Do films of the past need remastering? Donnie Darko’s influence is more powerful than people may realise.
At this current time. Donnie Darko is 15 years old, but yet its influence can still be seen in film and television shows made today. The most recent examples of its influence can be seen in the Netflix series Stranger Things and the film Arrival. So what is it about Donnie Darko that is so interesting? Donnie Darko is a hybrid of many genres, it mixes science fiction, horror, thriller all into one. To explain the film can be complicated, but a brief synopsis is that a troubled teenager named Donnie Darko (Jake Gyllenhaal) starts suffering from visions of a large rabbit named Frank, who forces Donnie to commit certain acts after he narrowly escapes a strange accident.
This will already have your brain firing questions all at once. But what if I also told you that it is about time travel. It teaches you concepts about time travel and the idea of multiple universes. This can be seen as part of the reason it was suffering majorly when the film first was released. It was released only a month after 9/11, America was just not ready for a hard-hitting apocalyptic film about a giant time travelling bunny. But once it was released on DVD more and more people would discover it and it would go on as a cult classic.
This leads to my first reason for why a remaster is perfect for the film today. At the time of release in 2001, if you managed to have seen the film, the only thing you could have really done is talk to people about it. So if you saw it and did not understand any of it there was nothing you could really do. Other than hope that someone else you knew had seen it so they could try to explain it. It could have been disliked because of a misunderstanding of the complex narrative. Whereas today we have so much more ways to communicate and voice opinions in this digital age. That means that if you watched Donnie Darko today and were confused, you would only have to type into youtube and there would be thousands of analysis and plot explanations. There is an entire website dedicated to it (http://www.donniedarko.org.uk/) that lays out the entire plot, each universe and even each chapter of the book that features in the film called The Philosophy of Time Travel. You could be a master of the film in no time. This gains the film the appreciation it deserves, rather than dismissing it because you don’t understand what happened.
Arrival had the same effect. Arrival is about a linguist who is recruited to help communicate to aliens who have appeared in 12 different locations around the world. Without ruining the plot as it deserves being seen for yourself. It uses time in a very similar way to Donnie Darko. This also links to my point on Donnie Darko’s influence. As the story is told in a Non-Linear style where parts of the plot might only make sense when you have seen a certain moment in the film. This is exactly what Donnie Darko does, as you might be shown a scene like one where Donnie takes an axe and starts attacking something but the audience has no idea what this means. Later down the line, we learn exactly what that scene was and it all starts to make sense. Arrival shows scenes at the start that only make sense once you saw a point that comes nearer the end. The influence is clear and shows that Donnie Darko has had an influence on current science fiction films that have come 15 years later.
Stranger Things has been a Netflix series that has received a lot of praise. It captures an 80’s Science-fiction/horror vibe in a very gripping and intense series of only eight episodes to date. Donnie Darko has many influences that can be seen in Stranger Things. One of the most notable ones, is there is a scene in Stranger Things where the children ask their science teacher about parallel dimensions, because who else would you turn too? The same scene happens in Donnie Darko just about time travel instead. Donnie goes and asks his science teacher about time travel, wormholes the whole lot. So again we can see that Stranger Things wanted to pay homage to Donnie Darko by replicating a similar scene. The other similarities come from the 80’s setting itself, the soundtrack in Donnie Darko features a mix of 80’s songs from artists such as Echo and the Bunnymen, Tears for Fears and Duran Duran. Also, a lot of Science fiction films from that period would focus on the idea of children/teenagers who didn’t seem to fit into their society. This is both Donnie and the 3 boys in Stranger Things. So if you have managed to finish Stranger Things and are waiting patiently for season 2. This is why Donnie Darko was remastered. So you can see how it has influenced the science fiction films and TV that exists today.
I was lucky enough to attend the press screening of a 4K remaster of the theatrical version of Donnie Darko. What is interesting is that they chose to remaster the theatrical release and not the director’s cut. The director’s cut adds more explanation, but I personally feel that this ends up taking away the mystery and ambiguous nature of the film. Maybe because as I mentioned previously, this time round all the knowledge behind the film already exists. I much prefer the puzzle you piece together watching the theatrical version. The cinematography and sound elements alone are a reason to go watch this 4K release. The shots have been restored and look real impressive. Also, the sound of Frank’s voice is so impactful that it will give you chills the first time you hear it in the cinema.
Overall, my point is that Donnie Darko is a well deserved remaster. Due to its major influences and the new atmosphere that the 4K restoration has given it. I recommend watching it and seeing what you take away from it. Because you never know if a time travelling bunny could tell you that your world could be coming to an end in ’28 days, 6 hours, 42 minutes and 12 seconds’.
DONNIE DARKO 15th Anniversary 4K Restoration will screen at the BFI from 16th December and in cinemas nationwide from 23rd December