Jack The Ripper
September 1888: Mary Ann Nichols is slaughtered in the streets of London beginning the reign of terror of the murderer commonly known as Jack The Ripper. More victims start to appear scattered around Whitchapel, all as savagely butchered as the next... With the threat of a popular or even Anarchist uprising and the government as unpopular as ever, the police and the ruling class are desperate to see an end to the killing spree. Inspector Aberline (Michael Caine) is put in charge of the investigation despite his alcoholism or maybe because of it, since if all else fails, he'll make a fantastic scapegoat.
Jack the Ripper seems to have proven to be one of the most enduring criminals of modern history - books on him abound and not a year goes by without someone threatening to reveal his true identity. Most recently From Hell gave us another trip into the squalor of the Victorian era, though for those familiar with the graphic novel, it was a poor adaptation with little in common with the original. The Michael Caine version doesn't have the same somber touch but is quite an effective piece of television drama. Though they had originally started to film on video with a different cast (with Barry Foster in the lead), a vast sum of money was put up by CBS on the condition they made it into a much bigger production with US recognisable stars in it thus the inclusion of Michael Caine, Jane Seymour and Lewis Collins...
The production value reflects the fresh injection of cash with most of the money seemingly going into the sets and the period costumes - the global feel is not really that of a TV drama but rather a film though the plotting and script betrays its TV origin with unnecessary cliffhangers cropping up regularly for US ad-breaks. The film was originally split into two parts to be shown on different nights and the DVD echoes that by not merging both parts together.
The direction is generally quite good with most of the cast performing well... The general speed of the film does seem a little slow at times and would have been substantially edited were it a cinema release but the overall quality of the production makes it a good piece of well researched TV drama that stands up to repeated viewings and the test of time.
The Image:The image quality is pretty good though it does suffer from a rather frequent amount of speckles on the print. Added to which there's a certain amount of graininess that is visible on closer inspection and some minor artifacting which globally makes the image watchable but less than perfect.
We get an anamorphic transfer which seems to be a cropped version of the fullscreen version. Although this was originally aired in full-screen, I assume it was filmed with a cinema release in mind meaning that this would probably be the closest to the director's vision.
The Sound:The sound has been given an effective 5.1 remix; most of the dialogue remains in the center though surround effects are only evident in certain scenes. Overall it's a good mix which doesn't go over the top and keeps with the film's tone.
The Menus:These are surprisingly good with a 5.1 sound mix and some eerie transitions between the various menus.
The Extras:The commentary is hosted by the writer Jonathan Sothcott and manages to keep both David Wickes (director and co-writer) and Sue Davis (co-writer) talking thoughout most of the three hours. Given the ample length of time they have to talk, the commentary covers a lot of ground from a discussion over Jack the Ripper's true identity, the dissapearing Home Office archives, the choice of locations, casting, and the unpleasant event of having to fire the cast of the original Thames production. Spoilers abound on the commentary from the outset so it's best avoiding it until you've watched both parts of the film.
Funnily enough the second extra of interest is 22 minutes worth of rushes from the Thames production. Given that the production was never completed, all the scenes are studio bound and come from various parts of the film. The use of video instead of film does have a noticeable effect on the ambience of the production as it looks quite murky and dark. The transfer is in full frame and given the quality of the source material, it doesn't look too bad at all. The timecode does however appear on all the excerpts which is a bit distracting but bar that it's a very good extra and an insight into what it might have looked like. There's also plenty of spoilers in this extra so watch the film first...
Finally we get a still gallery and the main cast and director's filmographies. These are pretty detailed and do seem to have been decently researched though you're unlikely to watch them more than once.
Conclusions:Though the image could have been slightly better, there's little to complain about in this release. The inclusion of extras, so rare in DVD released of television productions, is most welcome as if the global quality of these.