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FROM HELL

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane
Directors: The Hughes Brothers
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, French Dolby Surround, Spanish Dolby Surround
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Features: See Review
Length: 121 Minutes
Release Date: May 14, 2002

“One day, men will look back and say that I gave birth to the twentieth century.”

“You’re not going to see the twentieth century.”

Film ***1/2

From Hell is a gothic horror movie for the ages. Not since Tim Burton’s Sleepy Hollow has a single movie version of a well-known legend of terror graced the screen with supreme atmosphere and authenticity. Credit the directors, twin brothers Allen and Albert Hughes, who have taken a big time departure from their usual films about contemporary street violence (Menace II Society, Dead Presidents). While From Hell may be 180 degrees from the time and place of their previous films, it is pretty much set in the ghetto of different setting, that of 1888, London. The Hughes’ have applied their unique visionary genius in this authentic re-telling of the hunt for the notorious serial killer, Jack the Ripper.

Adapted from a widely acclaimed graphic novel of the same name, the film stars Johnny Depp as Inspector Frederick Abberline, an opium smoking detective who is both known and feared for his ability to dream up his clues and answers to even the most hideous of crimes. Abberline is called in by his close friend, Sergent Godfrey (Robbie Coltrane), to investigate a brutal series of murders in downtown London. The victims have been that of prostitutes working in London’s Whitechapel district. The Ripper dismembers his victims in graphically detailing ways, thus leaving the corpse missing a specific body organ when discovered. When coming to the conclusion that the madman is not committing his murders for profit, but rather as a ritual, he warns the remaining prostitutes to stay off the streets at night. He grows very close to Mary Kelly (Heather Graham), who Abberline suspects as the next potential victim.

Being that From Hell gets most of its adaptation credit from a graphic novel, the film isn’t entirely based on fact. Jack the Ripper himself is considered that of legend, and is rumored to have never been caught by the authorities. The film presents a whole new conclusion to the story that, in its own right, is quite fascinating to think about, as Abberline’s climatic confrontation with the madman marks a very stunning moment in the movie.

I’m astounded that From Hell was overlooked in the Oscar race for set design, costumes, and especially cinematography. The camera work by Peter Deming (Mulholland Dr., Lost Highway) creates an impact that matches the horror of the Ripper killings. The scenes of Jack the Ripper are shot with a true gothic blend of washed out colors, adding an extra dose to enhance the graphic nature of the murders. The sets and costumes are really something for the eyes to experience. The Hughes Brothers did their homework on this project, and got all of the specific details right as a result.

From Hell is a brilliantly realized horror piece, rich in detail and alive with accurately glorious style. Those who cannot stomach graphic gore should stand completely clear, but those who can are going to be blown away just as I was by this authentic tale of terror from a pair of gifted talented filmmakers.

Video ****

The folks at Fox are capable of transferring just about any movie into a marvelous looking disc, but given this film’s superb atmospheric style, I couldn’t wait to see the turnout, and it’s simply one of the most magnificent looking anamorphic transfers I’ve ever seen from them. The settings are in mostly that of darkly lit, since a good portion of the film takes place at night, and the scenes are perfected in the highest mark. There are no picture flaws whatsoever, but some individual scenes carry with them a high contrast, specifically because it was intended that way. The way I see it, this film must have taken a good deal of time to get right in terms of looking great, and Fox should be credited with pulling this wondrous task off. In closing, I will note that the color red is the most frequent color you will see in the film, and it looks bloody good, too!

Audio ****

Accompanying the grand look of the video quality, Fox has also provided a stunning, THX certified 5.1 audio mix. The film’s primary sound presence comes from composer Trevor Jones’ lavish score for the film, and the settings, such as crowded streets, elegant party gatherings, etc., provide a terrific opportunity for surrounding sounds including crowd noise. The scenes of Jack the Ripper murdering his victims are shot in a specific mode that provides a sharp use of sound cuts that come through sharp and most impressive. A purely remarkable job!

Features ****

By far the best packaged released I’ve seen thus far all year. Fox, giving this a rare labeling of ‘Limited Directors’ Edition’, has loaded up this two disc set that will actually make a decent research database in case you are planning do to a term paper on Jack the Ripper anytime soon.

Disc 1 includes an outstanding commentary track by directors Allen and Albert Hughes, cinematographer Peter Deming, screenwriter Rafael Yglesias, and co-star Robbie Coltrane. Also featured are 20 deleted scenes and an alternate ending with optional commentary by Albert Hughes.

Disc 2 contains more additional material to keep you busy for hours. Included is are 5 informative behind the scenes featurettes; “Jack the Ripper, Six Degrees of Separation”, an HBO First Look special hosted by Heather Graham, “Tour of the Murder Sites” hosted by The Hughes Brothers, a featurette on the production design hosted by designer Martin Childs, and last but not least, “Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder”. Also included is a graphic novel-to-film comparison, and a trailer for this film and the upcoming Fox release, Unfaithful.

Summary:

From Hell is a tremendous triumph of both style and substance. Credit Allen and Albert Hughes for applying the brilliant vision to this horrific tale, and to Johnny Depp for delivering yet another unforgettable performance.

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