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Bonus Points: DVD Reviews

Delicious Cut of 'Donnie Darko'

By Jen Chaney
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 15, 2005;

"Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut" (Rated R; List price: $26.98)
Release date: Feb. 15

Rejoice, Sparkle Motion fans. The director's cut of "Donnie Darko" -- the cult film that spawned legions of Frank the bunny followers -- has arrived in a two-disc set that fans of this teen-meets-time-travel movie will adore. If you're already confused by the references (Sparkle Motion? Frank the bunny?), it may not be your thing. But those familiar with, or at least intrigued by, the "Darko" universe should treat themselves to this DVD, one of 2005's best home video releases so far.

Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone and Frank the mysterious rabbit in "Donnie Darko." (Dale Robinette - Courtesy NewMarket Films)

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A brief primer on "Donnie Darko": The genre-bending film starring Jake Gyllenhaal (described by one fan on the DVD as "The Breakfast Club" if it were directed by David Lynch) was barely noticed when it came to theaters in the fall of 2001. Thanks to support from admirers overseas, the DVD release, Web sites aimed at dissecting the movie's meaning, and midnight screenings, it developed such an intense cult following that a director's cut was released in theaters last summer.

That's the one found on this DVD; it includes several new scenes (some of which may look familiar to those who saw the deleted scenes on the initial DVD) as well as a few musical changes (INXS's "Never Tear Us Apart" opens the film in lieu of Echo and the Bunnymen's "The Killing Moon"). Director and Richmond, Va., native Richard Kelly says this version hews closer to his original intentions for the film, so "Darko" completists will certainly want to have a look. The DVD sound -- accessible in Dolby Digital 5.1 or Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround -- is good if not mind-blowing, but the visual transfer has its flaws. Expect flecks and spots to creep onto the screen from time to time.

On the other hand, there's not a flaw in the bunch of extra features. They include: A behind-the-scenes production diary, which can be viewed with or without commentary by director of photography Steven Poster; "They Made Me Do It, Too: The Cult of 'Donnie Darko,'" a documentary that focuses on British fans of the film; a feature comparing storyboards to the finished release; a commentary track by Kelly and friend and fellow director Kevin Smith; and one of the funniest, most inspired DVD docs ever, "#1 Fan: A Darkomentary," which hilariously tracks one young man's attempts to connect with the cast and crew of "Darko."

This release should serve as a textbook case on how to create a DVD fans will truly appreciate. Unlike another cult film, "Dazed and Confused," whose recent DVD rerelease was a colossal disappointment, "Darko" gives the people what they want: an inside glimpse at its principal photography, more food for thought about the mind-twisting movie's message and profiles of the people who share a similar love for this '80s-era story. The character Kitty Farmer may doubt Mrs. Darko's commitment to Sparkle Motion (that's a dance troupe, by the way), but you'll never doubt the producers' commitment to delivering a DVD that "Darko" fans can happily embrace.

Funniest Bonus Point: I rarely laugh while watching a DVD's extra features. And I almost never laugh repeatedly. But that changed with "#1 Fan," a 13-minute film submitted as part of a contest on DonnieDarko.com that promised a spot on the director's cut DVD to the winner. Darryl Donaldson (if that is his real name) makes his case by showing us his bedroom full of "Donnie Darko" paraphernalia, blindsiding actor James Duval on a California street and giving Kelly a sneak-attack kiss on the cheek at a comic book convention. During one of his extended monologues, he also points out all the things he shares in common with Donnie: "We both ride bikes ... we're both on medication." Surely it's all an act, but it's a brilliant one.

Most Illuminating Bonus Point: Kudos to Kelly for inviting Kevin Smith to participate in the commentary track. The "Clerks" director serves as a sort of proxy for the average viewer, posing questions to the director and often admitting that at certain points in the story he was totally lost. There's also plenty of humor and -- as tends to be the case when Smith opens his mouth -- a bit of profanity. Parents of teens who may watch this, consider yourself warned.

Also on DVD This Week: The much-acclaimed "Motorcycle Diaries" is released with a number of extra features, including a making-of documentary, deleted scenes and interviews with star Gael Garcia Bernal.

Coming in next week's "Bonus Points": A review of the special edition of "I ♥ Huckabees."

If you have feedback about "Bonus Points" or want to suggest a DVD for review, e-mail Jen Chaney.

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