Posted: 11/13/2004

 

Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde

(2004)

by Barry Meyer



A reinvention of the horror classic for a new generation.


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The story of the mild mannered doctor who morphs himself into a bizarre psycho killer has been a horror staple since Robert Louis Stevenson first unleashed it upon the literary world in 1885. Since then his study of the dangerous balance between good and evil has been adapted for the screen in several dozen versions. So why embark upon yet another retelling of the famous story? Mark Redfield, the director, writer and star of this latest adaptation, says that his version will tell the story that Robert Louis Stevenson told.

Much like the many screen versions of Frankenstein, the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde flicks would exploit the more salacious and shocking part of the story - the murderous ways of the monster. But Redfield wants to remind us that Stevenson’s story, though utilizing horror devices, is really a mystery. The fact that the maniacal Mr. Hyde was actually Dr. Jekyll’s chemically altered alter-ego has been a given to contemporary audiences, but this dubious secret was never revealed in Stevenson’s original novella until the story’s climactic ending.

Redfield himself played the duel title roles with convincing charm and force (he’d also earlier successfully translated the role for stage, so he’s had plenty of practice). His script stays mostly true to the original text, as far as unraveling the mystery from the point of view of Jekyll’s close friend, Gabriel Utterson. But, for the sake of glamour, Redfield added the role of Claire (Elena Torrez), a beautiful prostitute who captures the attention, and possibly the heart, of the cruel Mr. Hyde.

With the additional characters and content, the nearly two hour running time of Redfield’s film proved to be a bit tedious, and could have used some trimming to move the story along. Just as Kenneth Branagh did with his version of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, Redfield seems to want to make sure that he captures every nuance of the original story, and ends up piling on more content than necessary. With the added characters to the mix, Redfield would have fared better to dump other less cinematic aspects of the story.

Much like a Hammer horror classic, Redfield tried to capture the Victorian era with convincing costumes and authentic appearing interiors. But his attempts to cut the budget with the excessive use of blue-screened backgrounds seemed to unravel all other attempts at authenticity. I realize that many older films would utilize rear-screen projection in sequences when a moving camera would just break the budget (like in the view outside a moving car or train), but Redfield simply abused this technology by projecting the actors against some very unconvincing miniature backdrops - both exteriors as well as interiors - instead of scouting out real locales. These poorly realized effects were so startlingly evident that they often became distracting to the story.

All in all, Redfield set out to make a more faithful version of the popular horror story, and maybe hit the mark to a certain extent. However, faithful or not, he was successful in making one of the more original versions of well-known tome to hit the screen in a long time.

Barry Meyer is a writer living in Jersey who worships tee-shirts bearing images of Spam.



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