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SOCIAL CLIMES

'Donnie' has come back in a big way

July 25, 2004|Michael Ordona | Times Staff Writer

"I was scared to go back to the film," says writer-director Richard Kelly at the premiere party for "Donnie Darko: The Director's Cut." "I didn't want to desecrate something people loved."

"I'm excited to see the changes. It's the one movie I refuse to erase on my TiVo," says fan Robert Olding.

Rewind to 2000. The low-budget time-travel drama "Donnie Darko" had an underwhelming initial release, garnering warm critical notices but grossing less than $600,000. "Darko" did help to launch the career of Jake Gyllenhaal, whose low-key performance as the troubled protagonist struck a chord with fans.

Years later, midnight showings and DVD sales earned the movie a cult following and now a new life, as Kelly used a power much like Donnie's to alter his film, adding 20 minutes of footage.

Will the changes spoil the film's mystery? Gyllenhaal doesn't think so. "Richard's intent was always to put enough ambiguities in it so people would be forced to answer the questions themselves."

Fast forward to July 15, 2004. About 250 guests and half the cast roam the Egyptian Theatre's courtyard on a warm night. Some of the bolder fans get up the nerve to mingle with the actors. A DJ spins hits of the '80s, in keeping with the film's setting.

If given his character's power to change the past, Gyllenhaal says, he doubts he would use it. "There are things you have regrets about, but that doesn't mean you'd want to change anything. Regrets are the catalysts for change."

The presidential election of 1988 looms large in the background of the film, but Kelly says he didn't intend an overt political statement. "It's more about analyzing recent history. I vote a certain way, but I'm not telling you who to side with. Pay attention to why you vote, study recent history to understand what's happening, study Iraq and the 2000 election."

"I like the bunny rabbit," says fan Annette Homewood. The 6-foot-tall "bunny rabbit," a possibly malevolent time-traveler named Frank, is the face of the film. But its heart may be Kitty Farmer, the fanatical gym teacher played by veteran character actress Beth Grant.

"She's the one you love to hate -- but she has heart," says Grant. " 'I have love, not fear!' " she declares, paraphrasing one of her best-known lines. Then she admonishes members of the press: "Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion!"

Later, Grant surprises Kelly with a Sparkle Motion performance, in which pre-teen girls re-create the film's fan-favorite dance routine to Duran Duran's "Notorious."

"They should have let me in there," laughs Marina Malota, one of the dancers in the film. "I knew the steps."

With Malota is friend Evan Rachel Wood of "Thirteen." A big fan of the original, Wood heartily endorses the director's cut. "You get to know the people more. I cried."

Not everyone is verklempt, however. Fan Phillip Blackford decries the new sound design as too ordinary. "He took it a step backward," Blackford says. "I still love the film, but it was more poetic without the new sound and visual effects."

Still, most of the guests seem happy with the changes, and auteur Kelly says, "This is really for the fans. If it catches on and goes further, great."

And after all, why shouldn't a movie about time travel ...

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