Jack the Ripper (1988 TV mini series)
As a culture, we can be quite morbid. You only have to look at the popularity of Scandinavian Crime shows to see that we have an unhealthy obsession with serial killers and murders. The most well-known and oft-discussed series of killings is one of the oldest. The infamous Jack the Ripper murders took place in 1888 in the London Borough of Whitechapel. It was unsolved during the original investigation, but that hasn’t stop many historians and writers coming to their own conclusions. One such film adaptation is a 1988 two-part made for tv movie titled Jack the Ripper. Made by Thames Television and now brought to Blu-Ray by Network, does this critically acclaimed miniseries hold up under my knife?
Based on the book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, by Stephen Knight, the film follows Inspector Fredrick Abberline who is assigned the murder of a prostitute in Whitechapel and the other Ripper murders. However as he investigates, and the list of suspects grows, so does tension in the streets.
So being a TV movie, Jack the Ripper is not going to look as good as a big budget blockbuster. However, the crew have done a fantastic job in the design and the feel of Victorian London. It is as misty and foggy as any good gothic horror and every extra is dressed to the nines in the latest Victorian fashions.
The story being a historical murder mystery is well-paced and plotted. Due to the runtime being just over three hours for the whole miniseries, there is plenty of time dedicated to secondary characters and other factors that were involved in the Ripper investigation. What was interesting was the inclusion of the Whitechapel Vigilance Committee and the class tensions that abounded during the time. Similarly a lot more time is devoted to the Ripper Victims, we get to know them and that makes their awful deaths all the more tragic.
There are a few elements of cheese in the adaptation, like the overly dramatic 80's music, the ominous breathing and the fake outs. It does become a little distracting, but it also speaks to the lover of Hammer Horror in me.
However, the thing that shines above all that is the central performance by Michael Caine as Fredrick Abberline. Caine brings his all to this performance; he is belligerent, drunk obsessive self-destructive, but he is also charming, funny and sympathetic. After spending the time to get to know Abberline, we feel a connection with him as a character; we feel his rage against the killer for what the Ripper has done, and his crushing desperation at the reveal at the end. It is Caine at his best.
So then, Jack the Ripper is a solid two-parter and I can see why it has garnered the acclaim that it did. It is a double bill that I can see myself sitting down to while it was broadcast, and it is surprising to see how well it holds up to today's standards of television.
Network have done a fine job with the discs; there are no digital errors in the production of the film. Similarly, there are no film blemishes from the transfer.
The menus are simplistic, but sometimes that is good as it is easier to navigate. Network has produced a mechanically sound product that is user-friendly and that fits the tone of the features contained on the disc.
There are no real extras to speak of on these discs; the second disc just contains a 3-hour feature-length version of the same films, just spliced together. There is also an image gallery and some test footage. All in all, nothing that adds to the feature presentation, or would sell the disc set to anyone without an interest in the series already.
Jack the Ripper is a well-made TV mini-series, with a stupendous cast of actors, a wonderful production design and a sense of camp as well. However, due to the lack of extras on this disc, I would find it hard recommending anyone buy it if they haven't already seen the films. It is not a knock on the films, for they are really good, it is just that with the advent of streaming service a DVD or Blu-Ray must sell itself on the other extra features contained on the discs; as there are none worth mentioning, I would say that it is worth a careful consideration before purchase.