Retrospective: Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut

Newmarket Film Group

Donnie Darko, the affirmed classic with an immensely passionate fan-base and a cult following. It has been nearly twenty years since its release and it is just as beloved today as it was then. A few years following its theatrical release, the director’s cut released to include deleted scenes, added visual effects, and a revamped soundtrack. But this version has received a lot of flak, in spite of initially positive responses to the updated film.

But I am here to say that the director’s cut of Donnie Darko is the superior version of the film, as it provides additional context and story which only makes a better viewing experience for watchers. Let’s explore why shall we?

The Soundtrack

The director’s cut provided for better audio and a reshuffled soundtrack for the film. Right away, INXS’ “Never Tear Us Apart” starts off the film. “The Killing Moon” by Echo & the Bunnymen is then used during a party scene later in the film, replacing  “Under the Milky Way” by The Church. These changes breathe new life into the film and change the tone of the scenes as the movie progresses.

The Visual Effects

Not included in the theatrical version, some new visual effects were included to improve the experience and general atmosphere of the film. This is especially useful for the themes of time travel and mental illness, as it gets you a little further into Donnie Darko’s troubled mind and what he is experiencing.

Along with this, there are pages from a book that Donnie comes across that are imposed onto the screen throughout the film, and as events unfold. In the original, the book was simply referenced and shown, but the details of what was inside were not put on full display. Some might say this “dumbs it down” for viewers, but it simply helps to add to the mystique of the film and to keep it moving forward at a measured pace.

Deleted Scenes

Additional scenes, cut for time or relevance, can be a tricky subject. Sometimes they help the story, sometimes they don’t. They can either make a movie feel too long and cause a disruption in pacing (I’m looking at you, The Lord of the Rings) or they can help bring that movie to a sweet spot. For Donnie Darko, including the deleted scenes that had to be cut in the original helps it to find that sweet spot at just over two hours. The scenes add some more context and information to the story that helps to round things up by the end.

For those who saw the film during its original run, or have only seen the theatrical cut in the years since it’s understandable that the director’s cut would intrude into any sense of nostalgia or ambiguity that was developed. On its own, however, Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut holds up and it improves upon the original by filling in the gaps.

As Roger Ebert said, ‘”Donnie Darko: The Director’s Cut” is alive, original and intriguing. It’s about a character who has no explanation for what is happening in his life, and is set in a world that cannot account for prescient rabbits named Frank.” I could not agree more.

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