Color, 2001, 113/133m.
Directed by Richard Kelly
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Drew Barrymore, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Katharine Ross, Noah Wyle, Patrick Swayze, Beth Grant, James Duval, Daveigh Chase
Arrow Video (Blu-ray & DVD) (US/UK RA/RB HD/NTSC), Fox (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC), Metrodome (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD/PAL) / WS (2.35:1)

Donnie Darko Donnie DarkoA film that seemed to come out of nowhere around the turn of the millennium, Donnie Darko completely misfired in theaters thanks to a vague marketing campaign and extremely bad timing, opening just a few weeks after the devastating events of 9/11 with its jittery, paranoid atmosphere (and key element of a plane crash) a far cry from what audiences wanted to see on the big screen. However, by the time the film hit home video and TV, viewers were more than ready to dive multiple times into its brew of heady but accessible science fiction (not dissimilar to another slow-burning cult favorite, 12 Monkeys), hip retro '80s nostalgia (which was about to blow up in a big way), and that reliable standby, romantic adolescent angst. It also served as a major calling card for first-time director Richard Kelly, a young USC grad who seemed poised for great things but instead hit a number of speed bumps with the reception of his next two films, Southland Tales and The Box, as well as multiple jinxed projects that never got off the ground. Based on the strength of his debut film, a sort of modern anti-Frank Capra fairy tale that appeals to the volatile teenager inside us all, he may well have another surprise or two left in him down the road. Donnie Darko

Four weeks before Halloween in 1988, teenager Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) finds himself going into fugue states and finding himself more at odds than usual with his family including his father and mother Donnie Darko(Osborne and McDonnell) as well as his two sisters (Maggie Gyllenhaal and Chase). Under medication and seeing a psychiatrist (Ross), he's unsure what to think when he's visited by a chilling stranger in a rabbit costume who tells him the world will come to an end in 28 days (and change). His stability is further undermined when he comes home from one of his pre-dawn excursions to find that a jet engine has crashed into the family home and landed directly in his bedroom. Further visits from Frank and disturbing visions lead Donnie to further erratic behavior including flooding part of the school and acting out against the neurotic gym teacher (Grant) who brings in a slimy motivational speaker (Swayze) to set the students straight. Two of Donnie's more sympathetic teachers, English instructor Karen (Barrymore) and science teacher Dr. Monnitoff (Wyle), offer different kinds of counseling, with the latter offer Donnie a book about time travel written by a mysterious local recluse named Roberta Sparrow. Donnie also finds an ally in new girlfriend Gretchen (Malone), who has just come to town under stressful circumstances herself. With Frank's prophetic deadline drawing nearer, Donnie is driven to even more drastic measures including an act of arson and a Halloween night that will bring everything to a dizzying climax.

Much of the allure of Donnie Darko lies in its mysterious atmosphere, leaving just enough unexplained for the viewer to fill in the blanks and (at least in its original theatrical version) come back for repeated viewings to devise multiple explanations about Donnie's Donnie Darkoperception of reality and the meaning of the poignant, Donnie Darkounforgettable closing minutes. The entire cast is clearly operating at full throttle here with Jake Gyllenhaal understandably shooting to stardom after this film hit it big, and Kelly's strong visual sense is felt in both the misty autumn atmosphere and the dynamic sci-fi elements including a smile-inducing use of a clip from The Evil Dead. The film contains so many disparate elements that its complete success feels like a happy accident at times, rubbing scenes of borderline horror against splashy visual elements like the school's Sparkle Motion troupe (also the source of the film's greatest, most quoted line courtesy of the always brilliant Grant). Essential viewing.

The theatrical and home video history of Donnie Darko is a bit tangled, as it went to DVD soon after its initial run and racked up a major fan following despite a pretty terrible transfer from Fox plagued with softness, murkiness, and washed-out black levels that barely conveyed any of the film's visual strengths. That release contained a number of extras including a pair of cast and crew audio commentaries and a batch of deleted scenes that were mostly better left on the cutting room floor. However, the massive fan base and continuing interest in the film among those who missed out on seeing in on the big screen led to a reissue as a greatly expanded director's cut, restoring some of Kelly's original music choices that were thwarted by cost the first time around (most significantly putting INXS' "Never Tear Us Apart" over the haunting opening scene instead of Echo and the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon," a choice that instead saps away most of the sequence's Donnie Darkounearthly quality to far lesser effect). At least that wildly popular melancholy cover of "Mad World" by Gary Jules was left intact. Running a whopping 133 minutes, the director's cut definitely feels that long as it struggles to explain far more about the time travel elements (complete with chapters from a pivotal book on the subject) and adding Donnie Darkosome pretty tacky effects involving reflections in Donnie's eyes and digital countdown number displays. The reinstated scenes have some lovely little bonus character beats but also introduce some cringe worthy moments like that Watership Down bit and a parental scene in the car, which drag the film down a bit. The end result isn't a complete disaster in the canon of director's cuts like, say, The Warriors, E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial, or the original Star Wars trilogy, but if you're new to the film, absolutely watch the theatrical version first and maybe check out the director's cut later as a clunky alternative if you really, really want some of those burning questions answered.

When the film hit Blu-ray from Fox in multiple editions between 2009 and 2011, it contained both cuts on one dual-layered Blu-ray. The transfer either way turned out to be quite a disappointment, improving detail and texture but still looking very soft with those grayish black levels and an overall dull look. At least the DTS-HD MA 5.1 track has always been a monster, doing justice to that aggressive sound mix including dynamic sound effects and a terrific music score by Michael Andrews. Extras on the Fox releases included the two theatrical commentaries (both with Kelly and featuring Jake Gyllenhaal solo or producer Sean McKittrick and Barrymore, Malone, Grant, McDonnell, Holmes Osborne, Ross and Duval) plus a director's cut commentary with Kelly and admirer Kevin Smith (which is... not as good). A bonus DVD included the 52-minute "The Donnie Darko Production Diary" (with cinematographer Steven Poster providing optional commentary), the negligible 28-minute "They Made Me Do It Too: The Cult of Donnie Darko" and 13-minute "#1 Fan: A Darkomentary," a storyboard-to-film comparison for four scenes, and the trailer. Donnie DarkoDonnie Darko

That left plenty of room for improvement in both the a/v and extras departments, and thankfully Arrow Video came to the rescue with a much-touted 4K restoration of the film that made the specialty theatrical rounds in the UK and, much later, in the US. That pattern followed on home video as well with a four-disc, dual-format Blu-ray and DVD set at the beginning of 2017 in the UK and an American edition a few months later, containing identical configurations but with different region coding. The transfer (identical quality on both versions) is a massive upgrade, handling the film's tricky blue-heavy aesthetic far more adroitly than past video transfers and finally getting those black levels back down to the deep, inky levels where they belong. Detail is increased considerably as well, with the beautiful outdoor shots in particular now really sparkling like never before. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 audio (with optional English subs, as with past releases) doesn't need to jump as high since it was already great, and it still works like a charm here. The two versions have wisely been segregated to separate discs with extras spread out between them.

All three preexisting commentaries are carried over here along with the previous extras including all the featurettes and the deleted scenes now offering again as a separate viewing option for the first time since the DVD. However, there's a big reason to upgrade here beyond the already enticing presentation of the film itself: "Deus Ex Machina: The Philosophy of Donnie Darko," an excellent in-depth (85 mins.!) documentary with Kelly, McKittrick, Poster, editor Sam Bauer, Donnie DarkoAndrews, costume designer April Ferry, Duval, and critic Rob Galluzzo diving deep into the film from a more distant vantage point and examining the sci-fi Donnie Darkoinfluences, the jettisoned casting choices (including Jason Schwartzman backing out of the title role), the process of putting together the crew and shooting the film (including the pivotal first Steadicam shot), the jinxed theatrical release, and the history behind the director's cut. A hefty amount of behind the scenes footage is a nice welcome touch, too. A slew of brief EPK interviews from the film's release have been included (each diced up but totalling almost 15 minutes) with both Gyllenhaals, Osbourne, McDonnell, Barrymore, Duval, Malone, Wyle, Ross, Kelly, McKittrick, Poster, and producers Nancy Juvonen, Hunt Lowry, and Casey La Scala), the 4-minute "They Made Me Do It" piece (from the old UK DVD) on a graffiti competition inspired by the film, the Cunning Visions infomercials, and 4 minutes of b-roll snippets, mainly focusing on Kelly (who looks incredibly young here) and the scenes with Ross and Barrymore. Also here are a "Mad World" music video, the director's cut trailer, an image gallery, and five TV spots. Kelly's 1996 student short, The Goodbye Place (8 mins.), is a fascinating addition as well since it also involves a young suburban boy perceiving menacing forces around him, much to the disbelief of his mother. The deluxe packaging (designed with artwork by Candice Tripp) also contains a mini-book with new essays by Nathan Rabin, Anton Bitel, and Jamie Graham, a Kelly text interview, a Jake Gyllenhaal intro, and sample critical pieces from the film's release. A worthy upgrade if there ever was one.

Reviewed on April 7, 2017.