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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale (Blu-ray)
S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale (Blu-ray)
Fox // R // May 12, 2009 // Region A
List Price: $29.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Michael Zupan | posted May 25, 2009 | E-mail the Author
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When you see a film like Donnie Darko, you can't help but feel that it stands apart from anything you've ever seen. Intricate layers continue to peel away after multiple viewings, ensuring impressive longevity due to its unique take on some very puzzling unknowns. A rewarding experience even after its mysterious are unraveled, it will forever be heralded as a piece of timeless art, a voice in cinematic history that can never be replicated. Studio execs make their most baffling 'unwarranted follow-up' decision to date however with S. Darko, proving once and for all that studios will always defy intellect and logic whenever there's a buck to be made. Continuing to drag a franchise like The Mummy through the mud is one thing, but to do it to such a complex and multi-layered story is unthinkable. To say I was skeptical is a gross understatement, especially considering Richard Kelly (Writer and Director of Donnie Darko) made it a point to let us all know he had nothing to do with the sequel. And let me tell ya, it's a good thing he distanced himself away from this one.

After Donnie's death, Samantha's family pretty much disbanded. Her older sister got married and hit the road, and her parents treat their surviving children like they don't even exist. Alone and unloved, Samantha takes off on a road trip to California with a friend, hoping to finally fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a professional dancer. Running away from her problems is going to have to wait though, as her friend's car decides to stop working near a quaint little desert town in Utah. After meeting some of the most clichéd bunch of characters the town has to offer, a crashing meteor sets a series of time altering events in motion. A local nut job known as 'Iraq Jack' begins to warn the local residents about the end of the world, and creepy rabbits and wormholes are once again the visions of choice for those that are directly affected by the occurrence of a tangent universe.

Donnie Darko was such an intriguing film for numerous reasons, and it reached an impressively wide audience for just as many. Kelly's presentation on destiny, fate, time travel, and how all these ideas intricately weaved into some very real concepts of physics, was absolutely brilliant. These ideas were fresh and mind-bending the first time around, but those behind S. Darko (Director Chris Fisher and Writer Nathan Atkins) have actually found a way to make these ideas as bland as a cup of unflavored yogurt. There's been no effort to expand the ideology we already know, nor is there a clever enough twist to warrant repeat viewings. It's obvious that S. Darko buckled under the pressure of being in the shadow of its predecessor. Instead of trying some new and bold ideas, they decided what the audience really wanted were more bunnies warning of the apocalypse and a whole bunch of wormholes. To say 'they missed the point', doesn't even begin to convey how far off Fisher and Atkins really are however, as further interest is lost due to the complete lack of perceptive contrast from within the tangent universe. Kelly was able to blur the line between fantasy and reality with surgical precision. The living receiver was seemingly living in the 'real world', but their experience at the center of everything that was happening was ultimately one of solitude. S. Darko tries to recreate this effect, but the result is one that's disappointingly linear. This straight-to-video bomb tried very hard to be a carbon copy of its predecessor, but completely forgot about the qualities that made the original so enjoyable; mystery and intrigue. When you do nothing more than replicate what's already been done, these vital elements simply disappear.

It's clear that Fisher and Atkins weren't educated on the source material, and as much as this might sound like blasphemy to the purists, this fact could have been forgivable. If they at least tried to make S. Darko more of a self contained story as opposed to a bastardized version of the original, it could have been serviceable. Unfortunately our tale of woe doesn't end there however, as other aspects of the production were just as bad. Take the entire cast for example, they're completely unmemorable. Fisher and Atkins tried to reintroduce us to copies of Karen Pomeroy and Jim Cunningham, but this proved to be an epic failure. Unsurprisingly, the biggest non-contender of all is the very character this film revolves around, Samantha Darko. There's absolutely no comparison between Sam and her late brother. Donnie was interesting because of how dynamic he was. He was in his own little universe, yet closer to reality than anyone at the same time. More importantly though, he had personality, something that Samantha severely lacked. Daveigh Chase's portrayal of Sam oozed of high school caliber script reading, often making me wonder if she took a bottle of Nyquil as prep for each scene. It's amazing how even with the mind bending concepts of The Philosophy of Time Travel at play, it could still be reduced to nothing thanks to some poor writing and bad casting. I didn't feel as if a single member of the cast was a real person. They were all written and directed to be as cliché as a girl that runs up a flight of stairs in a horror film, and Fisher and Atkins once again show just how out of their league they were in undertaking S. Darko.

Every issue this film has ultimately boils down to the script. I don't want to blame Atkins for misunderstanding the point in every regard, I really don't. To have to write a script for the follow up to Donnie Darko has got to be one of the most intimidating jobs anyone in Hollywood could ever take, so I thought that maybe, just maybe, Atkins was a clever and talented person that ended up taking on an unwinnable task. Looking back on it now though, I know this isn't the case. Atkins shouldn't be allowed behind a keyboard again, let alone making money for his writing. S. Darko sports some of the most yawn-worthy dialogue I've ever heard. What's even more disturbing is how Atkins and Fisher have made the manipulated dead in S. Darko pop up out of nowhere with dramatic flashes of lightning, reducing another vital aspect of the equation to nothing more than a cliché. You weren't writing/filming a horror movie guys...

Quite simply, this is a horrible film. Despite my concerns before watching this piece of cinematic tragedy, I actually found myself to be quite excited to see what would happen in S. Darko. Sure, I expected the movie to not even come close to Donnie Darko in context or style, but I certainly didn't expect it to be this bad. It's a good thing the original masterpiece by Kelly is good enough to remain untarnished in my mind, but I have a feeling that the Darko universe is going to end up being ruined for a lot of people. All I can recommend is that you stay as far away from this movie as humanly possible.


Video

The 1.78:1 image has been encoded with AVC at a resolution of 1080p, and although it's not perfect, it's better than I would have expected for a straight to home video release. Most of the feature sparkles in almost every possible way. The amount of detail that can be seen is impressive, especially for a print that doesn't exhibit much in the way of film grain. Color saturation is just as impressive, bringing picture perfect imagery to the outdoor daytime scenes. The contrast is fairly impressive most of the time as well, offering some very nice black levels that lend to some nice depth in the daytime scenes. The contrast unfortunately doesn't hold up as well during nighttime scenes, as the blacks end up looking pretty muddy at times. Some of the darker scenes in the film are also pretty much the only times you'll see any grain in S. Darko, and unfortunately this brings a little digital noise into the picture as well. The only other real complaint I have is that there's some edge enhancement that can be seen from time to time. Other than that, S. Darko is a surprisingly beautiful transfer overall, and for those of you that absolutely have to see the second installment in the now franchised Darko series, then there's no doubt in my mind that the Blu-ray is absolutely the way to go.


Audio

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track surprised me even more than the video transfer did. There's some very nice use of the directional sound field, especially during meteor shower scenes, or whenever the manipulated dead are speaking. These sound effects also show off the film's surprising dynamic range, as the volume and bass both surprised me with how loud and robust they could be compared to the perfectly balanced dialogue this track had to offer. The music S. Darko utilizes is just as surprising in this respect. With all the things S. Darko got wrong as a film, at least the Blu-ray release quality itself is pretty impressive!


Extras

Audio Commentary with Filmmakers (Chris Fisher and Nathan Atkins) - If you took the time to watch this film, then you may as well take the time to hear with Fisher and Atkins have to say about their effort, right? This track offers some surprising insight into the technical aspects of the film, as well as spending a little time to discuss the prospect of creating another Darko flick. As you can probably guess, the technical discussion far exceeds the time that's spent discussing the difficulties that took place behind the scenes, but you'll come out of this track with some sort of answer as to what Fisher and Atkins was trying to accomplish and some of the reasons why it didn't work out. I think listening to this track was a little dry due to all the technical stuff that was discussed, but it's all the information discussed in between that makes this worth a listen.

Deleted Scenes - There are six deleted scenes that can be seen, and they can be viewed all at once or individually. When a movie is downright terrible to begin with, it's hard to imagine why certain scenes stay, and why ones such as these have to go. With the film lacking any sort of quality at all as it is, the only thing these scenes would have added to the film is its runtime. If you didn't like the movie, there's really no need to take a gander at these.

The Making of S. Darko - There's a lot of discussion from both cast and filmmakers in this featurette about the ideology behind the Darko universe and their most recent take on it, but this featurette surprisingly reveals the director admitting his lack of knowledge on the original ideas from the source. I can't believe they actually had that cut into a promotional featurette for the film on its very own home video release. It's like they expect you to pay money for this piece of crap, and then they rub your face in it! Doesn't seem right to me.

Utah Too Much - Some of the acting talent actually came up with a song during production of the film, and the end result is here. It really doesn't have anything to do with the film itself, so to me it really just feels like filler material.


Overall

I think I finally found a way to justify this horrible excuse for a film. S. Darko touches on the old saying that every action has an equal and opposite reaction. With Donnie Darko being such an artistically inspiring film, perhaps Fisher and Atkins were trying to complement this ideology by intentionally making a film that's horrid on every possible level? Yeah, I figured it was a stretch. In all seriousness however, I hardly ever find a film that I can't appreciate on at least some kind of level, but that's exactly how it went down when I watched S. Darko. The writing was the film's ultimate downfall, undoubtedly causing the domino effect that disenchanted both cast and crew alike, ultimately making this one of the worst sequels ever made. I know some of you out there are intrigued enough to want to see this film no matter how many bad reviews you find on the web, but skip this one, trust me. If you don't heed my warning, then at least do the right thing and see this on Blu-ray as opposed to the standard DVD release, as the presentation we have in the audio/video department is about the only justice this release has going for it.
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