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[Blu-ray Review] ‘Donnie Darko’ 10th Anniversary Edition

Donnie Darko was perhaps the first big cult film of the 21st century and the only good thing director Richard Kelly has ever churned out depending on who you talk to – I really dig the chaotic zaniness of Southland Tales myself. Coming out shortly after the September 11th tragedy (and again in 2004 as a director’s cut), the tale of the mentally unstable teen and a time traveling bunny who saves him from a plane crash flopped at the box-office because it hit too close to home at the time, but went on to entrance audiences on home video. Although complex and having its fair share of plot holes (what time travel film doesn’t, though?), setting the ominous and dreary subject matter in a charming suburbia circa 1988 gave it a nightmarish, Blue Velvet-like feel and let audiences have a glimpse of what really goes on behind white picket fences. Between that and the revolving door of well-casted stars and up-and-comers, it’s easy to see the appeal.
Usually, the bulk of my reviews focus on the film at hand but since this is the third time Fox has released Donnie Darko on Blu-ray, I’m going to use my soapbox to answer the question of whether or not the 10th Anniversary edition is worth buying. In short, it’s great if you don’t already own it or feel like your soul isn’t complete without the bonus features from the original DVD release. If neither of those apply to you, then don’t bother.

Originally released on Blu-ray in 2009, the two-disc Director’s Cut was repackaged a few months later with a Cult Classics slipcover. Identical to the DVD edition of the same, the hi-def upgrade contained both cuts of the film on one disc, which many blamed its subpar transfer on. I’m sure compression is certainly a factor, butDonnie Darko was made on the cheap and never looked particularly great to begin with. Still, many Blu-ray enthusiasts took issue with it and will be horrified to learn that the 10th Anniversary four-disc set has the same transfer. The simple fact is that this film will probably never look better unless they DNR the shit out it and then everyone will complain that there’s no grain and it looks too clean. The good news about Fox using the same encodes is that the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is included, which features crisp, clean dialogue and good use of sound ranging from the plane crash to smaller, subtler noises. The soundtrack, one of the film’s highlights, never sounded better. The disc also includes commentary tracks with Kelly and Kevin Smith (DC only), Kelly and Jake Gyllenhall, and various cast and crew members (the latter two are on the theatrical cut only).

Like the first Blu-ray release, the second disc is a direct replica of the one included with its DVD counterpart, standard definition and all. The Production Diary is easily the highlight of the special features, providing a bevy of behind-the-scenes footage with optional commentary by DP Steven Poster. Also included is They Made Me Do It – The Cult of Donnie Darko, in which fans and critics discuss what they love about the film and the impact it’s made, #1 Fan: A Darkomentary (a somewhat creepy documentary about the film’s “biggest” fan), a Storyboard-to-Screen featurette and the DC theatrical trailer.

The third disc is a copy of the very first Donnie Darko theatrical cut DVD from back in 2002. The DC releases didn’t contain any of the original supplemental materials other than the commentary tracks, so it’s nice that EVERYTHING is finally packaged together. It’s true that the DC integrates some of the Cunning Visions infomercials and character moments found in the deleted/extended scenes, but I prefer the theatrical version of the film and enjoy them more as special features – Kelly practically spells out some of the less-understood ideas at play in the 2004 rerelease, which pads the flick with twenty (mostly unnecessary) extra minutes that ruin much of the time travel element’s mystique and left most people unsure of whether or not the director even had a firm grasp of the paradoxes at play. Pages from The Philosophy of Time Travel Book, a website gallery, the music video for Michael Andrew’s Mad World cover, and an art and production still collection round out the bonus materials.

The fourth disc is a digital copy. I never use these, as I see no purpose in watching a film on an iPod but for those who are curious, it’s the DC.

The 10th Anniversary edition of Donnie Darko seems like it was more of an excuse for Fox to clear out some warehouse inventory than celebrate a well-liked cult film by providing something substantial for fans who have already double and tripled dipped. But for those who haven’t taken the plunge yet, this is the best bang for your buck. With it priced around $20 at most retailers, you really have no excuse.

Film: 3.5/5
Blu-ray: 4/5



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