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Introduction
When I tell people that Donnie Darko is my favorite movie, they question my knowledge of film in general.  They wonder how I can find a movie that is so “new” to be the best movie ever.  I remind them that I never said that it is the best movie ever, it is my favorite movie and there is a distinction.  I recognize the incredible importance of Orson Welles’ Citizen Kane, the influence of Hitchcock’s best films and the sweeping emotional and technical merit of Spielberg’s greatest accomplishments.  I, however, judge a movie on its ability to pull me in such that I forget the world around me.  When I first saw Donnie Darko in the theater, I was dumbfounded.  It took several minutes after the end for me to understand the magnitude of what I had just beheld.  I wasn’t sure what the movie was about until several more viewings were under my belt.  However, the film was able to transport me out of my humble everyday life and into its original and undyingly interesting realm.  It is this experience that allows me to classify Donnie Darko as my favorite film of all time.  You can imagine how pleased I was when the film was released on a feature-rich DVD.

Donnie Darko
Movie
Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) lives in a quiet suburban town called Middlesex.  We enter his story during what seems to be a typical family dinner.  Set brilliantly in 1988, the movie opens with a reference to the Presidential race, with Donnie’s sister (played by Jake’s real life sister, Maggie Gyllenhaal) announcing her support for Dukakas.  What ensues is a heated family debate.  The head of the family, Eddie Darko (Holmes Osborne) and his wife Rose (Mary McDonnell) seem to have little control over their children at the dinner table as argument persists and expletives fly.  We soon learn that Donnie is not only on medication but seeing a psychiatrist. Rounding out the Darko family is the young, adorable Samantha (Daveigh Chase).

The audience is quickly drawn into Donnie’s mind as we experience his first encounter with the six foot tall talking rabbit Frank (James Duvall).  Frank carries a message concerning the end of the world.  Having lead Donnie to a local golf course, he gives Donnie the exact number of days, hours, minutes and seconds until the universe’s dmise.  

When Donnie awakes the following morning with the course owner and Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze) looming over him, he quickly stumbles home.  As he approaches his home, he realizes that, over night, it has become the scene of a disaster narrowly avoided.  For reasons unbeknownst to anyone, including the FAA, a jet engine has fallen through the Darko’s roof and straight through Donnie’s bed.  What follows this incident is Donnie’s struggle to understand why this has happened, what is going to happen next, why Frank has chosen him and to answer many, many questions that have complicated answers.

While this may sound overly complicated (and be sure that it is not easy to figure out), there are several characters along the way that add pieces to the puzzle.  There’s the new girl in school, Gretchen (Jena Malone) who begins a romantic fling with Donnie; there’s the annoying gym teacher Mrs. Farmer (Beth Grant) who reports Donnie’s behavior to the principal; there Donnie’s English teacher Ms. Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore) and his Science teacher Professor Monnitoff (Noah Wiley) who both introduce clues that will be largely beneficial.  Every single one of these characters, amongst others, is vitally important to understanding the complex story at work.

As Frank plants the ideas of time travel in Donnie’s head, the viewer is forced to constantly question everything he or she has concluded up to a certain point.  Donnie is involved in some criminal activity while following Frank.  All of this leads to new discoveries.  Nothing is a coincidence in this movie.  And nothing is exactly what it seems.  

Is Donnie insane?  Well, I can answer that one way and you could, after watching, answer it another and we could both be right.  The beauty of this film, which defies classification, is that it seamlessly blends many genres to tell a story that is entirely new.  It would surprise me to find someone who could honestly say they “got” the entire meaning of the movie on first viewing.  There is a definite satisfaction when you watch it for the first time, but it requires several viewings to uncover the many rich layers.

Donnie Darko
Video
The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation was a challenge to review in a way that would characterize both the intentions of writer/director Richard Kelly and the technical merits of the disc itself.  The pervasive nature of the picture is extremely dark.  This, I must say, is obviously intentional.  Dark subjects are explored in Donnie Darko and the picture reflects the underlying moods.

Now, aside from the dark picture (director’s intentions), there are some problems with this transfer (technical merits).  There is some softness in scenes that aren’t in shadow.  There’s no noticeable edge enhancement, really.  Unfortunately, you will notice some scratches and nicks on the print.

Overall, the picture quality is quite sufficient albeit not as great as desired.  In separating the way the movie was filmed and lit from the actual problems with the print and the transfer, I have arrived at a slightly above average score.  While we do have small problems, none of them are enough to drag the overall rating of this movie down.

Donnie Darko
Audio
Presented with a Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround track, the audio for Donnie Darko impresses where it needs to.  Michael Andrew’s score is a joy to hear and, much like the film, is completely original.  The score, though, never drowns out the dialogue which is emitted from the front and center channels.  The effects for Frank’s voice are essential to a perfect viewing of this film.  When Frank speaks, his voice is omnipresent, filling the room through all channels.  Other effects are handled well and, while this isn’t a stand out mix, it is very good for the film.
There are also Dolby Digital 2.0 English and French mixes.  By all means (and this goes without saying for those with home systems), watch the movie with the 5.1 mix.

Donnie Darko
Extras
This disc is feature packed and is surprising considering the small size of this film.  As always I will begin with the feature length audio commentaries, of which there are two on this disc.  First, we have a track that includes director Richard Kelly and star Jake Gyllenhaal.  These two have an admirable rapport and kept my interest for the entire length of the movie.  There are behind-the-scenes stories as well as technical information.  The track is informative, sometimes funny and always engaging.  The second track is an actor's commentary that includes Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Beth Grant, and James Duval.  This track can be confusing at times, but more often than not, there are fun stories being told.  They do not always focus on what is actually going on onscreen, but this can be forgiven as everyone tries to get their stories in.  This, too, is a fun track but shouldn’t be your first choice.

There are 20 deleted/extended scenes on this disc each with optional director commentary.  Some of these scenes enhance the story and should definitely have been left in the film (Kelly was under pressure to shorten the running time).  Other scenes provide too much information too soon and were cut so as to allow the viewer to take time to form his or her own conclusions.  Even the titles give too much away, so I will not go through each and every scene.  If you watch no other special feature on this disc, watch the deleted scene in the arcade.  There is dialogue in this scene that will, ultimately, provide you with the final piece of the puzzle in understanding this movie.  Other than trying to keep another level of ambiguity to the film, I can think of no other reason why this specific scene was chosen to be cut.

Next, you have the option to watch the “Cunning Visions” infomercials in their entirety.  While these scenes are humorous on their own, you simply must watch them with their “commentary”.  Two actors were brought in to pretend to be the directors of these infomercials.  The commentary they have recorded is simply hilarious.  A useless special feature, but one that is very welcome.

You can next read the pages from “The Philosophy of Time Travel” book that is seen in the movie.  As always, text on screen isn’t the easiest to read, but here it is worth the time and effort.  This feature will provide you with some valuable information and actually adds to the movie itself.  Very cool.

There is a website gallery showing some of the highlights of the award-winning Donnie Darko  movie website.  Skip this feature, though and visit the site itself at www.donniedarko.com.  The website is simply wonderful and will provide some answers for those that are persistent.

To round out the disc we have a music video for the wonderful “Mad World” remake.  There is an art gallery, production stills, cast and crew information, the theatrical trailer and 5 TV spots.

Overall, this is a great set of features for an amazing film.

Donnie Darko
Overall
Wow!  After writing this review I seriously want to sit down and watch this movie yet again.  After watching this movie with the specific intent to review, I have seen this movie 83 times.  It is that good.  Although many may be thrown off by the complexity of the storyline (not to mention its less than specific genre attitude), there are mounds of hidden plot devices and themes to be found for those that are patient and willing to watch a film more than once.  The video presentation is less than stellar, although very acceptable.  The audio is very good for the movie.  Finally, we have an excellent feature package.  Do not rent Donnie Darko.  Buy it.  Buy it now.


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