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From Hell: Directors' Limited Edition

FromBefore I get started with my review, I would like to discuss the term "graphic novel".  A true graphic novel should not be confused with the common day comic book.  Graphic novels may contain vibrant and colorful illustrations or sketchy black and white drawings.  They can be poetical full-length novels, or gritty short stories.

From Hell is based on the graphic novel of the same title by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell.  The illustrations in this work are of the sketchy black and white variety, with a hint of the newspaper illustrations of the period (late 19th century).  One could view their novel as a detailed storyboard.  It would appear that the Hughes Brothers did just that.

However, the Hughes Brothers add a palette of rich colors and layers of detail that are missing from the gritty style of Campbell, producing a celluloid version of a graphic novel at the other end of the spectrum.  The film "reads" like a colorfully illustrated graphic novel.  The composition, timing, edits, rhythm, and desolves capture the essence of a great graphic novel.  I feel that this dedication to creating a moving graphic novel was lost on many of the critics of this Hughes Brothers' endeavor.

Check your expectations for a thrilling whodunit, or a good slasher horror film at the door.  If you donít, you may very well walk away disappointed.  The Hughes Brothers have taken great care to recreate the soiled underbelly of society in Victorian England of the late 19th century.  In doing so, they havenít strayed too far from the roots of their earlier endeavors.  Life wasnít beautiful for the majority of folks at this time, especially if you were a woman and had fallen on hard times.  The film is more about cultural and class biases, than about the infamous Jack the Ripper.  Jack is just the catalyst for the story about a detective who dulls the pain of the loss of his wife and child by "chasing the dragon" (opium).  The Ripper is just a MacGuffin for the story of a smart, intelligent, and caring woman caught in the grips of an uncaring society.

The Hughes Brothers' eye for detail goes beyond the period dressing, oppressive squalor of the East End of London.  They have lovingly taken elements from many of the British detective genres. Robbie Coltrane plays an excellent counter-foil to John Deppís inspector/detective role of Abberline as they try to get a handle on the Ripper slayings and protect future victims, including Heather Grahamí character of Mary Kelly (the last known victim)..  Not only do they draw from the famous Holmes/Watson duo, but from the Morse/Lewis (of Inspector Morse) vein.  The forensic work and detail of the investigations are drawn from the advanced techniques of Scotland Yard at the time.

The cinematographer of the film is Peter Deming, who also shot Mulholland Dr., and it shows.  The production designer is Martin Childs who has a great feel for recreating rich period piece sets.  His credits include Quills, Shakespeare in Love and Mrs. Brown.

Take the picture for what it is, and you should discover an enjoyable evening.


Fox should be complemented on their excellent package.  The film is presented in it original aspect of 2.35:1 and is enhanced for 16x9 televisions.  The sound is available in 5.1 DTS and 5.1 Dolby Digital for English (French and Spanish are provided in 2.0 Dolby Digital Surround).   The colors are rich and vibrant with good shadows and black balance.

On disc 1 of the 2 disc set, is the feature and full-length commentary by Allen and Albert Hughes, screenwriter Rafael Yglesias, actor Robbie Coltrane, and cinematographer Peter Deming.  Also included are 20 odd deleted scenes with optional commentary by the directors.

Disc 2 includes:

  • "Jack the Ripper: 6 Degrees of Separation (an investigational look at the case and theories behind the identity of the real murderer.
  • "Absinthe Makes the Heart Grow Fonder" (a history of Absinthe)
  • "Tour of the Murder Sites" (presented by the Hughes Brothers)
  • Graphic Novel-to-Film Comparison
  • "A View From Hell"  (HBO Featurette hosted by Heather Graham)
  • The obligatory Theatrical Trailer (plus one for Unfaithful).
  • Of the extras, the HBO featurette is the weakest, with others being informative and/or just plain entertaining. 
copyright 2002, Michael E. Carver Michael's Movie Mayhem
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