S. Darko [Blu-ray Review]

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Starring: Daveigh Chase, Briana Evigan, Jackson Rathbone, James Lafferty, Zulay Henad, Elizabeth Berkley, John Hawkes, Bret Roberts, Matthew Davis, Ed Westwick
Directed By: Chris Fisher

Running Time: 103 minutes
Ratings: Canada – 14A, USA – R, UK – 15

Back Cover

Daveigh Chase (Donnie Darko, The Ring) stars in the riveting follow-up to the smash cult hit Donnie Darko! Co-starring Ed Westwick (TV’s Gossip Girl) and Briana Evigan (Step Up 2: The Streets), this edgy and intriguing psychological thriller takes you through the wormhole into a world where time means nothing and the end is near!

Seven years after her brother’s death, Samantha Darko (Chase) is on the run… from her shattered home, from her bizarre past, and even from herself. But when she and her friend Corey (Evigan) 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 tely 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!

Movie

S.DarkoLet me start by outing myself as one of the few who did not enjoy Donnie Darko, the film upon which this sequel (or perhaps “spin-off“ might prove to be a more appropriate classification) is based. I found that film to be a pretentious project that exuded the notion of “art for the sake of art” without any type of respect for the notion of “art as expression.“ And this film takes the worst aspects of the original and amplifies them tenfold!

Let’s start with the writing. The plot of the film is littered with cliches and predictability. The damsels in distress being saved by the small town broodish greaser bad boy while the community preacher tries to “save“ them amid his own crisis and yada yada yada. The face palm caricatures and their situations are never ending. The film is infected so badly by these that the few truly unexpected plot twists feel exaggeratedly out of place, adding to the sense of inconsistency throughout the hour and forty five minute presentation. The dialogue in the film is just as atrocious. Cliches abound. I decided to watch several scenes again after my first viewing was complete, but this time with my sound system muted. The presentation was actually improved while the scenes were still completely comprehensible! Surprisingly, this little experiment yielded me an improved opinion on one aspect of the film. The performances.

There are no stand-out performances within the ensemble that makes up the cast of S. Darko. The group really works well together in staying on par with each other through the less than mediocre material given them to work with. Aside from one particular scene where the town geek is trying to romance the heroine of the film and goes slightly deranged from his meteorite rash, the actual performances in the film are quite eloquent. Facial expressions are what really come to the forefront in bringing the characters to life when the dialogue they spew happens to be so lifeless. So, despite being dropped into stereotypical molds with drudgery for dialogue, the actors manage to shine a bit.

Chris Fisher does not help matters with his approach in capturing the already gruesome script and turning into a cohesive series of meaningful images. The style jumps randomly around cinematic styles to film student quality to television series camera movements. However, I will give him and Marvin V. Rush’s cinematography some credit. In scenes where characters are existing within otherworldly realms, whatever those realms may be, the visual presentation is almost always sheer eye candy. Unfortunately, without any substance to back those images up, their significance exists only within the time they are shown on screen.

One thing that I can be thankful for regarding this trifle of a project is that it has given me poetic licence to create my own film term. In this age of digital communication and contractuary grammar, I present to you my own personal classification of film genre… F.ART! This term can be applied to S. Darko for several reasons. The first being the literal description of the anacronized term: Facetious Art. While the film is certainly artistic by design, it is “lacking serious intent and concerned with something nonessential, amusing, or frivolous.” The second reason being that it just plain stinks, like all gaseous emissions associated with the same term. And the third being that it is a film that encourages overzealous artistic minds to sit around and “blow hot air” trying to theorize about the great mysteries of existence without any semblance of film related focal point upon which to concentrate.

Crave Factor – 3

Extras

Commentary – Director Chris Fisher, writer Nathan Atkins, and cinematographer Marvin V. Rush try to defend their work on this “fairytale companion piece” to Donnie Darko. Personally, I didn’t find much of what they had to offer to be very interesting. The parts that were interesting were mostly having to do with decisions that the filmmakers would have changed in retrospect. A couple of those ideas could have actually helped the film’s quality. Most of the commentary focuses on practical aspects of filming the scenes on screen.

The Making Of S. Darko (15:01) – The only part of this extra of any interest lasted a full 20 or 30 seconds at most. Several of the cast and the key filmmakers discuss their personal opinions regarding the thematic issue of “free will vs. destiny.” The rest of the 15 minutes sounds too much like a desperate plea to have the fans at least accept this “continuation” if they can’t enjoy it.

Utah Too Much (6:45) – This extra captures the inspiration received by some cast members who were inspired by the filming locations in the state of Utah. Several cast and crew got together at nights and wrote a song they called “Utah Too Much.” It’s a mini documentary about the making of that song. They play the entire track over a sequence of clips showcasing the Utah environment, as well as on location clips.

Deleted Scenes (6:03 as ‘Play All‘) – There isn’t much in these scenes that could help the film. However, there are a couple of scenes viewable here that would have helped to flesh out the characters of Samantha and Corey a little bit better.

Crave Factor – 3

Video

1.78:1 Widescreen / AVC

This transfer can be called inconsistent at best for a high definition presentation. Blu-ray deserves better than what has been done with this film. I doubt it has much to do with the transfer itself and has more to do with the actual decisions/procedures on location while filming. Firstly, the colour of the film is severely bi-polar. During day sequences the colours tend to be a bit too bright, causing some minor contrasting issues to flare up. This, in turn, affects that amount of detail that can be seen. Night sequences seem to blend the palette, forcing the depth of the image to disappear completely. Softness is the name of the game when night rears its ugly head for this presentation. And, the fact that any semblance of varying black levels barely exist doesn’t help much. There are so few scenes where the video quality is on par with the Blu-ray spec that I’d venture to guess that, aside from a slightly pink skin tone, the DVD presentation would be able to compete with this HD presentation.

Crave Factor – 2

Audio

5.1 DTS HD MA

The good news? The audio offering on this release is both well balanced and everything, including dialogue, is crystal clear. The surround satellite speakers definitely have their time to shine throughout the film as well. The creepy rabbit voice and meteor shower are perfect examples of this. However, there are two major strikes against the track. The first strike is the feeling of a compressed audio spectrum. The treble and bass don’t ever quite peak near the levels that I have come to expect from DTS HD MA encodes. This leaves the track a bit lifeless to a keen set of ears. And the second strike comes in the form of the sound design. This really has nothing to do with the encode itself, but some of the music and folly effects used in the film just sound odd, and not in an “odd to match the artistic composition of the image“ sort of way. At times the quality of some sound just lacks believability.

This DTS HD MA track gets the job done, but it does not stand out as anything spectacular.

Crave Factor – 6

Menu

A simple, yet elegant, menu design gives the viewer a sense that they will be experiencing something special. The screen backdrop is that of a long highway slightly out of focus fading into the distance. In the sky above the road a twinkle of light expands into, what can only be described as, a cosmic explosion. The fragments of light push outwards toward the screen with shockwave like rings of light. To help create the illusion of forward motion with these light fragments, each side of the screen has a sequence of translucent still frames from the film travelling towards the viewer. All along, a very subtle and relaxing piece of the film’s orchestration can be heard over top of the visuals. All menu options are displayed along the bottom of the screen. Menu navigation is exceptionally well handled with very smooth and fluid transition effects. It all flows very well with the image and music accompaniment. The only negative aspect of the menu is that the whole sequence is far too short and thus can become very repetitive. Extending the sequence by another 15 or 20 seconds would have been ideal.

The playback menu functions exactly as the main disc menu, but without the visuals.

Crave Factor – 8

Conclusion

S. Darko comes to Blu-ray with more than a lacklustre performance. The video quality is highly inconsistent in the varying states of scene lighting. The audio track is modest at best for a DTS HD MA encode. As far as content that could help someone understand what the filmmakers were thinking, there is also a lack of focused extra content. There are bullet point moments throughout the commentary track and making-of feature. However, those few moments are hardly worth the time and/or effort required in trying to find them. So, with a bad film, bad presentation, and lack of quality content, there is no way that this reviewer can recommend this release for any reason whatsoever. I would guess that the fact I rated the disc menu higher than anything else would make that pretty clear though.

Overall Crave Factor – 4

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