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David Lynch
John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins, Anne Bancroft
Writing Credits:
Christopher De Vore, Eric Bergren, David Lynch

A Victorian surgeon rescues a heavily disfigured man who is mistreated while scraping a living as a side-show freak.

Rated PG.

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1/16X9
English Dolby 5.1
English Dolby 2.0
French Dolby 2.0
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 123 min.
Price: $9.98
Release Date: 12/4/2001

• “Elephant Man Revealed” Featurette
• “Christopher Tucker’s Workshop” Featurette
• Narrated Photo Gallery
• Trailer


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The Elephant Man (1980)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 23, 2020)

One of 1980’s Oscar Best Picture nominees, The Elephant Man comes based on a true story. Set circa the late 19th century, the film introduces us to Dr. Frederick Treves (Anthony Hopkins), a London surgeon.

Dr. Treves scours a carnival freak show in search of subjects he can research. Along the way, he finds an attraction known as “The Elephant Man”, one that focuses on a radically deformed young man named John Merrick (John Hurt).

Though Dr. Treves’ initial interest stems from his work, he soon discovers the real human beneath Merrick’s disfigured exterior. Treves works to redeem Merrick and allow him to prosper in society.

Going into Elephant Man, director David Lynch enjoyed one feature film credit: 1977’s odd and surreal Eraserhead. Given that background, it seemed natural to expect Lynch to play Elephant for freakish horror.

Happily, Lynch reins in his traditional tendencies and makes Elephant an almost shockingly restrained effort. Whereas the Lynch of Eraserhead would feel likely to explore the grotesque, here he focuses wholly on the humanity.

Of the title character, that is. Elephant comes with horrifying behavior, but it all stems from the actions of so-called “normal people”, the ones who continually treat Merrick like a sub-human.

This theme seems obvious to the point of triteness but Lynch ensures that Elephant doesn’t feel preachy or condescending. The film gets to the heart of the subject matter with a sense of insight.

To a degree, that is, as I think the film lets off the “upper crust” too easily. While Elephant vaguely condemns the patronizing manner in which they attempt to use Merrick in a 19th century form of “woke” behavior, the movie seems disinterested in that domain.

Instead, Elephant focuses more on a brutal depiction of the lower classes. They come across as mainly horrible and feel like villagers from Frankenstein.

This seems intentional, as Elephant can often reflect the 1931 James Whale classic. Lynch uses cinematic techniques that echo Frankestein, and Merritt gets treated as the misunderstood “monster”.

Of course, Frankenstein focuses on a creature only semi-human, whereas Elephant brings a real person, one who simply looks monstrous. As the film’s most famous quote reminds us, Merrick is not an animal – he’s a human being, and the movie makes that humanity a strong element.

While Lynch’s tasteful, subdued direction does a lot to create the film’s impact, Hurt’s performance becomes the most important factor. Buried under an intense amount of prosthetics and makeup, Hurt still manages to create a remarkable amount of emotion.

With all those appliances, Hurt easily could’ve gotten lost. However, he evokes real feeling as Merrick and allows the role to become much more engaging than could’ve been the case.

It also helps that Lynch largely avoids potentially preachy tendencies. Elephant reminds us what the smallest moments of kindness can mean to someone in need, and it gently encourages to be better people.

Arguably the best movie David Lynch ever made, The Elephant Man endures as a humane classic. Deep, rich and heartbreaking, the film cuts to the core.

The Disc Grades: Picture C-/ Audio B-/ Bonus C+

The Elephant Man appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This became a lackluster picture at best.

Sharpness varied. Most scenes came across as fairly soft and indistinct, though close-ups provided acceptable delineation.

Minor instances of jagged edges and shimmering occurred, and I saw moderate edge haloes. In terms of print flaws, the film came with a few specks, vertical lines and marks, but not many. Some archival footage suffered from various defects, but I didn’t factor those into my rating.

Dark elements looked a bit inky, and shadows were too dense. The image was good enough for a “C-“, but that was it.

As for the film’s remixed Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, it seemed satisfactory. Given the movie’s scope, the soundscape didn’t come with much to do, but it expanded horizons reasonably well.

This mostly meant ambience, especially in crowd shots. Music also demonstrated breadth. Nothing here dazzled in terms of the soundfield, but it felt fine for the material.

Audio quality appeared positive for its age. Music demonstrated nice range and impact, while effects seemed accurate and clean.

Speech could feel a bit edgy at times, but the lines were mostly concise, and they remained intelligible. Nothing here excelled, but the mix seemed fine for this story and its era.

A handful of extras appear here, and The Elephant Man Revealed runs 29 minutes, 59 seconds. It brings comments from producer Jonathan Sanger, executive producer Mel Brooks, director of photography Freddie Francis, makeup designer/creator Christopher Tucker, and actor John Hurt.

“Revealed” looks at the project’s roots and development, cast and performances, photography, makeup effects, and general thoughts. Despite the notable absence of David Lynch and Anthony Hopkins, this becomes an informative overview.

Christopher Tucker’s Workshop spans two minutes, 40 seconds and presents a look at the movie’s makeup effects. He guides us through some of his creations in this short but interesting tour.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we end with a Narrated Photo Gallery. It goes for four minutes, 25 seconds and shows behind the scenes photos accompanied by comments from Tucker. It’s too bad we don’t get a video look at the application of the “Elephant Man” makeup but this still becomes a quality examination.

Given the subject matter and David Lynch’s reputation, one might expect The Elephant Man to present a dark, grotesque experience. Instead, Lynch brings surprising subtlety to the project and makes it a moving investigation of humanity. The DVD comes with pretty good audio and some worthwhile supplements but picture proves subpar. The movie remains a quality project but the DVD doesn’t serve it especially

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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