Donnie Darko - Director’s Cut

by Jay Laird

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday February 15, 2005

Blade Runner. Brazil. All 11 hours of Lord of the Rings. There?s a grand tradition of directors recutting their films to fit their original vision once the original has achieved a certain cult status and increased sales are guaranteed. Sadly, this director?s cut is more like the Star Wars rereleases: it?s likely to lose as many devoted followers as it gains.

Unlike Star Wars, which angered die-hard fans with the changes to its universe (for future consistency purposes) that sometimes contradicted the world many of us have been carrying around in our heads for 20+ years, this new edition of Donnie Darko doesn?t run the risk of being nitpicked to death. Instead, it?s more likely to make fans take a second look and then realize maybe it wasn?t all that great to begin with.

There are a few nice new scenes, mostly revolving around providing us more information on the Darko family?s domestic life. The other new material, most notably an added scene with Donnie?s psychiatrist and the much-talked-about looks inside ?The Philosophy of Time Travel?, illuminates the rough edges of the Great Mystery that the original version set up so elegantly.

I am still a fan of the original film. It is a flawed tale, but I knew that the first time I saw it. The first time, I felt the thrill of agreeing to go on a mystery trip, something my parents used to do with me when I was little: we?d get in the car and go somewhere fun, but I wouldn?t know the destination, only that I had to trust my parents? tastes. With Donnie Darko, I only knew that I had to see this quirky film that took place in the decade when John Hughes? teen films ruled the planet.

After the first time, I was hooked, and showed the film to friends and students. They didn?t all ?get it,? and a few of them even hated it. I didn?t understand how anyone couldn?t wrap their heads around some aspect of the film: the teen angst, the metaphysical mystery, the cool web site that extends the story of the film (and in fantastically worthwhile ways, unlike the Blair Witch disappointments). However, I had to remember, not everyone is obsessed with the 1980s and time travel. On reflection, I was kind of amazed that Richard Kelly tapped into such a large market there. Then I saw the bonus materials on the second DVD in this set.

First, there is ?They Made Me Do It, Too: The Cult of Donnie Darko?. This documentary once and for all breaks the stereotype that the British are any more civilized and intellectual than we Yanks. Brits ranging from professional critics to full-time cultists wax prosaic about the significance of their favo(u)rite film, and most of what they have to say is utter bollocks. Unless you spend the better part of your days in Donnie Darko fan chat rooms online, I wager you?ll last 10 minutes before you need a drink.

Or perhaps I had to hit the scotch because I started with the most disturbing featurette of them all: ?#1 Fan: A Darkomentary? (In fact, just thinking back on this bit of torture drove me to grab a quick nip, and I watched it a full two weeks ago). Someone (I?ll blame the studio, because I can?t believe cutie-pie writer/director Richard Kelly would ever stoop to this) decided to do an MTV-style contest for the DVD: make a video showing why you?re the number-one fan of Donnie Darko, and we?ll put the winner on the Director?s Cut edition.

In addition to not wanting to believe that my imaginary boyfriend Richard Kelly would stoop so low, I also can?t believe he had any idea his fans were this nuts. The guy who produced the ?Darkomentary? talks about how much he?s like Donnie (who, keep in mind, is supposedly schizophrenic), stalks some of actors who had minor roles in the film, and questions Richard Kelly about the ?conspiracy? to hide ?the truth? about ?The Philosophy of Time Travel? at ComiCon. When Kelly responds that it?s a bunch of stuff that he made up, the #1 fan runs from the room, crushed. He gets his revenge later, but that?s a moment I?ll let you discover for yourself, if you can bear to watch.

The other featurettes are fairly run-of-the-mill, including theatrical trailers, a production diary that includes some interesting commentary from the director of photography, a ?storyboard-to-screen? featurette, and audio commentary from writer-director Richard Kelly (who, based on this whole experience, I?ve broken up with, so he?ll never know the depth of the love we once had) and from what-are-you-doing-here Kevin Smith (who seems to appear if you say ?indie hit? three times in front of your DVD player).

As for the film itself, I strongly recommend seeing the theatrical release (still available on DVD! Get it before George Lucas does!) at least once before watching the Director?s Cut. If the mystery of the original release intrigues you, then maybe take a chance on this version and see if it answers some of your questions. For me, I?d rather not have the answers, especially since they come in the form of some preachy scripting and shoddy new visual effects.

Science fiction author and critic Orson Scott Card writes of the need to preserve Great Mysteries in art as well as in religion: once we fathom the unfathomable, then the exploration is over, and we settle into complacency (the same could also be said of romantic relationships, though Card doesn?t go there). With the original Donnie Darko, Richard Kelly created a Great Mystery. He offered a puzzle that we could understand but never entirely solve. This two-disc set offers a one-two punch in the face to Darko fans, both spoiling the mystery and destroying much of the mystique behind the world of Donnie Darko.

When he's not writing reviews, Jay Laird writes games, comics, and the occasional Z-grade suspense film like "The Strangler's Wife". He is the founder of Metaversal Studios, a Boston-based entertainment company.