From Hell (2001) — Another failed Alan Moore adaptation

“One day men will look back and say I gave birth to the twentieth century.”

Rich’s rating: If this is where Mutant Reviewers come from, I’m glad we left.

Rich’s review: Okay, I’m going to apologise right off the bat for this one, but this isn’t going to really be a movie review. Original for a movie review website, I know, but there’s nothing I like better that pushing back the boundaries of journalism. Apart from pie. Delicious pie.

Anyway, the reason this isn’t going to be much of a review is because there really isn’t much for me to say about the film itself; From Hell is about as middle of the road as a Troubled-Cop-Chases-Serial-Killer film can get, and we’ve seen more and better in the form of films like Se7en. Seriously, I mean, there were dashed white lines down the centre of the screen at one point, though that may have been something to do with my satellite reception.

Sure, there are some interesting ideas in From Hell the film, but those ideas aren’t taken anywhere. Jonny Depp perfectly personable as the troubled inspector Abelline, and even gets a whole film to practise his Captain Jack Sparrow accent. But honestly, there’s not much that he can do this film is an adaptation with all the spiky edges taken off, leaving a smooth, predictable, and utterly dull mystery which looks nice.

Yet it never delivers on the promise of not only one of the greatest unsolved mysteries in history beside how Poolman manages to get away with wearing his kilt in public, but also curses at, spits on, and jumps up and down on the original source material, which is in turn darker, more in depth, more involving, better plotted and generally superior in every way imaginable.

Which is why this isn’t going to be much of a review, because I’ve got a bone to pick with the entertainment industry, and since Justin has very foolishly given me a soapbox on which to air my views, I’m going to do it now. I’m sure the entertainment industry is quaking in their little booties. Incidentally, I’m largely done with talking about the film now, so if all you wanted was a recommendation, you’re free to go. Of course, you’ll not only be disrespecting me and the effort I’m about to put into my well crafted and brilliantly incisive argument, but you’ll also be responsible for the death of a lovely fluffy kitten if you press the ‘Back’ button now. And you don’t want that now, do you? So, read on.

Hands up who here knows who Alan Moore is? I’m guessing not a lot of you put your hands up, mainly because you’d look like an idiot putting your hand up to a question asked of you by a computer screen, but nonetheless I’m guessing his name’s not a familiar one to most people. How about Frank Miller? Neil Gaiman? As some of you will know, those names all have one thing in common; they are the writers and creators of some of the most acclaimed Graphic Novels in the young life of that genre. These people have crafted stories which are rich and deep, have complex characters and exciting incident, and are recognised by many both in the industry and the casual reader, as some of the best of all time.

Alan Moore wrote From Hell, the graphic novel on which this film was based. He also wrote The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. These graphic novels are considered to be fine examples of the work of a man who is a fine storyteller. So how is it that they made such terrible films? The short answer is that the big lumbering giant of Hollywood picked the delicate and intricate origami flower that was the original story, and squished it into a pile of crumpled paper which in no way resembles the original apart from that they were both made of the same paper, and regurgitated it to the masses.

Wow. It’s possible that that may have also been either the best or worst metaphor I have ever written. Cast your vote now, people!

My problem is not with people making bad films. I mean, bad films are my bread and butter after all, and I fully support any movie studios first amendment right to make as crappy a film as they want. My problem is with the respect, or lack of same, that Hollywood studios have for the original source material because, as we know, graphic novels are just comics, and comics are for kids, and anything for kids can be trampled on with impunity. Well, apart from the Mr. Spikey toy line, but that’s just common sense.

But it’s not just Hollywood. It’s sad, but the general perception of graphic novels is that they’re for kids. Now, that may have been true in the 1930s, but we’ve come along way since then. Nowadays, a graphic novels can and are being used to tell as deep and important a story as any film, or book, yet still they are treated as the dummies of the entertainment industry, which relies on storytelling. Just because these people choose to tell their stories with pictures and ink and paper, does it make them any less valid than the stories of Clive Barker, Steven King, George Lucas, or Quentin Tarantino?

No.

Until Hollywood looks at a graphic novel as a script and a storyboard for the way the film should be done, rather than a vague idea for a film which will then be completely re-written, mangled and spat across our screens like a particularly nasty loogie, there will never be a great graphic novel to film adaptation, and people will continue to regard them as kids books. Here’s hoping that we don’t see V for Vendetta, Transmetropolitan, or Dark Knight Returns films until that time.

So, From Hell gets passed into the pile of ‘woulda coulda shoulda — do yourself a favour, read the graphic novel instead.’ You might be surprised by how much you can get out of this ‘kids book’.

Didja notice?

  • Grapes. Highly Dangerous.
  • Heather Graham is the least convincing ‘down and out lady of the night’ ever. She’d surely be rolling in money after a couple of weeks. Rawr.
  • The ‘humane’ lobotomy which involves having a bit metal spike stuck through your forehead.
  • Masons. Always up to something.
  • The brief appearance of John Merrick, ‘The Elephant Man’. I bet you didn’t know that all the Jack The Ripper murders took place within walking distance of the hospice he was staying at…

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