|'Kelly's inclusion of new elements feels more like the director attempting to paper over some of the cracks in his previous flawed execution, with limited success'.|
There's an argument which continues to rage amongst Donnie Darko's cult following over whether the 2004 Director's Cut improves upon the Theatrical Cut released in 2001, or whether it pales in comparison to the original. Those who prefer the earlier version of Richard Kelly's film say that the twenty minutes of material added by the director in the revised edition remove much of the ambiguity within the narrative to the film's detriment. Fans of the Director's Cut, meanwhile, appreciate being able to see a version closer to that screened by Kelly at Sundance in 2001 as well as the depth added to a number of characters through the added material.
As a newcomer to any version of Donnie Darko, my feelings fall somewhere in the middle. There are numerous reinstated scenes within the Director's Cut which add some much needed development to secondary characters such as Karen Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore) and Eddie Darko (Holmes Osborne). That said, there are still quite a few who Kelly leaves somewhat thinly drawn: whilst the mystery surrounding Roberta Sparrow (Patience Cleveland), for example, is initially intriguing, come the end of the film she is left as one of several sketchily developed figures within Kelly's film.
The director's decision to add passages from in-film book "The Philosophy Of Time Travel" to the Director's Cut is perhaps the one which garners the most ire from Darko devotees. From one perspective it's not hard to see why. Ignoring the fact that they don't appear in the Theatrical Cut, the superimposed pages still constantly feel like an awkward fit, more often than not becoming an unnecessary distraction rather than the expository device Kelly apparently intended. However, claims that they damage the film through removing the possibility of more than one interpretation of just what is happening to Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) are hyperbolic. In truth, Kelly's inclusion of new elements such as these feels more like the director attempting to paper over some of the cracks in his previous flawed execution, with limited success.
Whilst Donnie Darko remains an intriguing and for the most part engaging watch thanks to the perplexing and convoluted puzzle at its core, too often Kelly's shortcomings as both a storyteller and director hold his ideas back. That the film is able to overcome these problems is largely thanks to the talented cast, made up of future stars at the start of their career - Gyllenhaal in particular alongside older sister Maggie - in company with established names such as Barrymore and Patrick Swayze. Whether or not the Director's Cut is superior to the Theatrical Cut, meanwhile, is ultimately a moot point: as each version has areas of relative strength over the other, there's an argument to be made that it's only through watching both cuts that you'll be able to get the most out of Kelly's film.
Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut was released alongside the Theatrical Cut in a 4-Disc Limited Edition Dual Format Blu-ray & DVD boxset on Monday 12th December 2016.
The 2-Disc Limited Edition Blu-ray (Director's and Theatrical Cuts) and 1-Disc DVD (Theatrical Cut) are released on Monday 9th January 2017.