Review Date: May 17, 2002
Released by: Fox
Release date: 5/14/2002
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes
The Hughes brothers, who gained notoriety for directing and producing the critically acclaimed Menace II Society, bring us the latest take on Jack the Ripper with Fox's From Hell. Fox has released From Hell on a 2-disc "Directors' Limited Edition" DVD (I imagine that means it's eventually going to go the way of movie-only DVDs, like Abyss and ID4) that has an impressive listing of audio/video specifications, as well as supplements. Are they enjoyable supplements? Or are they the dreaded short promotional featurettes strung together? And how are the audio and video presentation? Lets take a look and find out.
The time is late 19th century and the place is London, England. For a group of local "unfortunates" (i.e. whores), led by Mary Kelly (Heather Graham), times are tough. Business is slow and the local Nichols Street gang is demanding money in exchange for "protection." Ex-whore Annie Crook (Joanna Page) asks Mary and friends to watch her newborn baby so she can spend some time with her husband Albert (Mark Dexter), who has just returned from a business trip to France. Mary explains she cannot due to the Nichols Street gang; Ann quickly offers to have Albert give them the money instead. As it turns out, circumstances deny Mary from ever getting that money.
Polly (Annabelle Apsion), one of the whore's in Mary's circle, turns up brutally murdered in an alleyway. Sergeant Peter Godley (Robbie Coltrane) brings Inspector Abberline (Johnny Depp) into the investigation. As time progresses, Mary's circle of whores dwindles in size as they're murdered one by one; each murder more grotesque than the last. All that's left is a mutilated body that's been hacked to pieces. Abberline investigates the murders in a most unusual method; while high on drugs, he has psychic visions each murder before it happens. During the investigation, Abberline and Mary develop an unheard of romantic relationship considering their professions. No matter what the price, Abberline is dedicated to solving the complex mystery behind the ripper and saving Mary before she becomes the next victim.
From Hell is a complex, yet beautiful film that gives a somewhat fictional account of the Jack the Ripper story. When I saw From Hell in theaters I was disappointed by it. I'm not a big fan of the Jack the Ripper storyline to begin with. It's been beaten to death so many times that I usually just avoid such movies. With Depp and the Hughes brothers on board, I felt obligated to give it a chance. To my surprise, I've done an aboutface in regards to my opinion of the movie after watching it again on DVD. The imagery in the film is beautiful. The sets and costumes are incredibly detailed, which helps create the look and feel of 19th century London. The quick cuts of the ripper in action are very powerful sequences that will both shock and frighten viewers, much more so than just drenching the audience with extreme gore. The rough looking dream sequences in which Abberline has his visions are subtle, yet extremely effective. The rough look and quick cuts work well in portraying Abberline's drug induced psychic visions. You feel as if you're there with Abberline, seeing it all through his eyes with him.
As he almost always does, Depp gives a great performance in From Hell as the drugged out and depressed Inspector Abberline. He pulls off the accent well, and it's mentioned in the commentary that he didn't even need a voice coach. Even Heather Graham, who I normally dislike, does an acceptable as Mary Kelly. My problem is the romantic relationship between the two characters. I can dismiss the fact that the very idea of their relationship is entirely unbelievable. What I can't dismiss is the lack of development on the relationship, which makes it all the more unbelievable. Mary goes from nearly hating Abberline to loving him much too quickly. The few scenes that exist for the very sake of establishing the relationship stick out. This is a minor complaint really, but one that bothered me nonetheless.
From Hell is based on one of the many theories behind Jack the Ripper. There are a few aspects of the film that were never part of the Jack the Ripper mythology, or are just plain wrong, but I have no problem with that. This film succeeds in entertaining; that's the key. I'm not looking for a documentary that sticks 100% to the Ripper mythology. Such a premise would be an oxymoron considering there is no 100% to a mythology. It should be noted that much of the Ripper mythology is accurately portrayed in From Hell. But if you're a stickler for "Ripper accuracy", and you really shouldn't be, you may be upset with some parts of the film that reject or just plain ignore some of the facts from the mythology.
I recommend From Hell whole heartily (no pun intended). Horror fans that enjoy a good mystery, one with lots of red herrings thrown in, should find the film quite satisfying. Even gore fiends can expect a decent helping. The film isn't perfect by any means, but the positives far outweigh the negatives. If you haven't seen From Hell, be sure to put add it to your "must see" list.
From Hell is presented in a gorgeous 16x9 transfer displaying its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio. As expected the film is very dark with lots of blacks, low lighting, and shadows. All come across perfectly on this transfer. The red blood and the various colors found in the psychic visions are rich and vibrant, resulting in a strong screen presence when shown. The only grain present is intentional to help create a rough look to various psychic visions. I could not find a single flaw to this transfer; I'm rating it with an A.
By putting the bulk of the supplements on disc two, Fox had plenty of room on disc one to include both DTS and Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks. I'm reviewing primarily the DTS track, though I did sample various portions of the Dolby Digital track as well. Simply put, the DTS track is incredible. It's amazing how important audio can be to a film, and it's certainly proven here. The surrounds and LFE burst to life here; you feel like you're back in 19th century London with the Ripper. From horse drawn carriages passing by to the intense slashings of the Ripper, this track brings it all to life. I loved the dream sequence with the beating grapes symbolizing a pumping heart; my subwoofer was roaring!
I sampled several scenes in Dolby Digital 5.1, and I'd grade the two tracks about the same. The DTS track is a bit heavier with the bass, which I preferred. Also included are French and Spanish Dolby Surround tracks, as well as English subtitles.
From Hell is proof that great soundtracks do not belong to just the big time action movies. This is easily a reference quality soundtrack; I'm rating it with a solid A.
Not only is there a high quality audio and video presentation on the From Hell DVD, this 2-disc special edition is jammed packed with extras.
Starting off is the commentary track by Directors Albert and Allen Hughes, Screenwriter Rafael Yglesias, Cinematographer Peter Deming, and Actor Robbie Coltrane. Each person recorded their track separately; they were then edited and merged together appropriately. Between the group many topics are discussed, some of which are: the various studios the movie has gone through, script changes, comparisons to the graphic novel, actor performances, and discussion on the many differences and similarities between the movie and the real life Jack the Ripper story. Particularly interesting is towards the end of the track is when Albert Hughes starts to degrade the Hollywood movie making industry. Very briefly he discusses the pitfalls of Hollywood, how studios are quick to drop support for a movie if it has a lackluster opening, and his own battle with depression after finishing the film. That explains the disclaimer at the beginning of the DVD stating that the opinions on the commentary do not represent the opinions of 20th Century Fox. I found the commentary track to be both informative and enjoyable. Anyone interested in filmmaking or the Jack the Ripper story would enjoy it, whereas casual horror fans may find it a bit on the dry side. My only complaint would be that it's hard to keep track of who is talking. Studios really need to display a subtitle of the person's name each time they begin talking; it would be much easier to follow.
Over 20 deleted scenes are included with optional commentary by Albert Hughes. Most of the scenes are minor and wouldn't have made much of an impact on the story if they were kept in. Albert explains that most were removed to keep the film moving at a good pace, or because they just didn't work as first envisioned. This rounds out the supplements found on disc one, though there's still disc two which is full of supplements.
First up on disc two is the "Jack the Ripper: 6 Degrees of Separation" documentary. The documentary runs about 30 minutes in length. That running time can increase significantly if you select a magnifying glass during certain parts, which brings up an older documentary that further discusses the current topic. Both new and veteran ripper fans will love this documentary. It includes dozens of drawings from the Ripper case as well as actual autopsy photos of the victims. Various aspects of the Ripper mythology are discussed, ranging from the primary suspects; victims; various theories on the Ripper's motives; and more. You'll also learn about parts of the movie that are pure fiction, parts that are questionable, and parts that are believed to be accurate.
A "Production Design" featurette is included that runs about 12 minutes. In it various members of the cast discuss the shooting locations and sets, as well the challenges encountered with each. There's plenty of behind-the-scenes footage included that lets you get a closeup look at the sets. Next is a "Graphic Novel" featurette that features the Hughes brothers and producer Don Murphy discussing the differences and similarities between the graphic novel and the film adaptation. It runs at about 12 minutes in length; various sections of the novel are shown as well as the scenes from the film that correspond to them.
In the "Tour of the Murder Sites" featurette, the Hughes brothers give a personal tour of each murder site on the set. It's short at 8 minutes in length but it's interesting to see more behind-the-scenes footage. Next up is the "Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder" featurette that runs 10 minutes. It features interviews with Barnaby Conrad, author of Absinthe History in a Bottle, and Ian Hutton, Absinthe Aficionado. They discuss the history of Absinthe, which was the most popular drink in Paris at the end of the 19th century. Apparently it has various medicinal uses, but like most drinks it was also abused. It has become banned in most countries around the world. This featurette seemed a bit out of place to me. Absinthe is featured in the film but not enough to warrant a featurette on it.
The final featurette is "A View From Hell" that is hosted by Heather Graham. It was first aired on HBO and runs 14 minutes. This one is unique from the others as it's the only one featuring interviews with Johnny Depp and Heather Graham. Both the cast and crew discuss the whole Jack the Ripper story and the research involved to bring accuracy to the film. There's more behind-the-scenes footage here as well. Rounding out the supplements are theatrical trailers for From Hell and Unfaithful.
Fortunately, nearly all the supplements are enjoyable. There is such an abundant amount here that it will easily take days for the casual vieiwer to go through. Given that the film didn't do so well at the box office, I'm happy to see Fox giving it special edition treatment. Well done.
This From Hell DVD sports a top notch transfer, reference quality soundtracks, and tons of enjoyable supplements. What more can you ask for? This DVD is a steal at $29.95; Fox has really outdone themselves. As for the movie, most horror fans will enjoy this thrilling portrayal of Jack the Ripper. I highly recommend the movie and this incredible DVD.
Movie - B+
Image Quality - A
Sound - A
Supplements - A-
- Running Time - 2 hours 1 minute
- Rated R
- 2 Discs
- Chapter stops
- English DTS 5.1
- English Dolby Digital 5.1
- French and Spanish Dolby Surround
- English Subtitles
- Audio commentary by Directors Albert and Allen Hughes, Screenwriter Rafael Yglesias, Cinematographer Peter Deming, and Actor Robbie Coltrane
- Alternate Ending and Over 20 Deleted Scenes with Optional Commentary by Albert Hughes
- "Jack the Ripper: 6 Degrees of Separation" Interactive Investigation
- "A View From Hell" HBO Featurette Hosted by Heater Graham
- "Tour of the Murder Sites" Hosted by the Hughes Brothers
- Behind-the-Scenes Featurette Hosted by Production Designer Martin Childs
- Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder" Featurette
- Graphic Novel-to-Film Comparison
- Original Theatrical Trailer