Welcome to another installment of FROM PANELS TO FRAMES PER SECOND, I’m DANNO KLONOWSKI and this is my dissection of films previously released based on comic book/graphic novels. In my past four reviews I’ve jumped all over the comics map—from superheroes to cowboys to autobiographical French cartoons about an Iranian—but for the next three installments I am going to be focusing on the adaptations of one of my and many a comic readers favorite writers: ALAN MOORE.
For as much as Alan Moore is known for his meticulously researched, written, and mind-blowing scripts by the comic reading public, he is almost equally known by both comic and film fans alike for being a cantankerous old queen when it comes to studios making films of his comics “without his permission” and how they are soulless and lack his vision or whatever. He has even demanded his name be taken off all adaptations and has stopped accepting money, instead giving his creators cut to whomever drew the original books.
So in this series, MOORE OR LESS, I plan to look at THREE (of the FIVE**) Alan Moore adapted films, how they differ from his comics, and whether I think Al has valid grounds to be a whiney cow about such a stupid little thing as a movie.
(**The two films I will NOT be discussing are CONSTANTINE, while being a character created by Moore during his SWAMP THING run it is really more a reflection of the post-Moore comic series, and WATCHMEN. Let’s face it: WATCHMEN has been talked to death. By me, my WAYNE GALE VARIETY HOUR podcast co-host MATT RISNES (HERE, for instance), and just about anyone else who has ever written anything on internet or uttered a word on a podcast. So there. No WATCHMEN.)
Let us open then with Moore’s first blood-boiler, 2001’s FROM HELL.
With FROM HELL—a literal 500+ page TOME–Moore posits the most insanely researched, potentially definitive final word on the JACK THE RIPPER murders and whodunnit. EDDIE CAMPELL’s line work and capturing of Moore’s tone and the bleakness of Victorian London is as much insanely detailed as Moore’s words. What Moore and Campbell offer the reader on the(ir) final solution for Jack the Ripper is this:
Prince Albert Victor a.k.a. Prince Eddy, marries and fathers a child with Annie Crook, a shop girl in London’s East End that Prince Eddy had visited the area under an assumed name and Annie is unaware of her husband’s royal position. Queen Victoria becomes aware of the marriage and has Albert separated forcibly from his wife, whom she places in an asylum. Victoria then instructs her royal physician Sir William Gull to silence a group of prostitutes —Annie’s friends—who are aware of the illegitimate child and its royal connections and therefore a threat to the crown. Gull, a high-ranking Freemason, begins a campaign of violence against the five women, brutally murdering them with the aid of a barely literate carriage driver, John Netley. The killings are, in Gull’s mind, part of an elaborate mystical Freemason ritual to ensure male societal dominance over women. As the killings progress, Gull becomes more and more psychologically unhinged, culminating in a full psychic vision of the future during his murder of Mary Kelly. The story also serves as an in-depth character study of Gull; exploring his personal philosophy and motivation, and making sense of his dual role as royal assassin and serial killer. Not until several hundred pages in does Inspector Frederick Abberline show up and investigate the Ripper crimes, without success until a fraudulent psychic, Robert James Lees, acting on a personal grudge against Gull, identifies him as the murderer. Amazingly, Gull confesses, he is then tried by a secret Freemasonic council, which determines he is insane, they stage a phony funeral, and Gull is imprisoned under a pseudonym “Thomas Mason”. Years later, and moments before his death, Gull has an extended mystical experience, where his spirit travels through time…cause why not. (Thanks Wikipedia!)
It’s seriously an amazing read. One of, if not Moore’s AND Campbell’s finest work. So, what did Hollywood do with this charming little tale? (No Wiki required here!)
First, they hired the HUGHES BROS, known for having directed two ‘hood movies and a documentary on pimps.
Second, despite the Hughes claimed affection for the book and reverence for Moore/Campbell’s original work, the openly acknowledged they had to “throw out all but key moments” and start from scratch–A thankless task given to screenwriters Terry Hayes and Rafael Yglesias. That should bode well, right? The logic was that the comic is almost ENTIRELY from Jack’s perspective and you know Gull is The Ripper within a few pages. No, if this was going to be a proper film, it was going to be a murder mystery!—It was going to be Inspector Abberline’s tale! So let’s take a look at Abberline, along with phony-baloney psychic Robert James Lees, as they appeared in the comic:
Ok. So. Our hero is a fat, older gentleman. IDEA! Let’s make him NOT fat and old, and make the psychic NOT a fraud and merge them into one character! OH! And let’s give him with a love story with one of dead whores! Thus it was spake and yay it was made so! Ergo, my friends, film-going audiences of 2001 were given THIS Inspector Abberline:
They did for some reason decide to give Detective Depp a Police Captain/partner/something in Robbie Coltrane’s ‘Sergeant Peter Godley’, and Dumbledore bless him if he wasn’t the best part of the film. For reals! Also, if falling for a whore with a heart of whatever wasn’t enough, it was also decided Detective Depp needed a further character flaw–in this case it being almost life-consuming habit of ‘Chasing the Dragon’ to help with his visions. (That’s opium, ya squares.) Oh, and he has an ABSINTHE for his night-cap too, cause again, why not?! (BET YOU A HUNDRED DOLLARS THESE WERE BOTH ALL DEPP’S IDEA!!!) Despite the fact he goes on to have several visions while stone-cold sober later in the film, our hero Detective Depp spends a fair amount of the film looking like this:
Well, we’ve got our hero. We’ve got our villain (Der.), in the always pleasant screen presence of Ian Holm as Gull/Jack:
Finally we need, as Kevin MacDonald once so loving shrieked, “THE WHORES!!!”
Note how one of these future five dead whores is not like the others? How one is not covered in grim and 1900’s Middle Earth filth? How their ‘Hollywood Ragged’ dress is fetching and their hair outstanding—literally!–in comparison to the whores around her? A whore who perhaps maybe—JUST MAYBE—co-starred in an AUSTIN POWERS film? What?! You said HEATHER GRAHAM?! You win!!! Yep, the blonde, then-burgeoning screen starlet was brought in play the Ripper’s final victim/Detective Depp’s love interest, MARY KELLY–a feisty, Irish streetwalker in London’s East End with red hair (she’s Irish!) and a painfully flimsy English accent, as all proper Irish women have. (Like I need to go on about multi-Oscar award-winner Heather Graham and her gold-plated career highway, with only this one slight dip in it well over a decade ago that, like the events of September 11th of that year, is both forgiven and forgotten. We all know her filmography inside and out, right? Of course we do.)
Ok. So do we have everything? Hero, villain, whore. Check, check, check! Elephant Man, you set?
Perfect. Ok, so like I said selected elements are lifted wholesale from the graphic novel starting with Prince Eddy marrying and fathering a child with Annie Crook, who in the film is not so much a local shop girl, as she is a tight-knit friend and member of Heather Graham…excuse me…MARY KELLY’s Circle of Whores were so tight they could give ‘THE PLASTICS’ a run for their money. How tight were these ladies? When the Prince decided to have an illegal, secret marriage to his favorite whore he made DAMNED WELL SURE all his ladies best buds were there as her bridesmaids. Can you imagine the Bachlorette Party they had?! Bet they all got laid that night!!!
So, there’s your impetus for Jack’s murders. Not that we find that out until later. No, until then it’s Ripper’s cabman John Netley (JASON FLEMYNG, who had two deleted scenes of him doing nothing but masturbating into a mirror. Seriously! Stupid MMPA denying me that!!! But we’ll be getting back to Flemyng in the next MOORE OR LESS…) rounding up seemingly random whores (who all happen to be a part of MARY KELLY’s clique) for his “Client” with offers of grapes and poison-laced wine. (He doesn’t tell them about the poison in the wine. Or that his client is Jack the Ripper. Just cause he’s an individual with a low IQ and penchant for playing with his meat and two veg to a reflected image of himself doesn’t make him stupid!)
Detective Depp is awoken from his prophecy-laced slumber in London’s famed “Little Opiumtown” to solve the crime and get all gooey with the most out-of-place-looking whore since I saw MEGAN FOX in JONAH HEX the other week. More murders happen. The clock is ticking as Detective Depp’s ever-falling-in-belovedwithness MARY KELLY could be next! Then, in a stroke of wouldntyaknowit, ROD SERLINian luck Detective Depp gains an inside confidant—in royal physician Sir William Gull(!!!) who helps him with the case! The murderer trying to help solve his own murders! Take that, M. NIGHT!!!
But as Detective Depp’s psychic noose tightens on Gull and his tally-wackin’ cabman, Gull steps up the pace until…ONLY MARY KELLY IS LEFT!!! Will Detective Depp reach his lady in time? Will he and Gull have a bad-ass Matrix-esque final stand-off? Is there time for one more hit off that???
Well, to retain some sense of historical accuracy and cinematic gravitas, Gull/The Ripper completes his final and most insanely gruesome murder on record—MARY KELLY!!!
Much like in the book FROM HELL, Gull is given a secret trial by his fellow Freemasons, but instead of just being imprisoned he is lobotomized. Whatevs. He gave birth to the 20th Century!!! He wins.
Speaking of winning!—When Detective Depp is called into the MARY KELLY murder he is heart-broken!!! But…what’s this?…one unblood-covered part of her hair? And it’s BLONDE?!?! Detective Depp is smart enough not to comment and calls the time on MARY KELLY.
You see, in the happy-go-gimme-your-money world of Hollywood you need what scientists refer to as “A Happy Ending.” The Ripper being caught and lobotomized? Poetic Justice, but not happiness. So here’s the film’s “Happy Ending”: Detective Depp, realizing MARY KELLY has taken the cash he left for her (Cause he loves her, not cause she’s a whore! Jerk!) and returned to her native Ireland to get her accent back from the box she buried it in in her parent’s backyard and live happily ever after. Luckily for MARY KELLY it was established for the filmgoers, but NOT Detective Depp, a random blonde whore was also staying with MARY KELLY that fateful night! Being a top-of-his game addict, Detective Depp figured SOMETHING like that happened, but also knows he can never go be with MARY KELLY lest he be Freefollowed by a Freemason to finish the job.
SO BACK TO LITTLE OPIUMTOWN FOR DADDY!!! Like I said MARY KELLY is the Happy Ending of this film. Why? Because even our infallible hero Detective Depp (somehow) DIES after taking one last puff of the Orange Dragon. But before he dies…Detective Depp has one final vision of the only true love of his life, whore MARY KELLY, living happily ever after on the shores of her homeland:
In reality, Mary Kelly looked like this:
Were I Alan Moore, yeah, I’d have my beef with this film. Hell, I have MY beef as someone who hoped to never have to sit thru FROM HELL again after I saw it opening day. I actually didn’t read the graphic novel for probably another four years until after I saw the film, but that didn’t matter. FROM HELL was just a badly constructed film from the word ‘greenlit’, whereas every panel of FROM HELL is a work of brilliance from page one. Advantage: Moore!
One final note: I don’t want to call racism or foul or anything, but FROM HELL the film cost $35million and made just UNDER that domestically, but just OVER DOUBLE that worldwide. Yes, it was a terribly written stinker (though it LOOKS wonderful. The visuals of 1899 London is second to none…as far as 2001 CG and set-building goes), but The HUGHES BROS would not direct another film after FROM HELL until 2010’s BOOK OF ELI (That is NINE YEARS, people!)—which has a similar box office tale and made back nearly twice its cost worldwide. Haven’t seen ELI, but I heard it was not so great as well. Point being: LOTS of directors make LOTS of not so great films ALL THE TIME and are almost immediately forgiven and thrown $200 million to make whatever next. As of this writing, the Hughes Bros have nothing in the pipeline.
What I do know is that Alan Moore is a known Occultist and spell-caster. Merhaps his silver-laced fingers has some…finger in this turn of events for the Hughes Bros? Their being denied for years on end (after proving to be bankable directors) the chance to do what they were just happily being paid to do with FROM HELL and had been doing since they were 12 with a VHS camcorder–Directing god-damn movies?!?!
We’ll see if this “Director’s Curse” continues next time in part 2 of MOORE OR LESS: The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen!
*Danno Klonowski is a cartoonist and co-host of the Wayne Gale Variety Hour podcast and host of the LUTEFISK SUSHI PODCAST. All of which you can see/find links to at his site*