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review added: 4/23/02



From Hell
Directors' Limited Edition - 2001 (2002) - 20th Century Fox

review by Todd Doogan of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital Surround
THX-certified

From Hell: Directors' Limited Edition Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): A+/A+

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): A+/A+

Specs and Features

Disc One: The Film
121 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, keep case packaging, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 59:29 in chapter 16), audio commentary (with directors Albert and Allen Hughes, screenwriter Rafael Yglesias, cinematographer Peter Deming and actor Robbie Coltrane), 21 deleted scenes (with optional commentary from director Albert Hughes), THX Optimode test patterns, Easter egg (highlight eyeball in language selection to find DVD production credits) animated film-themed menu screens with sound, scene access (32 chapters), languages: English (DD and DTS 5.1), French and Spanish (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Supplemental Material
Jack the Ripper: 6 Degrees of Separation documentary with branching additional footage, Production Design featurette with interviews and behind-the-scenes footage, From Hell: Graphic Novel featurette with interviews and art from the comic, Tour of the Murder Sites featurette hosted by Albert and Allen Hughes, Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder featurette, A View from Hell "making of" television special hosted by Heather Graham, theatrical trailers (for From Hell and Unfaithful), animated menu screens with sound, languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none


The definitive Jack the Ripper film has yet to be made, but From Hell is a very good attempt. I have to admit, aside from the "time lapse" sequence that highlights one of the more brutal murders, I was pretty satisfied with this film when I saw it in the theater. After seeing the film again on DVD, and hearing why the time lapse sequence is in the film, I find From Hell growing on me in a positive way.

There are many schools of thought on how, why, who and what may have killed that gaggle of prostitutes in turn of the century London, and this film latches onto one of the more loony theories. I mean, any theory about Jack is justifiable at this point, but the way all of this unspools gets a bit geeky by the end. Ancient black lodges of doom, hidden bloodlines and crazed patriots could have been what all these murders where about... but I doubt it. And the ending twist and anti-Hollywood revelation about our hero in the last sequence makes it that much more hard to swallow. But somehow, the Hughes Brothers make it work, with the help of a solid crew, a right good cast and a very cool bit of source material.

From Hell, the movie, grew out of a graphic novel penned by Watchmen creator Alan Moore. The detail in this thing, thanks to artist Eddie Campbell, was flabbergasting. The recently released collected edition is as thick as a phone book, and each page might as well be written and drawn with human blood. The Hughes Bros. came to the project at Disney and decided to make the film, only if it could be brought back to the vision created by the "novel". At the point they got a hold of it, it became something not quite honest. Very Hollywood. They took great pains to spearhead the project, keeping it with them when they jumped from Disney to Fox. The end result is pretty impressive visually and tonally. Although it deviates from the graphic novel, it still makes sure to pull enough from the source that there's no confusing things - this is about the darkness that lives in the heart of man.

To go into the story of the film too much would be a disservice. If you know the story of Jack the Ripper, this is it as told through a wild conspiracy theory. If you don't know the tale, this film is a good way to learn. The primer version is this: Johnny Depp plays an opium addicted Scotland Yard investigator, who stumbles into the case and works to solve it with the help of a prostitute (Heather Graham), his partner (Robbie Coltrane) and the Royal families' physician-in-extraordinary (Ian Holm). That should give you enough you going in. Enjoy the ride.

Fox is releasing this DVD in two versions. The first will be a double-disc special edition (reviewed here). In a few months time, that version will be pulled and a new single-disc regular edition will be released. Both editions will be made up of an identical Disc One, which presents the film in very well done anamorphic widescreen, along with audio in both Dolby Digital and DTS 5.1, an audio commentary track and deleted scenes. The limited edition's Disc Two is pretty voluminous, and is definitely worth the 2-disc version's higher purchase price if you liked the film.

This anamorphic widescreen transfer is one of Fox's best, in my opinion. The blacks are solid, the yellows are sickening and the line detail is perfect. Even the reds are spot on (you can probably guess why that's important). This film didn't even look this good in the theater. The sound is also top notch on disc. The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is playful and very dynamic, but the DTS kicks it up even higher. I was very pleased by both of these sound mixes. The drips, the thumps, the screams... it all comes across incredibly well on DVD. Fox didn't stumble in the slightest when bring this film to us for viewing in our homes.

Disc One, as I mentioned above, also contains an audio commentary track. It's a very good track - not the best, but for relating true stories of studio politics, it's a great track. The Hughes Brothers walk us through the history of this film, and how they made it. We get all sorts of inside information from them, the screenwriter, cinematographer and even actor Robbie Coltrane, who steps in to gives us an actor's perspective. I wished the track were with the Hughes the whole time though. Their thoughts are what makes the track listenable. You'll also find an incredible selection of some 21 deleted scenes on Disc One. Most are worthless, but with the optional commentary from Albert Hughes, this can be hilarious. My favorite is a comment about why a camera holds on an actresses' butt during the alternate ending. THAT is worth sitting through the entire disc for. It's beautiful. Rounding out Disc One are THX Optimode test signals, which are becoming so commonplace on DVDs that they're hardly worth listing as an extra.

Now on to the limited edition's Disc Two - here you'll find all of the fun stuff. First up is Jack the Ripper: 6 Degrees of Separation. This is a pretty long documentary about the true murders: what happened and where, along with some of the theories as to whodunnit. Using a "white rabbit" feature (here it's a red magnifying glass), you can access additional footage from a 1970s documentary on the murders. It's very interesting and well worth a watch. Next up is the Production Design featurette. It contains interviews with the directors and the production designer about the set design, and why it was decided to build London from the ground up in Prague. It also contains a nice assortment of behind-the-scenes footage of some of the murder scenes. Moving on, you'll find a featurette about the From Hell: Graphic Novel. Mostly, it's the directors walking us through the pages of the comic, showing us what was pulled shot for shot and how the galleys of the novel where essentially used as storyboards for the cast and crew. Instead of being a historical piece, the Tour of the Murder Sites featurette is more like a tour of the set - it's just the Hughes' walking us point to point through the murders on the film's in-studio locations. Cheap trick, but cool anyway. Rounding things out is a nice historical look at Absinthe in the Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder featurette, a fluffy (but worth watching) Fox special: A View from Hell hosted by Heather Graham, and trailers for From Hell and the upcoming Unfaithful. All of this material is well worth seeing, so do your best to pick up the limited edition while you can.

Without a doubt, From Hell is the cutting edge of DVD. It takes full advantage of the concepts and the power of the medium. At a time when studious are pumping out fluffy edition after fluffy edition, it's nice to see a real honest to goodness SE. I don't know if I like the idea that this definitive version is going to disappear after a few months, but the 2-disc set is certainly worth picking up. There's a wealth of stuff on here, and each and every second of it with worth your time. For DVD fans, From Hell is heaven sent.

Todd Doogan
todddoogan@thedigitalbits.com




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