Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut (2004/ 2001)
(Release Date: July 23, 2004 [Director's Cut])
(Release Date: January 19, 2001 [Original Premiere])
(Original Theatrical Release: October 26, 2001 [Another 9/11 victim])

Some people are just born with Psychopathy in their Blood!

J.C. Maçek III
The World's Greatest Critic!

In 2001 a very strange movie called Donnie Darko was released into theatres to little fanfare. This obscure and dark tale about a 1988 teenager with a rather casual relationship with normalcy didn't make a big Box Office splash. But it whispered its way into history when word of mouth made Donnie Darko a cult classic, seducing millions of new viewers into renting and buying the DVD (many of whom barely recognized the theatrical release had taken place)... including me.

And the buzz was justified. Where else can you see Jake Gyllenhaal as a surreal high school student descipled to a six-foot rabbit named Frank; where else can you find the Villain from The Ring, Daveigh Chase, as a Star Search Dancer and Unicorn Poet; where else can you find Drew Barrymore taking a minor role because she believes in a weird project; where else can you find Patrick Swayze in a most anti-Patrick Swayze role; where else are you going to see ER's Noah Wyle as an expert on time travel theory or The Stepford Wives' Katharine Ross as a serious hypno-therapist; where else will you find Jena Malone as a witness-protection-protected sexy high school siren named Gretchen; and where else in the world can you find such a perfect blending of directing, story, dialogue, Smurf Sexuality Theory, Time Travel Philosophy, violence, sabotage, sex, Halloween, Sci-Fi, 80's Classics and Self-Help ridicule? In short... nowhere... and, if I might be so bold, every movie should have at least one giant psychotic talking rabbit that only one person can see and hear! Every movie!

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After-Market buzz escalated so well that in 2004, New Market Films released Writer/ Director Richard Kelly's "Director's Cut" version. While this is excellent news for Fans and Newbies alike, the bad news is that this re-release received all the marketing and fanfare that Emilio Estevez' latest project did, which means that Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut once again has whispered onto screens and might well be forgotten once again. But not for fans. If anything, Donnie Darko has been made better by Kelly's tweaks, and what was once an excellent, but inaccessible nightmare has become a more focused and complete picture with an overall more fascinating and less constrained continuity. As great as Donnie Darko is on its own, Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut is even better.

Looking like Peter Parker's evil twin and waxing poetic like a post-modern Coleridge, Donnie Darko is about as atypical as a teen can get. After his new imaginary friend, an evil-looking giant bunny rabbit named Frank, invites him on a sleep-walking excursion a phantom and unexplained airplane engine crashes through his family's roof and crushes his empty bed. Hang on... let me repeat that... The hero sleep walks... with a Giant Evil Talking Rabbit... and an engine from a jet plane... from nowhere... crushes his bed!

Then, and only then, things start getting weird.

What follows is an investigation into the surreal following time travel routes, alternate realities, destructive forces and cul-de-sacs of time and space. Time is, quite naturally, of the essence, seeing as how one of the many things Frank (in a now sharper and scarier voice) entrusts Donnie with is the fact that the world is going to end in Twenty-eight days... six hours... forty-two minutes... twelve seconds! While it may sound obtuse and thick on paper, Richard Kelly throws in some excellent dialogue with a more nervously lighthearted relief to the overall X-Files meets Shyamalan main plot. Oh, the sub-plots are necessary and they all converge on an unlikely and surprising finish.

This is where the Director's Cut shines brightly. Kelly is allowed to flesh out more of the sub plots and to take his time telling the rest of the story (like Paul Harvey). The newer version feels much more comfortable, especially in the cutting and editing area. While it's true that many of the deleted scenes have returned, it's the extended scenes that really enhance the whole. The new depth is seen in the dialogue previously cut. A new (and ironic) literary discussion of Watership Down doesn't hurt either.

Some of the new changes don't seem to truly fit into the traditional "Director's Cut" bucket, however. There are a few special effects and changes that feel a lot more like hindsight on Richard Kelly's part than original intent. Still, these additions are welcome, and serve to enhance an already good film. Without taking away some of the intentional ambiguity, Kelly uses some new effects to clarify some of the more obscure parts of the film.

The ambiguity reigns still, though, and if anything the Director's Cut allows for even more questions to be posed. Make no mistake, there is a much bigger story here than what's being told, and virtually every character is open to more of the tale. The beautiful thing about this movie is the fact that there is so much room for interpretation. This is one reason it's more popular than ever (by aaron pruitt). Everyone who walks away from this film with an idea feels that this film, and this idea is their own. This means, everyone walks away with the concept that Donnie Darko was made just for them. Who is Donnie? Who is Frank? Is Frank... Frank? What's the governing force behind all of this mythology? There are as many theories as there are viewers of this film, and explaining too much would assassinate the personal nature of this film!

Director's Cut or no, how often does the opportunity to see this film, or any like it, on the big screen? So much of the expansive scope shines brightest on the big screen, making the heart-thumping life Donnie Darko has been given on DVD almost Ironic.

Seeing these scenes so large reminds me of how very well cast this film really was! While the concept of Donnie's sister Elizabeth being played by Maggie Gyllenhaal is no real surprise, the addition of little sister Daveigh Chase as Samantha Darko works because she looks like she could have been a relative. Also, aside from both being good actors Holmes Osborne and Mary "Stands with a Fist" McDonnell both resemble the kids enough to be convincing as parents Eddie and Rose (both ironically in-the-know). There really aren't any casting Faux Pas, and all the actors seem believable and comfortable with the character's they're playing.

Richard Kelly himself describes Donnie Darko as "indeed a science-fiction film (as well as an 80's period piece)", and I have no issue with that description. The class-act of Kelly, though, neither falls into Sci-Fi conceits, nor goes too far in the setting of the 1980's. In short, there is no huge hair or neon pink here to make you feel like you're watching The Wedding Singer. The setting works, the science fiction works and there are no Gregory Benford Moments because the whole affect is one of casual security. The choice of songs helps here, and the nature of the consuming and thundering 1980s songs overtaking dialogue and sound effects is even more effective in the Director's Cut than in the original. Michael Andrews' chilling "retro-futuristic" score feels like it could have been in an 80's movie, while at the same time feeling close to the modern in any listen.

Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut is hard to find flaw with in its completion and tighter vision, and therefore it gets a full Five Stars out of Five! And if you don't agree with me, then "you can go suck a fuck", Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut still gets a full Five Stars out of Five! In short, a good film has been made even better by a second pass! It's great that there are now two versions out there, and there really isn't much that could be changed back for the better. (However, the exchange of Echo and the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon" for INXS's excellent, but seemingly less appropriate "Never Tear us Apart" seems to be a dubious choice.) It all seems to work well, which makes this quiet re-release all the more of a travesty. It's going to remain a fan-favorite, but a Cult Following might be all Darko ever gets. I can picture him giving his patented psycho-grin at the very notion!

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Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut (2004/ 2001) reviewed by J.C. Maçek III
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