Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: Mary Reilly (1996)
Studio Line: Columbia TriStar - The battle between good and evil has many victims…and one witness.

The classic horror story of Dr, Jekyll and Mr. Hyde gets a chilling new twist when seen through the eyes of Dr. Jekyll's devoted maid, Mary Reilly.

Julia Roberts, John Malkovich and the writer and director of Dangerous Liaisons take terror to a new level as the immortal conflict between good and evil is played out in the soul of one man. Equally attracted to her kind employer, Dr.Jekyll, and his mysterious assistant, Mr. Hyde, Mary Reilly must confront her own dangerous desires if she is to survive humanity's greatest evil.

Director: Stephen Frears
Cast: Julia Roberts, John Malkovich, George Cole, Michael Gambon, Kathy Staff, Glenn Close
Box Office: Budget: $47 million. Gross: $5.6 million.
DVD: Widescreen 1.85:1/16x9; audio English DD 5.0 & Dolby Surround 2.0, French DD 5.0, Spanish & Portuguese Dolby Surround 2.0; subtitles English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, Korean, Thai; closed-captioned; single sided - double layered; 28 chapters; rated R; 108 min.; $24.95; street date 9/12/00.
Supplements: Featurette; Production Notes; Talent Files; Theatrical Trailers.
Purchase: DVD

Picture/Sound/Extras: B+/B+/D

Shhh! Quiet down and listen carefully! You might just hear the sound of Julia Roberts as she attempts to stretch her acting vocabulary in Mary Reilly one of the few roles she's taken in which she isn't cute, doesn't get the guy, and flashes no giant toothy smiles.

Instead, MR treats us to the sight of Julia as she acts timid and meek, and that's about it. Oh, she also attempts an Irish accent, but with extremely limited success. Julia's accent is one of the worst I've heard since Dick Van Dyke's Cockney atrocity in Mary Poppins - perhaps movies that start with "Mary" and take place in England shouldn't hire American actors.

Well, at least Roberts should get some credit for her effort, since castmate John Malkovich doesn't even bother with an English accent in his role. Actually, I think he might try a mild one at times, but it seems so slight and so inconsistent that I don't count it.

These vocal oddities add to the strange tone of MR, which retells the tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde but from his housekeeper's point of view. Whose idea was that? That's like doing Superman but focusing on Jimmy Olson, or Star Wars with an emphasis on Greedo.

Okay, that last comparison may stretch the matter, but MR still seems to go down an odd road, though it's not an unsuccessful trip. However, it's not a smooth ride, either; MR makes for a fairly watchable and entertaining movie but not one that ever really went anywhere.

This occurs for two reasons. First, the odd distance provided by the Mary point of view means that we get very few glimpses of any real action; most of the events rendered are only witnessed in their aftermath, not as they occur. This can work - for example, Seven showed very little actual violence - but it's tough to do, and MR makes the scary stuff feel bland and uninteresting.

Speaking of which, that leads me to the movie's other problem: Mary herself. Roberts-bashing is popular sport on Internet newsgroups, but I never had any real problem with the woman myself; she's not one of the all-time great acting talents, but she displays substantial amounts of charm and charisma, and those factors make her a formidable cinematic force since she's a competent enough actress to provide work that's consistently decent at worst.

As I already mentioned, Roberts doesn't have her usual spunk and spirit on which to fall back, and Mary is an awfully dull character. Since Roberts has to play her so straight, that means that much of the movie comes across as painfully slow and blah. Frankly, I didn't have any interest in Mary or much of what happened.

It doesn't help that much of the movie seems to build around the evolving "mystery" as to the identity of Mr. Hyde. Attention filmmakers: we already know that he and Dr. Jekyll are the same person! This newsflash will not hold us spellbound. (If you didn't know, sorry for ruining it, but really, you need to get out more!)

Ultimately, Mary Reilly was intermittently exciting and consistently watchable. However, it offered a fairly limp retelling of a famous story and wasn't nearly as good as it could have been.

The DVD:

Mary Reilly appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Though the film looks tremendously bland, the DVD replicates the original picture accurately and concisely.

Sharpness always appears wonderfully crisp and clear, with almost no signs of softness to be found; the generally dim lighting makes focus a challenge, but the image comes through as well-defined. Moiré effects and jagged edges appeared virtually non-existent, and I also detected fewer than usual artifacts from the anamorphic downconversion on my 4X3 TV. Print flaws were decidedly minor. I saw a smidgen of grain plus a few white speckles and a little black grit, but overall, the movie looked clean.

Due to the film's design, colors were almost completely absent. Literally the only hue we see other than black, white or dark brown is red, which appears in a small variety of tones; there's the light orange-red of Roberts' hair, plus deep reds in furniture and of course blood red at appropriate moments. These colors looked fairly desaturated - even the blood doesn't leap out at you - but they fit the scheme of the film, so I can't complain. Black levels came across as dark and rich, with strong contrast, and shadow detail seemed appropriately heavy without any excessive murkiness. Ultimately, this DVD replicates a difficult image well; the flat look of the film means that it never reaches out and grabs you visually, but the disc presents a solid picture.

Also very good is the Dolby Digital 5.0 mix of Mary Reilly. Not surprisingly, it utilizes a fairly restricted soundfield that offers a decent audio environment but doesn't seem too ambitious. The forward speakers get most of the work, and they generally provide reasonably broad imaging, with music and some effects coming from the sides. The surrounds don't get much of the effects work - though some scenes, like the one in the market, seem decently lively - but they do showcase the score nicely, as the rears bolster the music's overall effectiveness.

Quality largely seems quite good. Dialogue sounded slightly restricted at times, but it generally appeared natural and crisp, with strong intelligibility. Effects were nicely clean and realistic, and they displayed no evidence of distortion. Best of all was the score, which sounded bright and dynamic, with clear highs and some solid bass as well; though the lack of a dedicated LFE channel was a minor disappointment, I found the mix to offer taut low end nonetheless. Mary Reilly doesn't feature a showy soundtrack, but the audio serves the film well and helps make the story more effective.

Less positive are the scant extras on the DVD. We get a brief featurette about Mary Reilly. It runs a mere six minutes and 40 seconds and clearly falls into the category of glorler (that's a "glorified trailer" - I 'm hoping my exciting new phrase will soon catch on with everyone). It tells us how scary the movie will be through film clips and interviews with the principals. Please excuse me while I yawn and move on to the next supplement.

Unfortunately, none of the other extras lit my fire either. The DVD also includes the actual trailer for MR plus additional promos for John Carpenter's Vampires and Bram Stoker's Dracula . We also get the usual terrible "Talent Files"; like those found on other Columbia-Tristar DVDs, these listings for Roberts, John Malkovich and director Stephen Frears are basic to an extreme. Finally, the DVD gives us brief but decent production notes in the booklet. All in all, it's a very bland collection of supplements.

Despite that weakness, Mary Reilly might still be worth a look for some fans of the genre. I thought the movie was a slow but generally watchable, though nothing special; it definitely could have been more thrilling but it makes for a mildly entertaining experience. The DVD provides very nice picture and sound but lacks significant extras. Mary Reilly might make a good rental for horror fans or open-minded Roberts buffs.

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