Donnie Darko Blu-ray Review

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by AVForums Mar 16, 2009 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review

    Donnie Darko Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £19.99


    ”Darko” is presented in widescreen 2.35:1 with VC-1 1080p coding and this review focuses on the Director's Cut video presentaiton.

    Opening with the bright and lush greens of suburbia (and the golf course), the picture quality initially looks very good indeed, with bold colours that are well represented. As we move into the Darko homestead to join them for dinner the lighting dims considerably and the colours take on a muted quality. Donnie's father wears a fine pin striped shirt that is well defined and displays no indications of edge enhancement. Without any disrespect to Mary McDonnell, her crow's feet are plainly on view with sharp definition in this presentation. Detail such as wallpaper patterns and marbling on tables are clearly visible in the Darko's home. Some scenes do touch on that sought after three dimensional depth, such as Donnie's bedroom scenes or the scenes in the psychiatrist's office. There is also some good shadow detail, coupled with a strong contrast ratio, during some of the darker scenes and more detail is visible in comparison to the DVD release. For example, all content of Donnie's bedroom is very well defined, the beads of sweat stand out clearly on Donnie's face as he waits to sign his name on the board and dust is visible on the school's ancient television.

    Some of the scenes can look somewhat hazy, as was Kelly's intention, which can lead to softness in the image. The almost dream like sequence where we're first introduced to the students and teachers at Donnie's school and the scene where Donnie is walking Gretchen home for the first time both demonstrate this issue, as do all the scenes where Donnie is speaking to Frank in his bathroom (which also suffers from some black crush). It seems that Kelly uses this technique at times to highlight certain characters, suggesting perhaps that they are only guests in our universe. This can create a somewhat disjointed effect with regards to the video presentation as other scenes are both sharp and immaculate such as the close-up of Donnie's eyeball during the opening scenes.

    With this intentional softening of the image Kelly has preserved the look and feel of how he intended “Darko” to appear, but this has prevented the print from obtaining the levels of clarity and sharpness that we have seen with other releases (and at times exposes the low budget nature of this movie). There were few instances where the print really lifted from the screen to give that three dimensionality and depth that I was hoping for. This softening effect is particularly evident in facial long shots and a fine layer of grain was also noted in some scenes although this is mainly organic and unobtrusive. This presentation is a step up from previous DVD releases and “Darko” will probably never look any better than it does here.

    Donnie Darko Picture


    “Darko” comes packed with a dts-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack and this review focuses on the Director's Cut audio presentation.

    Right from the opening scenes in this movie, with "The Killing Moon" by Echo and the Bunnymen/"Never Tear Us Apart" by INXS (depending on whether you're watching the theatrical or Director's Cut), the HD upgrade over the standard DVD release is noticeable. The 80's soundtrack is fabulous throughout with contributions by Pantera, INXS, Gary Jules (with his take on “Mad World” by Tears for Fears) and Duran Duran to name but a few, all of which have been remastered for this release.

    There are a lot of subtleties in this dts-HD Master Audio soundtrack that are audible in comparison to the DVD's Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. For example, one can clearly hear the radio that's quietly playing in Donnie's bedroom as his argues with his mother in the opening scenes, or when Mrs. Sparrow is whispering in Donnie's ear you can almost make out what she is saying (in the DVD release I could hear almost nothing at all). The jet engine scene, being main special effects sequence in the movie, is very well represented with the entire ceiling above the listening position groaning with the engine's weight, with nice LFE interjection, as debris falls all around making full use of the surrounds. The following engine removal scene demonstrated nice front steerage.

    What I was really looking forward to with this release, from an audio point of view, was Frank's voice. I remember it being very impressive in the DVD release and I was not disappointed with Frank on Blu-ray either. The eerie, distorted voice emanates from all speakers with good LFE presence and it feels as though Frank is talking right inside the listeners head - very effective. Aside from the nostalgic soundtrack, the score is also used to great effect with ominous tones of doom as Frank's eerie voice dominates the soundstage. The score can also create some uplifting moments when Donnie is actually happy, although these are short lived. There is also an amazing warped time effect at times, akin to “Oldboy”, that is also well represented in this audio mix. The scenes where Donnie is stabbing Frank in the bathroom, and the distorted sound field effect when Donnie sees the alien beings protruding from his chest for the first time both sound excellent. Overall definite audible improvements have been made in this BD release.

    Donnie Darko Sound


    “Donnie Darko” comes packed with extras in this two disc special edition which includes three commentary tracks. Also available is the DBox (IMS) feature where motion actuators installed under the listening position move in line with the on screen action. This is the first Blu-ray disc that I have come across with this feature and I would be very interested to try it out!

    The first commentary features Richard Kelly and Kevin Smith (this commentary is only available for the Director's Cut). Although Kelly is somewhat dry Smith, as always, is hilarious and makes the commentary much more enjoyable and poses thoughtful questions to the director/writer. Kelly gives insight into the more science fiction orientated Director's Cut. He also explains all musical and sound design choices that were sacrificed in the Theatrical Cut. He seems pleased with the overall result of this cut and it is, in his opinion, the definitive cut of the movie. Both also discuss interesting aspects of their movie making techniques throughout the commentary.

    The cast and crew also get their own commentary (for the Theatrical cut only) and participants include Kelly, Holmes Osbourne, Mary McDonnell, James Duvall, Jenna Malone, Drew Barrymore, Katherine Ross and poducers Sean McKittrick and Nancy Juvonen . This is quite an amusing commentary that can seem at bit messy at times with so many participants and sometimes even disrupts Kelly's explanations but I suppose he has two commentaries of his own! They give their comments on making the movie and the story being told and also give deserved kudos to both Kelly and Gyllenhaal.

    Finally Jake Gyllehaal and Richard Kelly comment on the Theatrical cut. This is mainly a technical commentary, focused on the creation of “Donnie Darko” with splashes of trivia thrown in. Both give their thoughts on the meaning behind the story and also mention similarities to 9/11 and the jet engine sequence (though the movie was written two years previous). Kelly gives some welcome insight into the theories of time travel and helps provide some clarity as to what is actually happening in the movie.

    Disc 2 Features:

    “Donnie Darko Production Diary” (SD 4:3 52.51 ) Research footage taken to determine locations and map out camera angles that are later used in the movie. There's also an optional, insightful commentary from director of photography Steven Poster. We get to see a lot of the locations from the movie with thoughts on how the various shots look in the finished product. There's even a timeline on the shoot for the movie in the same style as the doomsday countdown that features in the movie. With tons of additional behind the scenes action this is an interesting documentary.

    “They Made Me Do It Too - The Cult Of Donnie Darko” (SD 16:9 28.03 ) UK fans and critics of the movie speak on the nuances of “Darko”, as well as comments from artists who drew inspiration from the imagery displayed on screen (Kelly also makes some appearances via recorded phone calls) . Most of the participants elaborate on how they perceive the movie with some interesting theories, with explanation of how European fans seemed to have understood and appreciated the film a lot faster than their U.S. counterparts.

    Storyboard to Screen (SD 4:3 7.58 ) A split screen feature displaying scenes from the movie side by side with their storyboarded originals.

    “#1 Fan: A Darkumentary” (SD 4:3 13.17 ) The winning film from a competition held by the Donnie Darko website to find the number one “Darko” fan. Darryl Donaldson was the winner and takes us into his world in this mini-documentary where “Donnie Darko” rules the roost. He also ambushes James Duval on the street, throwing some deep questions at the slightly startled star. He also makes stalker like phone calls to Richard Kelly before accosting him and other cast/crew members at a fan convention. Interesting and funny....... if a little psychotic.

    Threatrical Trailer (SD 16:9 ) Trailer for the Director's Cut of the movie.

    Donnie Darko Extras


    A meandering wander through time that will probably leave most first time viewers highly confused. With time and thought this can be a very rewarding experience in what is, in my opinion, the most intelligent and ground-breaking film to come out of Hollywood in the last ten years. Be warned, this movie will not be to everyone's taste so if you don't like having to concentrate when watching films then you might be better off giving this one a miss.

    While the video presentation lets this Blu-ray release down slightly with slightly soft focus and muted tones throughout, the audio mix has been beefed up and is worth the upgrade. In saying that the 1080p transfer does make improvements over previous DVD releases but falls short of the standards that BD is capable of.

    The extras on this Blu-ray release are very comprehensive but some features that were available on both the Theatrical and Director's Cut DVD releases are missing from this package. In saying that there's plenty here to keep the average fan very happy indeed including three very informative and entertaining commentary tracks.

    As an overall package this Blu-ray release comes highly recommended with definite technical improvements over the DVD releases as well as the majority of extras from these releases also. As an added bonus we also get the Director's Cut of the movie as well as the original theatrical release.

    "Every living creature on earth dies alone."

    Donnie Darko Verdict

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99

    The Rundown



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