Angry Robot

Donnie DVD

I have seen the future of DVDs and it is Donnie Darko.

Follow up that pompous hook, you say? er, OK. It’s a simple, refined disc, as mandated by the film’s box office failure; motion backgrounds, but nothing too fancy. It surely has enough special features – deleted scenes, music video, trailers, the usual – but the key to it all is the feature entitled “the philosophy of time travel”. It’s basically an explanation of the film’s cryptic ending, but presented as a sampling of pages from Grandma Death’s book. It enhances the film experience by demonstrating an artifact from the story. It’s a way of learning more about the film from inside rather than from without.

An example. Something similar happens with Mulholland Drive but in the wrong way. That DVD provides a good transfer of the film, but beyond that it’s an abomination – there aren’t even chapter markers! (David Lynch misunderstands hypermedia, but that’s another story.) However, the disc comes with an insert card entitled “David Lynch’s 10 Clues to Unlocking This Thriller”. It serves the same purpose as the Darko disc’s fakey book, but at a remove, from the tired old position: “we are fabulous filmmakers and let us enlighten you as to our precious film’s earthshattering importance.” And this position must be retired.

The Reservoir Dogs special-ed DVD comes with one special feature entitled “Securing the shot: location scouting with Billy Fox.” Hear me when I tell you that it’s one tiny step away from “Taking Out the Trash: Garbage Removal with Assistant Locations Manager Jim Lunchpail” or “Painting Wood Different Colours: Set Decoration with Danny Asscrack.” Who fucking cares. If anyone does now, they won’t for long, as film’s mystique – dare I say aura? – is worn down by junky so-called special features. Behind-the-scenes nonsense ‘featurettes’ have got to stop, as do most directors’ commentaries, as do straight-from-the-junket actor’s interviews. They literally add nothing to the value of the disc since the studios literally give this stuff away in their EPKs.

Who says DVD features have to be behind-the-scenes junk? Certainly not D. Darko’s disc, and that’s why I think it’s gazing longingly into a brighter future. Show us more of the story, not how you made it, goddamn it. Pull us further into your world, O Mighty Filmmakers, and from within it let us judge it for ourselves.

6 comments on "Donnie DVD"

  1. ÿ says:

    This is the third time this week someone’s talked about how great this DVD is to me. I have to wonder what’s going on. I mean, I never heard of this movie when it came out. I never heard of it until like three days ago. But now, it appears to be one of the year’s best films all of a sudden.

    So maybe you can bring it along with you next time we beer?

  2. D says:

    Certainly, although I’m just sayin’ the DVD has a very good feature, not that the film is great. Although I do think the film is great. So I guess you read my mind.

  3. adampsyche says:

    For weeks after seeing that movie (and buying the DVD the next day), I lived in constant fear of bunnies and jet airplane engines.

  4. K Marsh says:

    I find director’s commentaries to be rather interesting…well depends on the director. If you had listened to Richard Kelly’s commentary on the disc he tells you alot about whats going on with the whole time travel thing. Just a tip instead of trying to read those small letters on that feature you are talking about.

  5. josh says:

    You should also look at — I spent like an hour there, just exploring the little nooks and crannies.

  6. D says:

    K Marsh – there’s a lot of potential in the field of commentary tracks, and indeed there are many I hold dear. But the sad truth is, the bulk of them are a waste of time. Often, political concerns render them tame: “so-and-so was a joy to work with.” Or the recording is rushed, or the pairings are ill-conceived. I’ve not listened to it, but apparently the Donnie commentary featuring Jake Gyllenhaal is pretty pointless since the actor cuts short any serious discussion, and the commentary for The Limey is taken over by writer Lem Dobbs’ constant complaints about the oh-so-crucial scenes Soderbergh cut out of the film. In my experience, the best ones are for older movies, and are often voiced by experts rather than insiders. Ebert’s track for Citizen Kane comes to mind, as does some Hong Kong movie or another (work, memory, work!) where an HK-filmophile did the track by necessity since the director spoke no English.

    When I bitch about behind-the-scenes features I’m in polemical mode, of course, but nonetheless I’d like to see more stuff that does away with that trope and instead continues the story by other means. Perhaps we are still waiting for the Saul Bass of DVD design – someone who can transform the merely functional into art that reflects the story.

    Josh – good to see you’re back online. I did indeed poke around on the website to some amusement and eventual frustration at my inability to conjure up bird names. There’s good stuff beyond that, I take it? Also, does anyone know if that sort of flash-style stuff can be integrated into a DVD?

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