From Hell (2001)
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DVD
Twentieth Century Fox (USA). Region 1, NTSC. 2.35:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DTS 5.1, French DD 2.0, Spanish DD 2.0. English Subtitles. 121 minutes
The Movie
Credits
Directors: Albert & Allen Hughes
Starring: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane, Jason Flemyng, Ian Richardson
Screenplay: Rafael Yglesias, Terry Hayes
Tagline: Only the legend will survive
Country: USA
The murders that were committed in the Whitechapel area of the United Kingdom in 1888 will go down in history as the world's most famous unsolved case. The press billed him as "Jack the Ripper" though nothing was known about him. Was it a man? or a woman? or more than one person? Theories have been thrown around, from someone in the Jewish community right up to a giant conspiracy involving the Queen. A series of comic books became the rage when they depicted the murders in such a speculative and daring manner that the artists, Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell, released it as a graphic novel called "From Hell." Using the ideas and innuendos by Stephen Knight, author of "Jack The Ripper: The Final Solution", the novel became a mainstream success. The movie uses elements from the novel, but can it be as interesting as (in my opinion) the only good adaptation of the Ripper murders? The BBC mini-series of Jack, with Michael Caine as Inspector Abberline? Let's find out...

Britain in the late 1880's was poverty stricken. The two economical stereotypes were clearly defined, the rich and the poor. Doctors, Lawyers and aristocrats were definitely well off while "common people", especially foreigners and women, had to slog it out on the dirty, mean streets. Women had to make their money by becoming prostitutes, earning just enough to get themselves a place to sleep at night. Wow, how much easier would it have been if social security was around at this time? But, these ladies of the night have other things to worry about. A killer lurks the streets, singling out five prostitutes who seem to have more in common than just selling themselves. But who exactly is the killer? Is it one of the degenerates who live off the streets? Or someone no-one would expect - someone with tremendous influence and power? It's up to Inspector Fred Abberline (Johnny Depp), a drug addict who has visions of the murders, to find out. With help from a prostitute who might be in the firing line (Heather Graham), a loyal partner (Robbie Coltrane) and an intelligent Royal doctor (Ian Holm), Abberline must find the killer before he continues the rampage...

As someone who has followed the Ripper killings with great interest, and after reading a few novels on the murders, I must say that there are a couple of points that do not sit well with me. Firstly, why make Abberline an addict? As the most senior member of the task force to capture the ripper, Abberline had to be on the ball, not going to underground parlors to get high! A man who knows the streets doesn't necessarily live like the people on the streets. Plus, as competent as Johnny Depp is in the role, the character would be more convincing if he were a bit older. In reality, Inspector Abberline was in his late 40's to 50's. The rest of the cast are good. Ian Holm does ham it up like a delicatessen near the end of the film, but his class shines through as Sir William Gull, head doctor to the monarchy. Robbie Coltrane is fine as Abberline's dependable confidante and Jason Flemying is great as Gull's simple coachman, Netley. Heather Graham has been bashed by a few critics for her performance as Mary Kelly, either for being a bad actress or simply being too good-looking to be a prostitute, but I didn't find her too distracting at all. She'll always be "Rollergirl" to some, but a nice job she does here. I also must point out the style and cinematography shown here by the directors, Albert & Allen Hughes, and cinematographer, Peter Deming (Evil Dead 2, Scream.) The film looks absolutely beautiful and very glossy, with good use of effects, like the speeding up of film during the course of a murder and the colour palette used in the movie.
Video
In 2:35:1 letterboxed, this film truly is a sight to behold. A strong, clear picture with fabulous use of colours, and no sight of dirt or scratches. The film was meant to be dark and murky, otherwise you would have spotted out Jack the Ripper slicing and dicing a mile away! Fox and THX do the consumers right once again!
Audio
When Jack pulls out his tools of destruction, you'll hear it! The Dolby 5.1 track is exceptional, with sound effects from blades swishing to carriages hurtling down Whitechapel clear and vibrant. The film also comes with a DTS track.
Extra Features
There is an audio commentary with the Hughes Brothers, Coltrane, Cinematographer Peter Deming and writer Rafael Yglesias which is fairly informative (I cannot believe that Disney had the rights to From Hell for a while. Imagine what they would have done with it? Jack might have been unmasked as Goofy!) though they were not all taped together. There's also around 20 deleted or alternative scenes (with optional commentary) that are not too bad, but would surely have made the movie too long. On disc two of this "Director's Limited Edition" is a fantastic featurette call "Jack the Ripper: 6 Degrees of Separation", which is like a guide to Jack the Ripper for dummies. Everything you wanted to know about suspects, photos, anything, will be in here. And a magnifying glass will come up periodically to show you excepts from some melodramatic dweeb interviewing writer Stephen Knight about his theory on who the killers were. There's also "A View From Hell", your standard HBO TV preview hosted by Heather Graham (nice outfit!), a video tour of the murder sites that were re-created for the movie (and realistic they were, a lot of effort went into making them look as identical as possible), a comparison of the film next to it's influence, the graphic novel; a featurette on Absinthe (!), which was Inspector Abberline's drink of choice in the film, and trailers for From Hell and Unfaithful.
The Verdict
The movie definitely leans more towards fiction than fact, but it's very interesting because of it. Taking a different stance does hurt this movie from a stylistic point of view, as it doesn't even follow it's source material from the graphic novel faithfully. Maybe it's because the novel was a hell of a lot cruder, but then who would pass off more blood and gratuitous sex? Obviously the MPAA. It's not the DEFINITIVE Jack the Ripper movie, but it's very well made, and worth your time.
Movie Score
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