Curious Case of Filming Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde: 1920 versus 2008
Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde has evolved into one of the most acclaimed pieces of modern literature. One aspect of this phenomenon is a continual spark of interest with the novel is motion pictures. Various directors through the years have interpreted the book through their own eyes and the following is a depiction of that. One might question Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde's overwhelming success. Theme restaurants, Broadway shows and movies all have indicated a public interest in the classic. This essay will examine how various cinematic microelements contributed to vastly different artistic productions of approximately the same plot a century apart.
The first movie that I decided to use for this examination is the 1920 restored version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, directed by John S. Robertson. I thought that Robertson's attempt to depict the novel was excellent. When reading the book, I saw many of the faucets of the novel that I would have expected to come up in a motion picture. The separation between good and evil was done brilliantly through Robertson's use of lighting. The most evident example of this is through the eyes of Dr. Jekyll. When Jekyll is running through his daily routine, the sets are bright with adequate lighting. On the other hand, when Mr. Hyde comes into the picture the scenes drastically become dark and frightening. I think this split is in conjunction with the two personalities that Dr. Jekyll displays. A scene in the movie that makes the disparity so clear is when Dr. Jekyll first discovers the potion that creates Mr. Hyde. The lighting in the laboratory was not the best, but after the transformation takes place it seems like a torrential downpour just took place and the set is almost black. Another scene that pops into my head is when Dr. Jekyll is relaxing in the park one afternoon and the change takes place. It reminded me almost of the opposite of the Wizard of Oz, when the movie went from black and white to color. Good and evil are clearly depicted through the image of lighting in this movie.
Another element of the direction that was credible was that of both the costume and the scenery. In the movie there were excellent depictions of the time period through dress. This made the movie more believable and the flow smoother. I feel that when a director exerts the effort into the little things such as costumes, the picture is almost always better than expected. One of the faucets that made the transformation from separating my mentality that I was watching the movie and not reading the book was the interaction of characters. From the Muriel's father's dinner party to Poole, the smooth transition that Robertson incorporated in his direction was second to none. It was also impressive to note that this movie is nearly 100 years old and that as I watched it, I felt like this was the most accurate portrayal of Robert Louis Stevenson's novel that I have ever watched.
You can clearly see that Robertson wanted his viewers to notice that the transformation was costly in the relationships with the people that Dr. Jekyll loved and cared about the most. Another important plot that the book includes but is nowhere to be found in the movie is the murder of Sir Danvers Carew. The importance that this character displays in the book is central to the turning point in the novel because we discover how evil and warped Mr. Hyde is. Hyde takes these distinguished politicians life in cold blood and it is the first time that we learn what a sinister character he is. This version of the movie has a completely different plot that substitutes for intention of the role of Sir Danvers Carew: We are introduced to Ivy Pearson, who coincidentally was aided by Dr. Jekyll one evening. One night after Dr. Jekyll indulges himself in his potion; he pays a visit to where Ivy works. Mr. Hyde (we will call him that to dismiss any confusion) hits on her and later intimidates her by his beastly presence. He then goes on to rape her and force an unwanted relationship upon her. Eventually, Hyde goes on to slay her because he feels betrayed that she doesn't love him. The capacity of this plot is to serve as a portrayal of the division that exists in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I felt that this addition to the movie was superb because it did exactly what it was intended to do.
One of the more fascinating aspects of the movie was to see how the director cast Mr. Hyde. Robertson displays his felon as a monster who even looked like a werewolf. Mr. Hyde had an evil laugh that if you were reading Stevenson's novel than you would feel that it was quite fitting. Mr. Hyde is not a pretty sight. He is wretched to look at, with even worse traits. In public he acts as a menace and troublemaker. He has no capacity to distinguish what is good and bad. In addition, he acts like the devil-unpredictable, cold-blooded and inhumane.
The conclusion of the movie is what established Robertson as a fantastic director. One of the more exquisite scenes of the movie is at the end when Mr. Hyde transforms into Dr. Jekyll as the police are searching the estate for Hyde. This scene was shot perfectly and used no makeup relying exclusively on Barrymore's ability to contort his face. It leaves the viewer with the impression that this is one of the craziest stories ever to surface. In addition, when I saw this final scene I thought that if I were a little child then the plot of the movie would terrify me. I think that this is what the goal of the movie was and it was achieved.
To contrast the 1920 version of the story and to attest to its ongoing popularity, one can examine the 2008 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde directed by Paolo Barzman.
One of the elements of the direction, which I thought was excellent, was the lighting. For the most part, the movie was dark and bleak. There was so light at all. I thought this was excellent and set the tone for a gory and gruesome piece of cinema.
The characters were quite comparable to other stereotypical portrayals of the novel. Dr. Jekyll was perhaps a little more friendly at times then what I really recall from Stevenson's novel. I thought that the depiction of Mr. Poole, the head of the servants was a little more hostile and bitter than the novel. The role of Krista Bridges as Claire Wheaton, a modern adapation of the Mary Reilly character, was interesting. I felt that she updated the storyline and made the transformation convincing as she had no idea that Dr. Jekyll was the same person as Mr. Hyde. Her performance was superb and I liked the way she reacted in scenes where she was one-on-one with both the Doctor and his assistant. One particular scene that comes to mind is when Claire and Dr. Jekyll are alone. The doctor notices that she has numerous scars on her arm and inquires where they came from. I felt that this interaction between the two serves as a way of showing the Doctors sexual attraction to her. Dougray Scott in turn lets the audience clearly know that the role of gentlemen is such that it would be wrong for Dr. Jekyll to put any type of "move" on her. Obviously when the transformation of Mr. Hyde takes place, he does what ordinarily no gentlemen would do and pursues Claire to a vast degree.
Some of the similarities between the 1920 and 2008 version that occurred included the murder of the Sir Andrew character. It seemed that this was such an intricate part of the story, however when it came to both the 1920 and 2008 version the role and subplot where really not exposed to its full potential. I remember that the show had a similar bloody scene that of the movie. One of the interesting aspects of the show that I really cannot say that I have seen before when it comes to Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is that in the show Dr. Hyde has a serious love interest whom he presses. I believe she was one of the prostitutes in the brothel. Although Mr. Hyde goes after Mary/Claire, this part of the movie was not at the importance level that I saw in the show.
Another point that stood out in contrasting the 1920 and 2008 versions is that Dr. Jekyll was portrayed as a much younger gentleman. One of the more fascinating aspects of Mary Reilly that caught my eye was how elaborate the laboratory of Dr. Jekyll was. It seemed much larger than what I had…