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Fox Home Entertainment presents
From Hell (2001)

"This is methodical. The butchery is irrational, but meticulous and deliberate. Altogether a different breed of killer."
- Inspector Abberline (Johnny Depp)

Review By: Rich Rosell  
Published: May 13, 2002

Stars: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Robbie Coltrane
Other Stars: Ian Holm, Ian Richardson, Jason Flemyng, Terence Harvey, Katrin Cartlidge, Susan Lynch, Lesley Sharp, Paul Rhys, Joanna Page
Director: The Hughes Brothers

Manufacturer: PDSC
MPAA Rating: R for strong violence/gore, sexuality, language and drug content
Run Time: 02h:02m:13s
Release Date: May 14, 2002
UPC: 024543035572
Genre: horror


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AA-A- A

DVD Review

In 1888 London, between August and September, five prostitutes were viciously murdered in the seedy Whitechapel district; their bodies were mutilated, and specific organs removed, almost ritualistically. The killer, dubbed Jack the Ripper, was never found, and in the years following the murders numerous theories have developed as to who he really was. Some speculate he was a surgeon, some a butcher, while others implicated high-ranking political figureheads of the era. There are a handful of viable and tangible suspects, but the crimes will likely remain unsolved.

Based loosely on Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell's graphic novel masterwork From Hell, this film blends a mixture of real-life and fictional characters, and the result is not exactly a history lesson (nor was it intended to be), but rather a stylish and violent Victorian murder mystery. One of the things that makes this adaptation so interesting is that it was directed by Allen and Albert Hughes, the brothers best known for the gritty urban films Dead Presidents (1995) and Menace II Society (1993). The Hughes, and screenwriter Rafael Yglesias, revamped the first script for From Hell, after extensive research into Ripper history, choosing to inject the story with more accuracy and realism, and less of the typical Hollywood fluff that was apparently evident in the original draft. Their work paid off, and the result is a script that parallels actual events rather closely, while remaining a dramatically viable thriller, and pays great detail to how and where the victims were found.

Instead of telling the story completely through the eyes of The Ripper, as was done in the graphic novel, this version alternates between the perspective of the prostitutes, led by red-haired Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) and that of Inspector Abberline (Johnny Depp), the man tracking the killer, aided by the loyal Sgt. Godley (Robbie Coltrane). Abberline is like a Victorian Frank Black from Millennium, in that he has eerie, nightmarish visions of the killings, only his are while under the mind-altering influence of opium, or while "chasing the dragon", as it's referred to here.

Unlike history, has yet to resolve the Ripper murders, From Hell tweaks reality and offers an intelligent resolution to the crimes, and this is where the screenplay's meshing of fact and fiction comes through effectively. Yglesias' screenplay liberally tosses out red herrings like confetti, but it delivers what I consider to be a completely satisfying resolution, including a very non-Hollywood climax.

The visual elements, due in no small part to the extraordinary work of cinematographer Peter Deming (Mulholland Drive) and the intricate Whitechapel set designed by Martin Child, seem to capture the shadowy, misty, dirty London of 1888 quite accurately; while this is a period-piece film, it never looks like a simple costume drama. Whitechapel, with it's fly-filled morgues and labyrinthian alleys, is dark and alien, and it seems that the wealthy and the poor exist on separate planets.

Depp, working with a natural, believable British accent, gives Abberline the necessary edge as the opium-puffing visionary. His performance is deceptively low-key, but Depp, one of those consistently strong actors, has a suitable screen presence that allows him to carry the film in this manner. The casting of Graham is a bit off, and she is just too good looking to be acceptable as a simple street whore no matter how frumpy they try to make her, and if you've ever seen a photo of the real Mary Kelly, then I think you would agree.

It's a shame, and more than a bit confusing, that From Hell didn't do better theatrically, because it was not only a radical departure for the directors, but it is an example of visually exciting filmmaking.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Peter Deming's stellar cinematography is rewarded on this beautiful 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. Much of the film is set in the dark world of Whitechapel, and the sharp image transfer here is spot on, with deep golden hues balanced against deep shadows. Little, if any, compression issues here, and the source print itself appears to have been pristine.

A beauty of a transfer from what could have easily become a muddy mess. Fox and PDSC have done an exceptional job on this disc.

Image Transfer Grade: A-

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0French, Spanishno
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishno
DTSEnglishno


Audio Transfer Review: From Hell's THX-certified audio options include a pair of equally solid mixes, in 5.1 and DTS. There isn't a vast difference between the two, though I noticed the DTS track to provide a bit more rumble during key dramatic moments. The tracks are mixed quite aggressively, with very active surround effects, especially during Abberline's opium visions. All channels are used effectively to create a swirling soundfield that is crisp and well-produced.

French and Spanish 2.0 surround tracks are also included.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 32 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Other Trailer(s) featuring Unfaithful
20 Deleted Scenes
1 Alternate Endings
1 Documentaries
5 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Allen Hughes, Albert Hughes, Robbie Coltrane, Rafael Yglesias, Peter Deming
Packaging: Amaray Double
Picture Disc
2 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Fox has loaded this two-disc set with some really strong extras:

Disc One
Commentary
This is track from the Hughes brothers, actor Robbie Coltrane, screenwriter Rafael Yglesias and cinematographer Peter Deming is cobbled together, and while not scene-specific, is edited so that appropriate comments match the onscreen action. Allen and Albert Hughes freely admit their reluctance to participate in the track, though they are not shy about speaking their minds, especially during a final rant about studio politics and the entire creative process that is an eye-opener. They state that the "experience of making the film was more profitable than the film." Yglesias, with his discussion on red herring development, offers the most substantive morsels, while Coltrane and Deming provide occasional input. Though this is an edited together commentary, the content is consistently worthwhile and should please fans of the film (and graphic novel) greatly.

Deleted Scenes/Alternate Ending
The twenty deleted scenes, and the alternate ending, are presented in widescreen format and available with an optional commentary by Albert Hughes, as well as the "Play All" option. Each scene begins and ends with black and white footage that was in the final print, with the deleted material appearing in color; I appreciated that little effort, which made it easier to see how these scenes originally fit in From Hell. Hughes comments reveal that most of the excising was due to some combo related to either runtime, timing or redundancy. Hughes admits that scene #33 was removed because the extras who were playing mourners had not removed their hats. While none of the deleted scenes are pivotal, there availability on this two-disc set is appreciated, in part due to Hughes sometimes very open comments about them.

The alternate ending is a slight variation on the film's actual ending, and apart from some leering nudity, is far less effective than the one used in the final edit.

The deleted scenes, and their runtimes, are:
#11 Mary Takes Baby Alice to Anna's Parents (:59s)
#28 Girls Working the Streets (:27s)
#33 Polly's Funeral Procession (01m:22s)
#35 Abberline's Dark Annie Dream (:49s)
#40-41 Netley Masturbates/Dark Annie Does Sailor (01m:27s)
#49 Dark Annie Death (02m:11s)
#61 The Queen and Hallstrom (:45s)
#66-67 Netley Writes "From Hell" Address (01m:26s)
#69 Laborers Are at Anna's Parents Flat (:43s)
#96-110 Crank Letter Montage (:59s)
#105 Netley Waits Outside Ten Bells (:37s)
#114-116 Netley Waits Outside Ten Bells/Abberline Has Dream About Ripper/Godley Wakes Abberline Up From His Dream (01m:25s)
#119 Liz Bumps Into Netley (:50s)
#123 Abberline Gets Off Of Coach/Godley Says "This Is It" (:47s)
#126-133 Netley Confronted By Constable/Abberline Walks Down Street/Abberline Gets Back in Coach (02m:09s)
#136 Kate Looks in Bar For Liz (:21s)
#149 Netley Sees Abberline Go Into Ten Bells
#155 and 159-161 McQueen Threatens Mary Kelly/Godley and Abberline in Library/Netley Follows Ada (02m:11s)
#172 Netley Drives Coach Past Church (:18s)
#191 Netley Strangled (:47s)


#196a Alternate Ending—Shanghai Opium Den (01m:49s)

The THX optimization setup section is also included on disc one.

Disc TwoA generally solid collection of production featurettes and hugely informative history on Jack the Ripper make these extras well worth watching:

Jack the Ripper: 6 Degrees Of Separation (30:37s)
This "explanation of happenings" is one of those branching featurettes, with an occasional magnifying glass icon that can lead inquisitive viewers to more detailed information. The main piece centers on a narrative of Jack the Ripper history, the victims and the various suspects. The branching leads to various portions of a grainy mid-1970s documentary, with graphic morgue photos and descriptions, and these segments probably add another twenty minutes to the overall runtime. The information here is a fascinating follow-up to From Hell, and reinforces the attention to detail the Hughes brothers incorporated.

Production Design (11m:32s)
This segment is primarily concerned with production designer Martin Child's elaborate Whitechapel set that was constructed for the film. It's an impressive set, and Child is very nonchalant discussing its construction. These kind of production feats always amaze me, and the detail is outstanding.

Graphic Novel-To-Film Comparison (09:58s)
Here we learn how the Alan Moore/Eddie Campbell graphic novel From Hell was different not only from the final film, but from the original script that the Hughes brothers received. The Hughes and producer Don Murphy offer insight on what elements would and wouldn't work, as a literal adaptation, and also provide a few scenes that were lifted directly from the graphic novel.

Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder (09:57s)
A brief history of the mysterious, addictive green liquor, which figures prominently in the storyline, and how it was eventually banned in France, Switzerland and the United States.

Tour of the Murder Sites (07m:48s)
The Hughes brothers wander the elaborate Whitechapel set, and point out the locations of the various Ripper murders. This segment is pretty light in tone, but it's obvious how immersed in the subject matter these guys are.

A View From Hell (14m:31s)
The weakest of the bunch, this HBO produced puff piece is hosted by hubba-hubba Heather Graham. It consists mostly of film footage, with a smattering of behind-the-scenes footage and interviews with all of the principle actors and production talent.

Disc two concludes with trailers for From Hell and Unfaithful.

Extras Grade: A

 

Final Comments

Stylish. Creepy. Atmospheric. Violent.

This film failed at the box office, thanks in part to a meager promotional campaign, but should hopefully find a new life thanks to this impressive 2-disc set from Fox.

Highly recommended.

 


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