Sunday, April 22, 2018

Jack the Ripper - 1988 mini-series [dir. David Wickes]

1988's Jack the Ripper (JtR) made an impression on me when I saw it as a kid on Indian TV where it was screened in its original 2 part mini-series avatar, possibly in the same year or only slightly after its UK premiere. It was possibly the first time I'd heard of the killer although now I can't be sure (because around the time I also had a World's Greatest Serial Killers book. Like the Sherlock Holmes series with Jeremy Brett, this was another prestige production from British TV, shot on 35mm film with handsome production design recreating Gaslight London, and thereby rendered immediately attractive to me. Childhood favorites can often be disappointing from a more mature POV, so how does this one hold up?
This telling of JtR purports to be a researched account of the original killings and their investigation under Inspector Fredrick Abberline, with a preamble stating, “Our story is based on extensive research, including a review of the official files by special permission of the Home Office and interviews with leading criminologists and Scotland Yard officials.” As horror/fantasy specialist critic Richard Scheib points out in his (ha!) surgical dissection of the film, the claim is rather bogus. The writers are guilty of cherry-picking some facts of the affair, while ignoring others and exaggerating or outright inventing new elements for drama or sensation. While that is certainly a failing, as is a certain half-bakedness that comes from shoehorning characters simply to fit in US marquee friendly names (like Jane Seymour as a former flame of Abberline), the film manages to keep up pace and maintain interest. Without giving out spoilers, the solution offered in this interpretation is even less convincing than the Freemason conspiracy. But unlike the aggravating movie they made of From Hell, JtR manages to be entertaining. Michael Caine is a sturdy Abberline (even if they invent a drinking problem for the character and seem to cram in unnecessary shouting scenes to make him earn his star-actor's paycheck). The production design and Alan Hume's cinematography bring the period to life and editor Keith Palmer does a good job of keeping the momentum going.

Network's 2-blu-ray set contains the entire 2-episode airing on the first disc in the original 4:3 aspect ratio with authentic lossless stereo. The image (based off a fresh 2K scan of original materials) looks quite good, supportive of the textures of the production and Hume's evocative visuals of night-time Victorian London. On rare occasions the accents can slightly obscure a line but optional English subtitles are present for any such difficulties. There are about 20 mins of extras of a previous run for this project when it was going to be a lower budget videotape production with another actor (Barry Foster) playing Abberline - After American producers showed interest it was remounted as a lavish 35mm production and Michael Caine was solicited as a star name. The second disc (which I haven't yet seen contains a re-edit of the series as a single film, framed for 16:9 widescreen with specially commissioned 5.1 audio. I might give it a look on some future occasion.

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