"S. Darko" Blu-ray Review
May 18, 2009 by Zach Demeter
Although Donnie Darko by no means performed admirably (domestically) at the box office, it was the films later release on the DVD format that helped bring in its audience, elevating it to a “cult”-like status that had newly found fans recommending it to everyone they knew. The strange tale of Donnie Darko was one that played with the mind as it entertained not only with its gloomy visuals, dark humor and twisted sense of…well, everything. There was nothing else quite like the film, although later entries into the psychological horror genre like Memento and The Machinist would follow in a similar “that made my brain hurt….but I liked it!” way. So what better way to honor the memory of Donnie Darko than to…make a DTV sequel to it? Erm…ok, if you say so, Fox.
Seven years after her brother’s death, Samantha Darko is on the run…from her shattered home, from her bizarre past, and even from herself. But when she and her friend Corey are stranded in a desert town, they witness a meteorite crash that fractures time…and begins a countdown to the end of the world. Now Sam must rely on the frightening visions that plague her dreams to overcome her own dark destiny and set time back on course before everything she knows is destroyed!
Being a relative newcomer to Donnie Darko fandom, I made no real decision about S. Darko until I popped the disc in. The main reason behind this decision was that they actually got the younger sister of Donnie to return to her role, years later. Unfortunately with original writer/director Richard Kelly not touching the production of S. Darko at all, what we ultimately ended up with was something no one necessarily wanted. While it certainly follows a similar path that can be likened to Donnie Darko…the inclusion of the stomach tunnels, freaky visions, and even Frank the Rabbit are really only there for the film to say that it actually was connected to something else and that, in fact, it hadn’t just come out of nowhere.
But it really had. The connections to the previous film are in visuals only, as the same sense of confusion and bewilderment just doesn’t creep over the audience the same way the original film did. Worse yet, the twists and turns of the first film, which slowly actually and truly genuinely make sense when you let them fester with you long enough, are absolutely nonsensical in S. Darko. “Well, you just watched it!” you quip, “Maybe this film just needs to gestate like the first one.” Well I might give you credit for posturing such a question, but the key element is in this film is that…well, let me put it to you this way. After watching Donnie Darko, you had that feeling that you just had your mild exploded, but at the same time you still felt sure that it all made sense. There was just something you missed picking up on. With S. Darko? There is no such feeling.
In fact, what makes no sense at all in this film is why Donnie Darko’s sister is even in it. Her influence on this small town that she and her friend visit is negligible, as there was already a trouble individual (“Iraq Jack”) that was living there receiving these visions. In essence, Samantha Darko acts as Frank the Rabbit in this film for some reason, giving Iraq Jack clues about the eventual end of the world. In this way I could see a series of films being made, simply of people being mentally possessed like Donnie Darko was…but really, I think Samantha was shoehorned in here only to add some familiarity to the whole production.
And that’s really a shame as some of the visuals are absolutely breathtaking. The opening shots of the film especially had my jaw on the floor and I was actually feeling really good about the possibility of this film not being a giant let down. Sadly that wouldn’t come to pass, as at the twelve minute mark some absolutely horrendous looking green screen work pops up and I’m immediately ripped out of the film. And while the temporal flux/shift/tubes/whatever things that pop up here do look better than their Donnie Darko counterparts, that’s really the only thing that looks better. Any other CGI work they did was really just…eye-gougingly awful.
Really it’s a terrible shame this film had to be made as it puts a dark mark on the Donnie Darko legacy. What was once a beautiful head-shaker is now part of a series, half of which is absolute crap. Whether it’s the deaths that really didn’t happen or the random things falling from the sky, it seems as if the writer really just wanted to pick the “what the hell?” elements from Donnie Darko and drop them into this film with no real explanation as to how it all worked.
I honestly can’t recommend this film to anyone. Darko fans will be repulsed and those who never saw the first film would be so unbelievably lost and confused (although there is a nice two paragraph intro the film which summarizes the first film up and sets up this one…but considering how hard to understand the first film was even after seeing all of it…). If you haven’t seen the first film then this second one will just be a completely confusing and big waste of your time. If you did see the first film and enjoyed it…then still, stay away from this. Morbid curiosity may get the better of you, but I assure you…you will not like what you see here. Skip It.
S. Darko arrives in a standard Elite Blu-ray “eco friendly” case (i.e., it’s full of holes!) without any interior inserts. Menus are simple and easy to navigate, while the AVC encoded 1.78:1 transfer simultaneously stuns and repulses. The aforementioned opening sequence of the film genuinely looks stunning in 1080p, but when the lackluster CGI kicks in, it’s noticed even more in high definition. Still, exterior shots and non-SFX bits look genuinely fantastic, with sharp detail and always solid color levels. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is also strong, with plenty of front end during the dream-like sequences and surround usage is strong as well whenever possessed Samantha speaks. Having said that, however, there is really just a lot of talking in this film and you’ll rarely notice the surrounds or subwoofer aside from the varied music soundtrack (which I have to admit is really quite good, kudos to the composer).
Extras start off with a Audio Commentary with Director Chris Fisher, writer Nathan Arkins and Cinematographer Marvin V. Rush that actually does clear up some confusion about the film, but even with some of those inconsistencies cleared up, I still disliked this film a great deal. The biggest annoyance is how they talk about this film as if Kelly would endorse it or posit how he’d feel about it. I’m sure it’s an honor to have your work be so popular that it’s followed up again, but…not when it’s done in a fashion such as this. A quick The Making Of (15:01, SD), another making-of which focuses on a song composed during filming Utah too Much (6:45, SD) and finally a collection of dull and boring Deleted Scenes (6:03) wrap up the set.
Really there’s nothing here worth checking out. Although I will give them props for the cover art—it’s truly bad ass. But the rest of it just…isn’t worth checking out. Skip It.
S. Darko is now available on DVD and Blu-ray.