It's hard to believe that Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko was once almost dumped straight to video before earning a spot in the 2001 Sundance Film Festival (where it was not particularly well-received), and still ended up getting a limited theatrical release (where, again, it was not particularly well-received). Since then, this low-budget sci-fi drama has grown in stature exponentially, earning a full-fledged director's cut in 2004, several home video releases, and a firm foothold near the top of this century's list of cult classics. Featuring a cast that includes the likes of Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone, Katharine Ross, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osbourne, Patrick Swayze, and Noah Wyle, Donnie Darko also serves as an early career highlight for Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal.
Though little seen until its initial run on DVD (which included an excellent 2002 Special Edition and the obligatory Director's Cut three years later), I'd imagine that most anyone halfway interested in Donnie Darko has likely watched it by now; that's my way of saying a plot recap isn't really appropriate here, nor is any attempted stab at critical analysis. It's all because this beefed-up Limited Edition is for die-hard fans only: those new to this loopy tale of a troubled teen, his horrifying imaginary friend, falling jet engines, Sparkle Motion, and the potential end of the world can simply pick of one of the many DVD and Blu-ray editions already available for pennies on the dollar. Just watch the theatrical cut first (it's better by a long shot), read this laundry list of all the differences if that floats your boat, watch your favorite version a few more times to understand what's going on, appreciate the fact that Kelly was only 24 years old when it was written, pick up this nifty book...and stay far, far away from S. Darko. You're welcome.
Arrow Video's Limited Edition combo pack is a domestic port of the UK boxed set released late last year, one that offers a substantial improvement over Fox's already-stacked 2011 Blu-ray. Featuring a brand new 4K restoration of the original camera negative (for both the theatrical and director's cuts, included on separate Blu-rays and DVDs in this four-disc set), a wealth of old and new bonus features, and beautifully designed deluxe packaging that includes a 100-page hardcover book, it's as definitive an edition as die-hard fans could hope for. Unless you already imported this bad boy a few months ago, there's no reason not to indulge.
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Arrow's Limited Edition is sourced from a new 4K restoration of the original camera negative supervised by director Richard Kelly and cinematographer Steven Poster. Not surprisingly, both the theatrical and director's cuts (Disc 1 and Disc 2) look fantastic and rich with detail; they're not identical for obvious reasons, but the re-inserted scenes on the director's cut match extremely well with the "original" footage. Contrast levels, shadow detail, and color saturation are all much improved across the board from the older DVD and Blu-ray editions, and film grain is substantially more noticeable (as it should be!); there's no signs of excessive noise reduction, compression artifacts, or other eyesores, rounding out the visual presentation nicely. Overall, it's a head-and-shoulders improvement that fans will certainly appreciate, and it will obviously remain the definitive version of Donnie Darko until (if?) a true 4K UHD edition is released somewhere down the line.
DISCLAIMER: The still images and screen captures on this page are decorative and do not represent the Blu-ray under review.
Similarly, the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio 5.1 tracks on both cuts sound terrific as well, with clear dialogue, crisp channel separation, strong low end at times, and wonderful dynamics during Michael Andrews' score and many of the memorable pop songs. And aside from the handful of music changes on the director's cut (INXS during the opening scene, and two other swaps along the way), it's also mixed ever-so-slightly different than the theatrical edition. In comparison to the previous Blu-ray, Donne Darko's overall sound stage seems a bit wider and more punchy during several key moments, but nothing too drastic and obviously not bordering on revisionism. It's just great treatment of a fine-sounding film, and one that won't be exceeded on home video any time soon. Optional English subtitles are included during the main feature, but sadly none of the bonus content.
Menu Design & Packaging
The interface follows Arrow's standard no-frills template, with a clean layout and clips from the movie that appear to be identical on both Blu-rays. Separate options are available for chapter selection, subtitle setup, and bonus features. No built-in "Resume" function is included, which is frustrating. The packaging (seen above) is beautifully designed with stunning artwork, a 100-page Hardcover Book
(with new essays by Nathan Rabin, Anton Bitel and Jamie Graham, an in-depth interview with Richard Kelly, introduction by Jake Gyllenhaal, plus original stills and promotional materials), along with a two-sided Poster
and bonus Art Cards
by cover artist Candice Tripp. The four-disc set arrives in three digipak cases (one for the theatrical cut Blu-ray/DVD. one for the director's cut Blu-ray/DVD, and one for the book) with an extremely sturdy outer slipbox that holds everything together.
New to this release
are two items of interest. Leading off is the feature-length retrospective documentary "Deus ex Machina: The Philosophy of Donnie Darko"
(96 minutes) that goes into great detail about the film's production and development, as well as a quick overview of the director's cut in 2004. There's no shortage of great information divulged here, even though most of the cast is woefully absent; only James "Frank" Duval appears. Other featured participants include writer-director Richard Kelly, producer Sean McKittrick, cinematographer Steven Poster, editor Sam Bauer, composer Michael Edwards, costume designer April Ferry, and critic Rob Galluzzo. It's a great look back and is especially well produced, with nice design elements and stylish shot transitions. Also new to this release is Richard Kelly's 1996 student film The Goodbye Place
(9 minutes)...and while it's definitely not as unpolished as you'd expect for a film by 21 year-old, let's just say Donnie Darko
was a giant leap forward.
Carried over from previous discs (including Fox's 2011 Blu-ray) are a ridiculous number of vintage extras, mostly herded together on the second disc. These recycled supplements lead off with three separate Audio Commentaries: two during the theatrical cut (Richard Kelly with Jake Gyllenhaal, and Richard Kelly with producer Sean McKittrick and actors Drew Barrymore, Jena Malone, Beth Grant, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Katharine Ross, and James Duval) and one during the director's cut (Richard Kelly with filmmaker Kevin Smith), mostly featuring comments from when Donnie Darko was just a few years old.
Also returning are a lengthy Production Diary (53 minutes, with optional commentary by cinematographer Steven Poster), archival EPK-style Interviews with members of the cast and crew (Richard Kelly, Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Drew Barrymore, James Duval, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Holmes Osborne, Noah Wyle, Katharine Ross; producers Sean McKittrick, Nancy Juvonen, Hunt Lowry and Casey La Scala; and cinematographer Steven Poster) a collection of on-set B-Roll Footage, vintage featurettes "They Made Me Do It, Parts I and II" and "#1 Fan: A Darkomentary", a Storyboard to Screen Comparison, a whopping 20 Deleted Scenes (mostly added to the director's cut, and featuring optional commentary by Richard Kelly), the terrific "Cunning Visions" self-help spoof video, an Art Gallery, the Music Video for Gary Jules' cover of "Mad World", and a collection of Trailers & TV Spots.
An ambitious and genre-bending slice of science-fiction, fantasy, and drama, Richard Kelly's Donnie Darko bombed in theaters but eventually joined the long list of underappreciated films now considered cult classics. It's as enjoyable now as it was back on DVD in 2002, if not more so: given the recent resurgence of 1980s nostalgia, the rock-solid cast, and a pretzel-shaped plot that's fun to dig through even if you can't connect all the dots, Donnie Darko holds up perfectly well 15 years later and will likely endure for several more decades. Arrow's Limited Edition set (2 Blu-rays, 2 DVDs) is easily the definitive version of a film that's already been well-represented on home video, serving up a terrific A/V presentation and a gigantic assortment of new and old bonus features alike, all wrapped up in a beautifully designed package aimed squarely at collectors. DVD Talk Collector's Series.
Randy Miller III is an affable office monkey by day and film reviewer by night. He also does freelance design work, teaches art classes and runs a website or two. In his limited free time, Randy also enjoys slacking off, juggling HD DVDs, and writing in third person.