S. Darko: A Donnie Darko Tale [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (27th June 2009).
The Film

For some inexplicable reason it has become a popular trend as of late to sequelize films that don’t require any follow-up. Every studio is guilty of this crime, but at least the majority of these direct-to-video clunkers are able to distance themselves from their original counterparts enough to stand on their own merit, or they follow a simple enough formula that it’s hard to screw up. Some have apparently been quite successful, such as the never-ending “American Pie” series (1999-2007), while others, such as “S. Darko”, choose to dig up the still-fresh corpse of their source material for a late night of defilement. I can accept that some films are good and some films are bad; it’s the nature of the cinematic beast. But “ S. Darko ” isn’t just bad; it’s offensively, horrendously, unwatchably bad.

Obviously this film was made for one sole reason: $$$. Producers were no doubt keen to cash in on the cult status of the parent, “Donnie Darko” (2001), and so they saw fit to make a sequel, regardless of artistic merit, because they know that fans will eagerly snap up anything branded with the “Darko” name. However, anyone who has seen “Donnie Darko” knows that the film was an entirely self-contained, no-room-for-a-sequel type of movie. If the ending didn’t make that crystal clear, the fact that screenwriter/director Richard Kelly wanted nothing to do with this sequel should have set off an equal number of alarms. One sole cast member, Daveigh Chase, who played Donnie’s little “Sparkle Motion” sister, Samantha, was brave enough to re-enter the fray. I’d like to say she made a big mistake but, to be perfectly honest, she’s such a terrible actress that I doubt she had anything better sitting on her plate.

So, there is a plot to this film… somewhere. I’m convinced the writers were more concerned with shoehorning in little references to the previous film rather than crafting a worthy follow-up, as unenviable task I can think of. Seven years after the death of her brother, Donnie, Samantha (Daveigh Chase) decides to take a cross country trip with her friend, Corey (Briana Evigan), only to end up stranded in a dried-up town in the middle of nowhere when their car breaks down. Enter Randy (Ed Westwick), the local bad boy (and Corey Feldman look-alike) whose hobbies include rolling cigarettes up in his sleeve and talking very low and very slow.. As he shows the girls around town, a local nutjob, Justin (James Lafferty, inexplicably referred to as "Iraq Jack", begins to have visions of a dead Samantha who, naturally, warns him that the world will end in some pre-determined amount of time. He has to figure out how to use her messages to stop global catastrophe from occurring.

Or something like that. I applaud anyone who can make much sense out of this drivel. Everything is overly-complicated; it’s as if the writers were hoping if they wrote the film as confusingly as possible no one would notice that it’s as vapid and empty as a guest on "The Jerry Springer Show" (1991-Present). When the writers aren’t stumbling over their own words trying to find somewhere to wedge in a reference to the superior original, they seem to be writing single scenes that have been loosely strung together. But, like a rope made out of wet toilet paper, this film can’t possibly hold up under any kind of emotional or dramatic weight it’s attempting to convey. Nothing here works. Nothing. You know why? Because “Donnie Darko” was never meant to have a sequel, and this film is absolute proof that one would never work in the first place.

So, the producers managed to maintain some semblance of continuity by recasting Daveigh Chase, our film’s eponymous heroine of sorts. To be perfectly honest, they should have just recast the role entirely, as Chase proves to be a less than competent actress. Whenever she isn’t reading her lines like a cue card is in front of her face, she’s laying around. Literally, she lies down all over this film. In fact, during one pivotal scene I was hoping she would stay down and the credits would roll. But, alas, the film still had an hour to go. They also never bother explaining why she would have similar visions to Donnie’s considering he never shared them with her and, you know, he’s dead and all. If this is some extra-sensory family curse then I hope Richard Kelly will revisit “Donnie Darko” just to shoot an ending where the entire family is killed. At the least it will prevent us from seeing any future “(blank) Darko” films.

Nobody here gives a worthwhile performance, but I have to pay special attention to Ed Westwick. This guy tries REALLY hard to let you know how cool he is. If the fact that he rolls his cigarettes up in his sleeve and looks at people with an intensely homoerotic gaze weren’t enough, the guy talks like a radio host. His acting abilities are about as deep as a Dixie cup. He also looks like he could have been Corey Feldman’s brother, although he obviously lacks any of acting chops Feldog possesses. There are few times when I watch a film and feel like I want to crawl into the screen just to punch someone in the face. This guy gives me that feeling anytime he’s on screen.

There has to be something positive I can say about the film, right? Right? Ok, well, I’ll give it this: the picture is wonderfully shot. The cinematography, courtesy of Marvin V. Rush, is impressive, even more so considering the fact that his primary work has been on television shows. He does a great job of capturing the feel of this broken, dusty, one stoplight town. Hey, if the film has to be a total and utter waste of celluloid, it may as well look nice.

I can’t really say whether or not director Chris Fisher did a good job because, frankly, the film has zero direction. I can only assume that the filmmakers had no idea where the film was going while they shot it, because I had no idea while I was watching it. Is there some style to his direction? Of course. He hasn’t made many films (just 3 according to IMDB), so I’ll cut him a little slack. But bastardizing a respected cult film is hardly a step in the right direction.

Video

You know what they say about polishing a turd, right? Though the turd remains, it sure does look pretty! “S. Darko” is presented with a 1.78:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer that looks far better than the film deserves. Half the reason I was even able to keep watching the film is because it looked so damn good. Colors are warm and natural, skin tones are perfect, black levels are deep and murky… all in all this is some impressive work. The film takes place almost exclusively in the desert, and the sandy vistas and acrid environment are faithfully displayed in crystal clarity. Why do some of the worst films have to look the best on our beloved format?

Audio

The English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit packs a wallop when needed. Music isn’t in the forefront in this film as it was in “Donnie Darko”, but there are plenty of ambient sounds, and a climactic meteor shower, that help to fill out the surrounds. I wouldn’t call this a reference-quality track by any means, but it sounds great.
There is also a French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound mix included. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

Fox has given this Blu-ray far more than what it deserves, including an audio commentary, deleted scenes, music video, a behind-the-scenes featurette and bonus trailers.

Audio commentary with director Chris Fisher, screenwriter Nathan Atkins and cinematographer Marvin V. Rush is an interesting listen. Atkins has a great deal to talk about, and he seems genuinely pleased with what he’s written. Fisher, however, is incredibly annoying on this track. As if I didn’t the like the guy before, his commentary sure doesn’t do much to make me see the film in a new light. They keep droning on and on about what the film is supposed to be about, yet it still doesn’t make any sense. Rush, meanwhile, is relegated to very little mic time.

“The Making of S. Darko” is a featurette which runs for 15 minutes and 1 second. Everyone seems to really love “Donnie Darko”, yet none of the cast or crew seems to understand just how bad the idea of a sequel sounds. The writer and producers talk about how they tried to make the film work as a sequel, no doubt a difficult task since it is so completely unnecessary. But I digress, there’s not much here anyways.

“Utah Too Much” is a music video which runs for 6 minutes and 45 seconds. John Hawkes performs the song, cut to clips from the film.

There are 6 deleted scenes available:

- “Alternate Opening” runs for 56 seconds.
- “Randy’s Girlfriend” runs for 36 seconds.
- “Motel Clerk and Corey” runs for 51 seconds.
- “Preacher John and Trudy Find Sam Waking Up” runs for 1 minute and 16 seconds.
- “Conflict Between Jeremy and Randy” runs for 49 seconds.
- “Preacher John and Trudy Outside Motel” runs for 1 minute and 32 seconds.

Bonus trailers for"

- “The Day the Earth Stood Still” (2008), which runs for 1 minute and 48 seconds.
- "Behind Enemy Lines: Colombia" which runs for 4 minutes 2 seconds.
- "Taken" which runs for 2 minutes 59 seconds.
- "Notorious" which runs for 1 minute 13 seconds.

Overall

I cannot even being to tell you how little I recommend this film. If you’re the kind of rabid “Donnie Darko” fan that needs to own every last merchandized facet of that particular film and you simply can’t imagine not having more of what you love… I would still tell you to stay far, far away from this film. Nothing good can come from watching it, except the possibility of appreciating Richard Kelly’s original film that much more.

The Film: F Video: A- Audio: B Extras: C+ Overall: C-

 


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