Donnie Darko – Sequel Announced, Director’s Cut Reviewed

Last week I was distressed to learn that one of my favorite movies (yes, of ALL TIME) was being fitted for sequel treatment. S.Darko (as it’s being referred to in preproduction) takes place seven years later and focuses on Donnie’s baby sister, Samantha (she of Sparkle Motion fame) now 18, who runs away from her “broken family” with best friend in tow. There are online press release references to time travel, the casting of Elizabeth Berkley(!) and a pre-production poster that makes sure to remind us of Frank, the giant bunny rabbit. What does it all meeeean? Though I try to have an open mind about these sorts of things, my first instinct is that no good can come from this. Post your thoughts in comments.

DONNIE DARKO (2001)
A sleeper hit that deservedly found an audience on video, Donnie Darko is a complicated yet irresistibly hypnotic genre movie that combines elements of horror, sci-fi and good ol’ fashioned family drama. Jake Gyllenhall impresses in the title role as a very troubled teen whose visions of a demonic man-sized bunny rabbit (named Frank) elude to the end of the world and cast Donnie as a reluctant player in the cosmic equation. Some of the plot points are obscured by open-to-interpretation mysticism, but essentially this a masterful piece of work made more amazing by the fact that it was written and directed by a 26-year old. Mary McDonnel as the Darko matriarch contributes to one of the sweetest and most sincere cinematic portrayals of family dysfunction in recent history. Real-life sis, Maggie Gyllenhall, plays Donnie’s big sister. Executive producer, Drew Barrymore and ER‘s Noah Wyle make for believably sympathetic school faculty. As a period piece DD captures 1988 so accurately that you forgive soundtrack tunes that don’t match-up chronologically. Scary, soulful, exhilarating and guided by existential theory, Donnie Darko is a near-perfect movie that operates as a psychedelic Catcher in the Rye in an age of clinical depression and jaded cynicism. ****

DONNIE DARKO: THE DIRECTOR’S CUT (2004)
With the addition of a handful of scenes and new music cues, DDDC arguably offers “new depth” to a story that seemed perfectly poignant and poetic the first time around. If you liked the original cut, you’ll probably enjoy the new additions for the novelty alone. Most significant are scenes between Darko family members which do indeed contribute to what was already one of the most realistic cinematic portrayals of suburban family life. New revelations re: Donnie’s medical status and the “tangential universe” philosophy at the movie’s core sharpen the focus of story elements only implied in the original cut. Whether or not this strengthens the narrative significantly is debatable. What I most enjoyed about the new cut is that the story’s genre-bending themes are crystallized. Donnie is more of a “super hero” this time around so some of his seemingly impossible off-screen actions have clearer explanation. (Just how DID he get that ax embedded in the head of that giant bronze Mongrel mascot anyway?) Now the movie’s linear plot is broken into book chapters from DD‘s central source of mythology: “The Philosophy of Time Travel.” Now, on-screen glimpses of highlighted passages explain much of just what the hell is going on. But don’t expect the director’s cut to completely lay everything out for you. It will still take more than one screening for even the most attentive viewer to make sense of it all. If this is the movie writer/director Richard Kelly had wanted to make all along, then great — but you have to wonder if the studio and budget restraints that forced him to tighten things and find creative ways to deliver his original story, may’ve paid off with something more mysterious and dream-like. One thing that seems lacking in DDDC is the original’s pitch-perfect pacing and fever-dream moodiness that leaves you confounded and hungry for more with open-to-interpretation storytelling. But what’s best about the original cut is also the main course here: performances so heartfelt and believable that a lesser script might have coasted along on them anyway.
***1/2

~ by Number5ive on June 2, 2008.

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