From Hell

From Hell (2001)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Johnny Depp, Heather Graham, Ian Holm, Robbie Coltrane
Extras: Commentary Track, Trivia Track, Deleted Scenes

It has been some time since a film about the infamous "Jack The Ripper" has been released and since the topic is always good for some spine-tingling on-the-edge-of-your-seat suspense, "From Hell" was a release I was thoroughly looking forward to when it was first released in 2001 and I was equally eager to check it out in high definition as it finally made its way onto Blu-Ray from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment.

The Whitechapel district of London in the late 1800s was the playground for the lowlife of London's society during the Victorian era. It was a poor neighborhood, the home of hard labor workers and whores. It was also the district in which Jack The Ripper sought out his victims for his infamous killings. After a few street whores are found horribly – but very precisely – mutilated, the police is certain that they are all the victim of one man. The press is quick to give him the sensational nickname "Jack The Ripper." Inspector Abberline (Johnny Depp) is put on the case to put an end to these murders that sent waves of fear and horror through the streets of London. As it turns out, this is not an easy task and again and again, the Ripper strikes despite Abberline's best efforts.

"From Hell" is a very good film and a very entertaining and enjoyable one, though not the film I had originally hoped for and somewhat presumptuously expected – mostly probably because I am unfamiliar with the graphic novel on which the film is based upon. Instead of delivering the story of Jack The Ripper in a suspenseful fashion that would put the investigation at the center of its story, "From Hell" instead opts to make it a character-drama where we get to witness Abberline's torment and inner turmoil as he goes through the investigation. Important elements of the actual investigation fall to the side and make room for personal relationships et al. It gets to the point that we hardly care for the murders, or the victims for that matter. They become undramatic events while – from my point of view – they should have been the dramatic syncopations of the horror and fear they caused. A lot has also been said about the gore factor of "From Hell" but I found the film very restrained in its graphic display. While it is obvious that the settings are extremely gory, the camera barely gives us a clear look at details, making the murders gruesome in a more psychological way as our imagination is allowed to fill in those horrible details. It is especially in those moments of the murders that the film shows its comic book origins as these are almost abstract, syncopated images flashing by, as opposed to a fluid stream of action.

Dialogues are an interesting aspect of "From Hell." Taking place in London, you do expect a few English accents, which the actors pull off admirably well with natural inflections. However, given the fact that the story takes place in Whitechapel with the majority of players hailing from the lowest rung of the social ladder in what has been one of the world's most brutal and depraved cities at the time, the speech and accents are too clean-cut and the Cockney slang that would have prevailed there is missing from the film giving it a bit of a superficial edge.

The story also takes some notable liberties with history. Abberline's character for example is an amalgam of the real Inspector Abberline and a man called Robert James Lees. Lees was a medium who was brought in on the investigation after he claimed he could actually see the murders in his mind before they happened. In "From Hell" the characters are combined and the visions are now a result of Abberline's Opium and Absinth-induced dreams. Another character who fell by the wayside is the actor Richard Mansfield who became a main suspect during the original investigation as a result of his shocking performance as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde at the Lyceum Theater. There are many more elements that are missing from this version of the Jack The Ripper mystery and by no means should it be approached or seen as historically accurate in any way.

As expected, "From Hell" is coming to the high definition arena in a beautiful anamorphic widescreen transfer on this Blu-Ray Disc in its original theatrical 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, presented in a 1080p transfer that has been encoded using MPEG-4. The transfer is absolutely clean and free of defects or mars and the image reveals in incredible amount of definition. Much more than on the DVD, I found, giving it a much richer look. Colors are marvelously rendered, bringing out every little nuance of the film's atmospheric cinematography. Never oversaturated, colors are vibrant and strong at all times and finely delineated. The black level of the transfer is equally impressive, which his important for a film as dark as "From Hell" giving the image solid visual depth and a very sharp look The shadows, the blackness and void, the obscured framing of certain shots is perfectly reproduced without any problems at all. It is a pristine presentation that looks great in high definition with its wonderful production design.

Audio on the disc comes courtesy of a lossless DTS HD track that is of master quality. The audio track for the film is well-produced and balanced, and creates a superior aural experience. With no flaws at all and a superb bass extension, which can actually be a bit overpowering at times, the track is dynamic at all times and comes across as menacing, foreboding or romantic, depending on the film's mood. The track offers aggressive surround integration that creates an eerie ambiance that engulfs the viewer at times, or a barrage of noises and effects from all directions at others. At any time it is a very modern and aggressive mix that makes full use of multi-channel capabilities. Dialogues are well-integrated and hardly ever drowned out.

The Blu-Ray Disc contains some of the extras that were previously found on the Special Edition DVD, such as the commentary track featuring the directors Albert and Allen Hughes along with screenwriter Rafael Yglesias, cinematographer Peter Deming and actor Robbie Coltrane. It is, of course, the same commentary as on the DVD, which was a pleasant surprise at the time as the Hughes brothers had previously stated that they would not record a commentary for the film until they had some proper distance from the material – a statement I found very mature and desirable. I would not want to complain about this commentary track though, although it does show a notable lack of distance and comments are still tainted from the actual work on the production. Nonetheless it is full of information and offers plenty of technical information about history, the production from various ends, such as the screenplay, character development and, of course, the film's wonderful imagery.

The disc also contains the 20 deleted scenes from the film, as well as an alternative ending for the movie, complete with optional director's commentary. Some of the scenes deservedly hit the cutting room floor but there are a few gems among them, too. Most interestingly the alternate ending offers an interesting take on the film's ending that would have worked equally well, I think. All in all, very good stuff and a treasure chest to dive into.

The disc is rounded out by the movie's Trailer and a Trivia Track. Sadly all of the really great featurettes that were part of the DVD version are gone from this release. It is a disappointment as these featurettes were of high quality and covered a wide variety of aspects regarding the making of the film, as well as the original Ripper investigation.

Covering "Jack The Ripper" in any way or form is always a difficult undertaking. As everyone knows the case has never been solved and the Ripper has never been found. All we have are speculations and pieces of evidence that point to certain people – but no proof. It is also unknown how many victims Jack the Ripper actually produced. While he has been credited with certain murders, there may have been even more which have been overlooked by the police, or potentially less. Ripperologists and historians are still up in arms about the details but it should not distract you from enjoying this film, inaccurate as it may or may not be. "From Hell" was designed to be a movie, a piece of entertainment, not a historic doctrine. As such it succeeds and uses an infamous background setting to tell an intriguing story. As I said earlier, "From Hell" may not bee the movie I was hoping for but it convinced me nonetheless based on its many other merits. It is incredibly well crafted, atmospheric and extremely stylish and very entertaining. The only sour note with this release is the lack of extras which will make you hang on to your DVD version – not exactly the way to push high definition releases into people's living rooms.