There is a long line of adaptations of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and here we have a modern re-telling of the classic horror tale. Like the original, Dr. Jekyll is experimenting on a wild potion, but while experimenting on himself a malevolent alter-ego named Mr. Hyde emerges from within him to go on killing sprees.
The original tale is told from the point of view of the attorney enlisted to help solve this problem. In this film, the attorney is both an aid to Jekyll and a love interest. While this added romantic element does make for some added moments of increased tension when Hyde attacks the woman Jekyll is falling for, it mostly just makes the movie feel more cliché and makes the flow of the story much more boring and predictable with the plot falling into the usual “final-girl” or “boy must save girl” trappings when relying on their relationship to be the anchor of the conflict, when there are so many more interesting elements at play.
Speaking of cliché trappings, the director did not seem to trust Dougray Scott to perform well enough that we would believe Hyde was truly a menace; which is not the case, for Scott is a very capable actor who delivers a fine performance. While searching Hyde’s hideout (yes, I was tempted to make a pun) there are pictures of Jekyll found with the eyes scratched out, presumably done by Hyde, and he has also apparently written his own name over Jekyll’s property (of course it is technically his since they are both the same person, but you get what I’m talking about). Neither of these things make a lot of sense for the character(s) nor are necessary. These are just images the director has seen in serial killer thrillers or horror films and wanted to use them to have us think Hyde is a maniac. Yet, Hyde is a rather well-spoken, calm individual. The terror we feel when he is present is not because he sleeps in a derelict home and tortures pictures of himself, or has the hand writing skill of a toddler, it is because of how calm and collected while committing horrible acts. In one of the earliest kill scenes, Hyde explains, out loud, how he is killing his victim so clinically that it becomes creepy. THAT is a scene that matches the mien of the villain. Had Hyde been a member of the family in Texas Chainsaw Massacre maybe then should we expect to see twisted and dirty mementos of insanity sitting around a dank room, but not this Hyde whom wears a tailored suit and smiles as he roams from one malicious act to another. Even his accent becomes more eloquent when Jekyll turns into Hyde.
If I’m going to speak about cliches, I should mention what else occurs while Hyde’s domicile is being inspected. In the ensuing chase scene, all the slasher film cliches are utilized. First off, Hyde does the magical disappearing trick where he is standing outside the window one moment then vanishes the very next. Hyde then goes from running (while is victim is close) to walking (while his victim has a good area for sprinting away) when in direct pursuit. Basically, Hyde goes through all the illogical moves in the rule book composed by Jason Voorhees and Michael Myers before him in this scene.
WARNING: ENORMOUS SPOILERS FOR THIS AND EVEN OTHER FILMS IN THIS PARAGRAPH.
I also have an issue with the way the two personalties confront each other. While in a holding cell, the Jekyll and Hyde personalties clash in a dream to determine who has control (at least, for that night). The fact that this happens in a dream takes away from the impact of Hyde physically conquering and using the body. The manner in which I would have liked to see the conflict would be when the Narrator and Tyler Durden clash in Fight Club. There, the threat is real because while the two personalites fight, the actions they commit actually happen to the host body. In this film, Jekyll/Hyde is lying normally on his side when they open the door, under suspicion that something is wrong…and there is no real reason for this inspection. If Jekyll was actually thrashing around in the cell, it would feel like a true fight for control; It would also make more sense for him to be checked on. Of course, there is the poetic metaphor that could be made that Jekyll is the dream and Hyde is the nightmare, but that is not how things are presented. Fighting only in a dreamscape makes his internal conflict feel less significant because less is at stake in the actual fight. Sure, the winner gains control but there is no damage from the battle. There is no physical evidence of this really important conflict and the journey the victor had to take to win….other than the victory itself.
There are also issues with the pacing of the film. The first act contains most of the action and exposition which leaves the second act feeling a bit flat as it slowly builds up to an anti-climactic courtroom drama that lasts the entire third act. Plus, the ending has none of the emotional weight as the original tale. The first act makes promises for a twisted tale but then the film loses its teeth right through to the very end.
Widescreen 1.78:1. Being a made for TV film, the visuals are not going to be terribly dynamic. Things aren’t hazing or anything, but they are hardly sharp. But the transfer to DVD is perfectly acceptable given the lower budget of this production.
Dolby Digital Stereo. The mixing of the dialogue seems amateurish. Some scenes we can hear the entire room (background noise, reverberation of an actor’s voice) and another it disappears. It’s as if the mics on set were not catching things properly. Now, this might be hardly noticeable, but audio snobs will certainly catch the occasional sloppy mix.
I’m sure this made for TV film made for a nice acting exercise for Dougray Scott, but that’s about all I can see being gained from it. This tale offers so many interesting elements to play with, it is a shame to see a version appear to be ignorant of all the originals best parts. I don’t mind when an adaptation takes liberties, but only if they do something unique and interesting with it. This one did not at all.