Plot: What’s it about?
The streets of the Whitechapel district of London have always been dangerous, but never to this level of extreme panic. The area is populated by the lower classes, the poor, criminals, prostitutes, and assorted other dark characters. But some of these inhabitants have been turning up dead, slashed and murdered, then left in the streets. Mary Kelly (Heather Graham) is a streetwalker in the region and while she is hassled by police & street toughs, her greatest fear lies in the shadows of each alley she passes. As the days have passed, she has already lost friends to the hands of the mysterious killer known as Jack the Ripper, which has her worried that she could be next, never sure if she’ll see the next sunrise. At the same time, Frederick Abberline (Johnny Depp) works to solve the crimes and finds himself immersed inside a dark, unexplainable world. His mind is clouded by visions of clairvoyance, as well as absinthe, which makes him a little unbalanced, to say the very least. As Abberline becomes involved with Mary, his search for the killer intensifies, but can he, or anyone else actually end this reign of terror?
I was kind of surprised to find out that Albert & Allen Hughes were involved in a film about Jack the Ripper, but I was still interested in From Hell. I knew the previous work from them was excellent, so I had faith in this one also and as it turns out, the Hughes have proven they deserve a ton of respect as filmmakers. From Hell is bathed in darkness, which seems to be the right choice, as it paints the characters, backdrops, and events seen in the picture. This darkness cloaks some outstanding production design work, including an entire urban landscape, as well as some terrific costume and makeup elements. The pace moves slow enough to keep up the tension, but quickly enough to keep audiences involved, a perfect example of how to pace a mystery/thriller, if you ask this reviewer. The story has some issues, especially if you want historical accuracy, but it is well crafted nonetheless, even with some flaws evident. The performances also have some hiccups, but I think Graham, Depp, and Coltrane provide terrific leads, while a more than able supporting cast handles the smaller ones. I think this is one great movie, with some out of this world visuals & atmosphere, while Fox’s special Director’s Limited Edition flat out rocks, so do not miss this excellent two disc edition, even if you have to brave a dark alley to buy it.
I’ve often been less than impressed with the work of Heather Graham, but I’ve never doubted her looks or presence, which have gotten her by at times, to be sure. But in From Hell, she made some real strides in winning me as a fan and by fan, I mean someone who enjoys her performances, not just her physical gifts. Yes, she looks stunning here and her switch to red suits her very well, but she matches her beauty with talent here, in easily her finest turn to date. She has to be subtle here, as her character is gritty and realistic, so her usual wide-eyed, empty-headed routine wouldn’t cut it, which is why I had some doubts. But she comes up in the clutch and nails the role at every turn, even in the most reserved, tense moments, this is an impressive effort. Other films with Graham include Boogie Nights, Say It Isn’t So, Lost in Space, Sidewalks of New York, Swingers, and Bowfinger. The cast also includes Johnny Depp (Sleepy Hollow, The Ninth Gate), Robbie Coltrane (The World is Not Enough, GoldenEye), Ian Richardson (Dark City, Brazil), and Ian Holm (The Fifth Element, The Sweet Hereafter).
Video: How does it look?
From Hell is presented in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. As this film has the darkest visuals of picture I’ve seen in theaters, I was a little worried about the DVD transfer, but as always, Fox has shown why they’re one of the best studios out there. The image looks pristine and flawless at times, which is excellent and often amazing in this case, given the dark, shadowy visuals that dominate. As was vital to this transfer, the black levels look perfect and never allow too much or little to be seen, always just the right level of detail. The contrast is so good, you might have to do a few double takes, but Fox has really come through here, in what had to one devil of a difficult film to transfer this well. The assorted dabbles of color also look terrific, but usually reflect the muted visual style, so don’t expect rich, vibrant colors here. The blood is brighter and has more body to it, but on the whole, colors have a dated, faded texture, as intended. The print is in excellent condition and I saw no compression errors, which seems to tie up any potential issues. This is one of the best transfers I’ve seen on DVD, which is a true compliment to those who crafted it, since From Hell has such a dark, hard to encode visual approach.
Audio: How does it sound?
The video lays down a high standard, but not to be outdone, the audio side more than carries its own weight, to say the least. Fox has tacked on dual 5.1 tracks in Dolby Digital & DTS, both of which could pass for reference level and one of which sets a whole watermark, without a shadow of a doubt. Although the Dolby Digital mix is up to reference standards, the DTS option breaks apart and establishes itself as one of the finest mixes on DVD. Your ears won’t be bleeding by any means, but the sound design in From Hell is excellent and this mix makes perfect use of it, which means one hell of a great audio experience. The world of London comes to life here, with all the sounds of the streets moving all around you, which really draws you inside the film, which means its as eerie and tense as possible, great news indeed. All kinds of atmospheric audio elements surround the viewer, from small ones to more powerful ones, all of which are crucial to building and maintaining the needed environment. But this mix has plenty of muscle too, with some floor shaking bass that reinforces the powerful moments. No issues arise with dialogue either, as every word comes across in clean, easy to understand form, very impressive work indeed. This release also includes French and Spanish language options, as well as English subtitles.
Supplements: What are the extras?
This special Director’s Limited Edition consists of two discs, both of which contain a nice assortment of bonus materials. As with most of Fox’s lavish two disc sets, expect this one to be trimmed down to just the first disc at some point, so if you want both discs of goodness, don’t miss out on this Director’s Limited Edition. So let’s start with the first disc, which houses the film itself, as well as a few other goodies. You’ll find a great audio commentary track here, with directors Albert & Allen Hughes, screenwriter Rafael Yglesias, cinematographer Peter Deming, and actor Robbie Coltrane. As always, the Hughes brothers provide an informative, but also entertaining session, while the others contribute a lot of information also, this is one terrific session. Also on this first disc is a selection of deleted scenes, which total about twenty and include an alternate end sequence. You can choose to listen to Albert Hughes discuss the deleted material, or simply view the scenes without his insight. Now we focus on the second disc, which holds more featurettes than you shake a knife at and of course, that is a whole lot of featurettes. We’ll kick off with Six Degrees of Jack the Ripper, a half hour featurette that deals with the actual character, crimes, and victims involved. At certain points, you can click on an icon on screen and learn more about the current topic, which is very cool, I think. You’ll be able to join production designer Martin Childs on a twelve minute tour of the main set, which was a massive city built to house the production, since the streets of Prague couldn’t be used in some cases. Even more featurettes await, as the Hughes brothers guide us through some of the sets, we learn about how the graphic novel was adapted to the screen, and of course, we’re given an inside look at the wonders of absinthe. But the coolest featurette here is View from Hell one, as a gorgeous and dressed to kill Heather Graham takes us through the usual promotional stuff, but she is so hot here, you won’t mind the promo fluff. This set is rounded out by the film’s theatrical trailer, which is decent, but not really what it should have been.