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Albert Hughes, Allen Hughes
Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Paul Rhys, Joanna Page, Katrin Cartlidge, Robbie Coltrane
Terry Hayes, Rafael Yglesias

Only the legend will survive. Box Office:
Budget $35 million.
Opening weekend $11.014 million on 2305 screens.
Domestic gross $31.598 million.
Rated R for strong violence/gore, sexuality, language and drug content.

Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround
French Dolby Surround
English; Closed-captioned

Runtime: 121 min.
Price: $29.98
Release Date: 5/14/2002

• Audio Commentary by Directors Allen and Albert Hughes, Screenwriter Rafael Yglesias, Cinematographer Peter Deming, and Actor Robbie Coltrane
• Deleted Scenes With Optional Commentary
• “Jack the Ripper: Six Degrees of Separation” Interactive Investigation
• “Production Design” Featurette
• “Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder” Featurette
• Tour of the Murder Sites
• “A View From Hell” Featurette
• Trailers
• “Graphic Novel” Featurette

Score soundtrack

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Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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From Hell (2001)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson

More than a century after his crimes occurred, no one yet knows the true identity of Jack the Ripper. At this point, it seems awfully unlikely the real culprit will ever be nailed. For one look at the case, we find From Hell, a mix of fact and fiction that covers the Ripper slayings.

We flash back to London in 1888 and meet a few different characters. Drug-abusing Inspector Fred Abberline (Johnny Depp) seems to use psychic visions to help solve cases, so he goes on the prowl when someone starts to gruesomely slay prostitutes in the city’s Whitechapel area. This starts when one of them named Ann Crook (Joanna Page) gets kidnapped. She’d apparently been able to escape the lifestyle when she married a wealthy patron and had his baby. However, unknown forces take her, which leaves baby Alice with the hookers.

They attempt to care for the tot, but their main concern remains keeping alive. Clearly someone starts to hunt them one by one, but no one knows who or why. Some local ruffians want a cut of their money, but the intricacy of the murders seems beyond their talents. Assisted by Sergeant Peter Godley (Robbie Coltrane), Abberline tries to solve the case. He also meets Sir William Gull (Ian Holm), a doctor with a strong connection to the queen, and others who may have information. Eventually, he falls for one of the prostitutes as well. He and Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) develop a romance, which complicates matters further.

I wanted to like From Hell. I thought I’d like From Hell. After all, it seemed to belong to the same genre as other dark detective stories such as Se7en and The Silence of the Lambs. I count those as two of my favorites, so I definitely thought Hell would work for me.

Unfortunately, try as I might, I never could muster much enthusiasm for it. On the positive side, directors Albert and Allen Hughes created a terrific setting for the tale. As we’ll see in the DVD’s supplements, they studied the details of the era scrupulously, and they did their best to duplicate the environment as accurately as possible. Though Hell offers a fictionalized account of the Ripper murders, the Hughes definitely ensured that everything occurred in a believable setting, and they succeeded. Hell looked great, and it provided a rich and convincing series of locations.

It also provided a very solid cast. I’ve been a fan of Depp’s work going back to his days as Edward Scissorhands, and he does reasonably well here. The role reminded me a little too much of his stint as Ichabod Crane in Sleepy Hollow, mainly due to the settings and the topic; the characters actually appear quite different. In any case, Depp does a nice job; he even provides a believable British accent.

Graham’s dialogue seems more questionable, as is her acting. She remains quite a babe - even the dingy squalor of the period didn’t make her look bad - but she never was much of an actress, and she did nothing here to change my mind. She also had more trouble with the accent. Nonetheless, the rest of the cast helped elevate the piece, as we found solid professionals like Holm and Coltrane.

Despite these positive elements, I felt From Hell fell flat for the most part. This occurred mainly because of a lack of suspense. That didn’t occur simply because of the story’s factual underpinnings. Frankly, I knew little of these before I watched the movie, and a well-told story can be a nail-biter even when you know exactly how it’ll end; you need go no farther than Apollo 13 for evidence of that.

For reasons unknown, From Hell never got there. Part of the problem stemmed from the semi-muddled storytelling. The flick went down so many paths that it became confused after a while, and the whole thing didn’t really take flight. Instead, it plodded along and failed to engage me.

That’s a shame, because I really had high hopes for From Hell. It’s not often that this much good talent gets behind a project of this nature, and I wanted very much to savor the results. Unfortunately, Hell only sporadically managed to capture my attention. For the most part, it seemed adequate but rarely better than that.

The DVD Grades: Picture A- / Audio B+ / Bonus A-

From Hell appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Overall, the DVD offered a very solid picture that displayed no distinct concerns.

Sharpness seemed excellent. From start to finish, the film remained crisp and well defined. I saw no signs of softness or fuzziness, as the movie consistently appeared distinct. Jagged edges and moiré effects caused no problems, and I also noticed no signs of any edge enhancement. In regard to print flaws, I discerned a couple of speckles, but that was it; otherwise the image seemed very clean.

Colors offered a highlight. The hues presented warm and vibrant tones that always came across as clear and vivid. At times they appeared almost hyper-real, and they positively glowed throughout the movie. Black levels also seemed deep and rich, while shadow detail was appropriately heavy without any excessive thickness. All in all, From Hell provided an excellent viewing experience.

Also very good were the film’s soundtracks. We found both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 mixes on this disc. For the most part, I thought they sounded quite similar. The DTS version displayed slightly stronger bass response, but the differences seemed minor. I didn’t think the disc showed enough variations to merit a distinction between my grades.

During most of the film, the soundfield maintained a fairly high emphasis on the forward channels. Within that spectrum, the track showed good stereo presence for the music and also created a solid sense of atmosphere. Elements seemed to be accurately placed in the forward spectrum, and the pieces moved naturally across the soundstage. As for surround usage, the rear speakers added good reinforcement for the music and effects, and they often added their own sounds. Fir the most part, they offered general ambience, but they came to life nicely at times, especially during Abberline’s dream sequences.

Audio quality appeared solid across the board. Dialogue seemed natural and distinct, with no signs of edginess or problems related to intelligibility. Effects were clean and accurate, as they showed bright highs and rich low-end response. The overall dynamics of the piece seemed positive, and these also appeared via the music. That aspect of the track sounded vivid and clear, with solid fidelity and depth. Ultimately, I thought the audio lacked the sonic ambition to merit an “A”-level rating, but From Hell still provided strong sound.

For this two-DVD set, most of the extras appear on the second disc. However, DVD One tosses in a few tasty treats. First we find an audio commentary from directors Allen and Albert Hughes, screenwriter Rafael Yglesias, actor Robbie Coltrane, and cinematographer Peter Deming. All were recorded separately for this edited piece. The variety of participants means we get a nice mix of material, and this seems like a pretty solid little commentary.

Somewhat surprisingly, screenwriter Yglesias dominates the track. He goes over a lot of information that relates to facts of the case as well as changes that occurred to the script, especially those that came between the original graphic novel and the movie. The other contribute a lot of notes as well; it just seemed surprising that the directors didn’t offer the majority of the details. In any case, as a whole this is a quite useful and entertaining commentary.

Also on DVD One is a collection of 21 Deleted Scenes. These last between 27 seconds and two minutes, 11 seconds for a total of 23 minutes and 51 seconds of footage. In a nice touch, each of the clips shows the new material in color, while bits from the final film appear in black and white to differentiate them. Overall, I found these scenes to seem moderately interesting at best. Even the alternate ending isn’t anything special, though it does include some female nudity - uh, if any cares about that! Ultimately, the shots merit a look, but none of them appears too special.

The deleted scenes can be viewed with or without commentary from director Albert Hughes. He adds good remarks about each of the snippets. Hughes doesn’t tell us too much about them other than the reasons for their excision, but that’s enough for me. His statements add to the piece. (By the way, even if you don’t want to listen to all of his notes, at least check out his funny material about the alternate ending.)

The final extra on DVD One is the THX Optimizer. Also found on discs like The Phantom Menace and Willow, it purports to help you set up your home theater to best present the movie on the disc in question. Apparently the Optimizer is unique for each DVD on which it’s included; unlike programs such as Video Essentials, the Optimizer should tweak your set-up differently every time. Frankly, I’ve been very happy with my already-established calibration and I’m afraid to muck with it, so I’ve never tried the Optimizer. If you lack calibration from Video Essentials or a similar program, or if you’re just more adventurous than I am, the Optimizer could be a helpful addition.

That finishes the first disc, so we now move to DVD Two, which offers a wealth of video options. The lengthiest of these is called Jack the Ripper: Six Degrees of Separation. Touted as an “interactive investigation”, this piece offers a main program that runs for 30 minutes and 35 seconds. For that period, we see many photos, drawings and other historical artifacts that relate to the Ripper case and we hear narration from historians Stewart P. Evans and Donald Rumbelow; Allen Hughes briefly appears to tout a humorous theory as well. Essentially, the show covers the different murders and runs through all of the possible suspects. “Separation” gives us a nice look at the facts of the case.

The “interactive” part of “Separation” occurs sporadically during the piece. On nine occasions, a magnifying glass appears on screen. Hit “enter” on your remote and you’ll see a relevant snippet, usually from an unidentified documentary about the Ripper. I’d estimate this came out in the early Eighties, but we never learn anything about it or its participants. Nonetheless, it adds some good material. Some of it seems redundant, but enough of it appears new to this program that it merits a look. Each clip lasts between 30 seconds and five minutes, 43 seconds for a total of 24 minutes and 38 seconds of footage. I don’t think these bits are crucial, but they’re there if you want them.

Two notes: first, I think it’s best to watch “Separation” straight through and then revisit it for the extended pieces. If you view them during the main program, the pacing becomes confusing. In addition, make sure you check out these segments on an empty stomach. Some of the photos are quite gruesome.

Next up we get some information about the Graphic Novel on which the movie was based. We hear from Allen and Albert Hughes plus producer Don Murphy during this nine-minute and 55-second piece. Mostly we learn how the film differs from its inspiration, and we see a fair amount of material from the comic. It’s a good look at the changes between the two.

In Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder, we learn about Inspector Abberline’s favorite drink. This nine-minute and 55-second featurette features interviews from Barnaby Conrad, (author of Absinthe History in a Bottle), aficionado Ian Hutton, and Jeremy Hill, absinthe marketer. Personally, this show didn’t do much for me, as I really didn’t care about absinthe. However, it’s always better to learn too much than too little, so I appreciated the inclusion of this well-produced program. It offers a good look at this unusual element of the film.

Not surprisingly, Production Design focuses on that element of the shoot. We hear from the Hughes brothers, executive producer Amy Robinson, and production designer Martin Childs. For obvious reasons, the latter participant dominates the program, as we learn about the set and the various locations. It’s a nice discussion about the process, and it also contributes a few interesting behind the scenes shots from the set.

In a similar vein comes a Tour of the Murder Sites. Conducted by the Hughes brothers, this seven-minute and 45-second program shows the directors as they walk through the relevant parts of the set. Overall, it’s an amusing and informative glimpse behind the scenes.

After this we get trailers for From Hell and the upcoming theatrical release of Unfaithful plus a program called A View From Hell. Hosted by Heather Graham, this 14-minute and 30-second featurette includes the standard mix of film clips, shots from the set, and interviews. In the latter category, we hear from the Hughes brothers, actors Johnny Depp, Graham, Robbie Coltrane, historical consultant Stewart Evans, production designer Martin Childs, producer Don Murphy, executive producers Amy Robinson and Thomas M. Hammel, and “Ripperologist” Richard Jones. Though the program’s too short to offer much depth, it nonetheless seems better than average for this genre. We see some good behind the scenes clips as well as a reasonable amount of useful information from the interviews. They quickly run through the story and the characters, but mostly the featurette flies through Ripper history, working with the directors, the sets, and a number of other topics. For what it is, “View” offers a brisk and entertaining program.

I wish I could say the same for the movie itself. While From Hell had its moments, the film seemed surprisingly flat and ordinary. It lacked much tension and even though I am a fan of the genre, it rarely got me interested in the proceedings. The DVD offered very positive picture, sound, and extras, however; it seemed like a thoroughly terrific piece of work. For those who like this sort of flick, From Hell still merits a look; maybe you’ll like it more than I did, and the DVD certainly makes it a very appealing package.

Note that this review covers the “Directors’ Limited Edition” release of From Hell. In early 2002, Fox announced that they would phase out many of their 2-DVD special editions and ultimately replace them with single-disc fare. I believe that From Hell is their first release that tells us of its truncated shelf life up front; we’ve been told from day one that this sucker won’t be around forever. When the new version appears, apparently it’ll duplicate this one’s first disc, which means we’ll still get the audio commentary and the deleted scenes. The second platter will get the boot, however. I don’t know the exact timetable for this change, but I thought I should mention it.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4 Stars Number of Votes: 95
7 3:
View Averages for all rated titles.