Jack the Ripper Blu-ray Review
Saucy Jacky's back at work
Jack the Ripper was made and broadcast in 1988 to mark the centenary of the titular killer’s infamous murder spree.Despite being billed as the final solution to the mystery of Jack the Ripper, this entertaining Michael Caine TV mini-series ultimately settles on the usual rogue’s gallery of suspects. Anyone with a working knowledge of the killings will be pleased by the level of detail in certain aspects of the production but disappointed by some of its conclusions. The producers claim that the identity of the killer was deduced from extensive research but the non-historical aspects of the plot borrow heavily from Stephen Knight’s largely discredited book Jack the Ripper: The Final Solution, only without the Walter Sickert and Masonic conspiracy angles. However this is a handsome production, with excellent period set design and a great performance from Michael Caine. It was the veteran actor’s first appearance in a TV production in over two decades and his was born to play the role of Inspector Abberline, the Scotland Yard detective tasked with finding the world’s first tabloid serial killer, winning a Golden Globe in the process.The production was originally going to a low budget TV movie starring Barry Foster as Abberline and shooting had already begun when Caine expressed an interest in playing the role. The involvement of a genuine movie star resulted in a much bigger budget, so the original production was shut down and the majority of the roles were recast. Jane Seymour and Armand Assante were added at the request of the US network co-producing the mini-series and the rest of cast was filled out with British actors like Lewis Collins and Ray McAnally. Jack the Ripper, which was broadcast over two nights by ITV, was written and directed by David Wickes and to his credit he covers the historical aspects of the Ripper case with a surprisingly good level of accuracy. There is a pleasing attention to period detail and most of the cast appear to be enjoying themselves, even if many of the performances are a bit over-the-top. Still it’s an entertaining whodunnit and the chemistry between Caine and Collins is excellent, making it a fun three hours in Victorian London.
Picture QualityJack the Ripper arrives on Blu-ray as a two disc set, with the mini-series as originally broadcast on the first disc and the two 99-minute episodes combined into a single 189-minute feature film on the second. The difference in running time is just credits, otherwise both versions are identical in terms of content. Jack the Ripper was shot on 35mm film and Network have done a marvellous job of restoring the original elements in high definition. The two-part mini-series uses the full 35mm frame and matches the 1.33:1 aspect ratio in which the mini-series was originally broadcast, right down to the Thames Television logo. The combined feature film is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which was achieved by masking the top and bottom of the 35mm frame. As result there is more image at the top and bottom of the frame in the 1.33:1 version but the 1.85:1 version has a nicer widescreen composition that obviously suits modern displays.
The production was shot on 35mm film and the resulting Blu-ray is impressive
The picture quality is excellent with the restored image revealing all the details of the wonderful period production design. The Victorian streets burst with detail, whilst the set dressing and costumes all reveal a marvellous attention to detail. The production might draw some strange conclusions with regards to the possible identity of The Ripper but they have certainly done their research in terms of the Victorian era, with the murder scenes meticulously recreated. There is plenty of fine detail in the various costumes, whilst the facial close-ups reveal every fine line, right down to the fluff on Jane Seymour’s cheeks! The colours are accurate in terms of flesh tones and blood or though there’s surprisingly little of the latter. The black levels are also impressive with just a touch of crush that is undoubtedly a result of the original photography, as are the occasional softer shots. The transfer itself is largely free from digital artefacts, aside from some very minor banding in the smoggy nighttime scenes. Jack the Ripper is a handsome production that is well served by this new Blu-ray, even if Lysette Anthony and Susan George are far too attractive to be East-End prostitutes in the 1880s!
Sound QualityAs with the picture there are two different soundtracks on this Blu-ray release of Jack the Ripper, the two-part mini-series uses a stereo LPCM track that mimics its original broadcast and the feature film version boasts a 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio mix. The stereo mix is largely good for the period, with the orchestral score well served and some nice ambient effects. Dialogue is always clear but often sounds distinct from the rest of the track, as if it had been completely looped in post-production. We suspect this is just a reflection of the original stereo mix placing more emphasis on dialogue because back in 1988 most people would have been watching in mono.
The 5.1-channel mix adds to the lovely picture, resulting in a feature film experience
The 5.1-channel mix is a much more cohesive affair, with the dialogue nicely integrated into the rest of the sound design. It isn’t just more immersive than the stereo version but also more balanced with the dialogue and effects sounding natural. The score is again prioritised across the frontal array and dialogue is nicely centred on the screen. The effects are placed around the soundstage, largely creating a more open and atmospheric sense of ambience. It isn’t as aggressive as a modern surround mix but it suits the production and delivers a decent dynamic range along the way. As you’d expect there’s minimal bass extension but what there is largely underpins the score and the more melodramatic moments.
ExtrasThis Blu-ray release of Jack the Ripper doesn’t have a great selection of extras and is missing the audio commentary with writer/director David Wickes and his researcher that graced the previous DVD release. It’s a shame because although you might not agree with Wickes’s conclusions he and his researcher do at least address many of the theories that surround the Ripper killings.
However on the first disc is the original footage that was shot with Barry Foster, which makes for a very interesting companion piece. As originally conceived the plan was to shoot the interiors on video and the exteriors on 16mm, which was common at the time for a British TV production. The surviving footage is poor quality video but it does demonstrate the difference between a low budget British TV production and a big budget US production with a major star.
The first disc also includes a Gallery of promotional images that were produced for Jack the Ripper’s original airing in 1988.
Blu-ray VerdictJack the Ripper was produced to tie in with the centenary of the infamous killings and for those that remember watching the original broadcast over two consecutive nights, it’s hard to believe it was nearly thirty years ago. The mini-series was something of an event at the time, thanks to a big budget and Michael Caine’s first TV appearance in over two decades. Whilst the ultimate conclusions will be absolute rubbish to anyone with an interest in The Ripper, it remains an enjoyable whodunnit with excellent production values and a great central performance from Caine.
This restored Blu-ray release of Jack the Ripper is sure to please fans
The production might be nearly three decades old but thankfully it was shot on 35mm which means this newly restored high definition Blu-ray release boasts marvellous picture quality. You can choose to watch Jack the Ripper as a two part mini-series or a single feature film, with the former at a 1.33:1 aspect ratio and the latter at a 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The soundtrack also comes in two varieties, with the two-parter using an LPCM stereo mix and the film version boasting a full 5.1-channel DTS-HD Master Audio mix. There are limited extras but the footage from the aborted original production is included, which makes for an interesting comparison. Overall this is a great Blu-ray release of Jack the Ripper, which is sure to please fans, although if you own the previous DVD release keep hold if it for the commentary track.
You can buy Jack the Ripper on Blu-ray here
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £24.99
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