of multi-channel movement and LFE impact. The loudest aural highlights, however, are generally found in the musical soundtrack, both Michael Andrews’ spooky, sad score and the fan-favourite ‘80s pop tunes.
Disc One: Theatrical Cut
- Commentary with writer/director Richard Kelly and actor Jake Gyllenhaal – The first of the two original DVD’s commentary tracks.
- Commentary with Kelly, producer Sean McKittrick and actors Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone, Beth Grant, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross, and James Duval – The second of the original DVD’s commentary tracks.
- Deus ex Machina: The Philosophy of Donnie Darko (85:23, HD) – The first new extra is a feature-length retrospective documentary that traces the making-of the film, from writing to casting, cinematography, costume/production design, filming, editing, visual effects, music, distribution, early audience reactions, and the cult following. It features interviews with Kelly, McKittrick, Poster, Edwards, editor Sam Bauer, costume designer April Ferry, actor Duval, and critic Rob Galluzzo.
- The Goodbye Place (8:43, HD) – Kelly’s 1996 black & white short, which anticipates some of the themes and ideas later found in his feature films.
- 20 deleted/extended scenes with optional commentary by Richard Kelly (31:54, SD)
Disc Two: Director’s Cut:
- Commentary by Kelly and filmmaker Kevin Smith on the Director’s Cut – This original Director’s Cut DVD’s commentary track features the writer/director and his friend/fan/ Clerks director Smith discussing the longer cut and cult reactions to the film.
- The Donnie Darko Production Diary (52:54, SD) – This archival documentary was first released with the Director’s Cut DVD. It is a fly-on-the-wall type look at the film’s production with optional commentary from cinematographer Steven Poster
- Archive interviews (14:19, SD) with Kelly, Poster, actors Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, James Duval, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Holmes Osborne, Noah Wyle and Katharine Ross, producers McKittrick, Nancy Juvonen, Hunt Lowry and Casey La Scala.
- They Made Me Do It (4:48, SD) – A look at the viral marketing street graffiti produced for the UK release.
- They Made Me Do It Too: The Cult of Donnie Darko (30:17, SD) – A featurette concerning the film’s cult fans that was made for the Director’s Cut DVD.
- #1 Fan: A Darkomentary (13:18, SD) – A fan-made short that had won a contest to be included on the Director’s Cut DVD.
- Storyboard comparisons (7:58, SD)
- B-Roll footage (4:37, SD)
- Cunning Visions Infomercials (with optional commentary by Richard Kelly) (5:42, SD)
- "Mad World" music video by Gary Jules – Donnie Darko version (3:21, SD)
- Image gallery
- Director's Cut trailer (0:55)
- TV spots
If you love Donnie Darko, you owe yourself this upgrade. The 4K restoration improves the overall sharpness and grain structure of an already decent HD transfer, ensuring that this is the best that the movie has ever looked on home video. I’m sure that the full 4K transfer making the rounds theatrically looks even better than that, meaning that fans will eventually need to buy a 4K UHD disc or digital copy. Until then, Arrow has included all previously available extras in an attractive box, alongside a well-made and brand-new retrospective documentary.
* Note: The above images are taken from the Arrow Blu-ray (top) and Fox Blu-ray (bottom), then resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian
Release Date: 18th April 2017
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English (both cuts)
Extras: Three Commentary tracks, Deus ex Machina: The Philosophy of Donnie Darko, The Goodbye Place, Deleted/Extended Scenes, Trailers, Donnie Darko Production Diaries, Archival Interviews, They Made Me Do It, They Made Me Do It Too, #1 Fan: A Darkomentary, Cunning Visions Shorts, Mad World Music Video, Image Gallery, TV Spots, DVD Copies
Easter Egg: No
Director: Richard Kelly
Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Mary McDonnell, Katharine Ross, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle
Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery and Sci-Fi
Length: 113 minutes
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