October 2, 1988: mentally disturbed schoolkid Donnie Darko (Gyllenhaal) encounters a six-foot demon-bunny during a sleepwalk and is told the world will end in 28 days. Then a jet engine inexplicably smashes through his empty bedroom. Just the first of several signs that all is not right with reality...
The director's cut has always been a tricky proposition. On the one hand, there's the James Cameron approach: stuff in all the scenes you had to excise for very good reasons and thereby bloat up a once perfectly trim movie. On the other, there's the Ridley Scott technique: snip out what didn't work, tuck in an extra treat or two, and trim it down to a marginally more effective running time.
Now Richard Kelly's been granted another stab at his confounding but beautifully crafted debut a luxury which, as he puts it, "I do not deserve." Well, it's not so much a question of whether or not he deserved to tinker with what was pretty much a flawless first feature, but whether he should have. And the answer to that is "no".
Don't get us wrong the Director's Cut is no disaster. It retains the wry awareness of period, the great bursts of humour ("Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion!"), the eerie atmospherics of the Frank encounters and a cluster of achingly relatable characters, realised with laudable precision by an excellent cast. Some of the extra scenes do complement this, especially those concerning Donnie's parents.
But most simply involve providing pseudo-scientific exposition via the clumsy device of page insertions from the story's Philosophy Of Time-Travel book. These tell us about 'Tangent Universes', 'The Manipulated Living' and so on, interrupting the narrative's emotional flow and nixing a valuable ambiguity.
It's like hammering signposts along a magical mystery tour; lose some of the mystery and you've lost some of the magic. It didn't matter if we never quite understood how Donnie travelled through time, or what his visions and realisations signified. What mattered was that we understood why he made his choices and that everything made emotional sense in the context of the vast cosmic conundrum he was faced with.
If you're returning for more Donnie, you'll still have tears in your eyes come the sublime Mad World conclusion. If it's your first viewing, you should still be wowed by an astounding masterpiece. But this is undoubtedly the lesser of the two cuts, and since you have the choice, you should stick with version one.
It works as a curio, and fans may appreciate the extra insight, but Darko Redux is hindered rather than helped by the insertions. All this director has done is cut a star off his five-star debut.