The transition from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde

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Compare and contrast the way that the directors interpret the transition from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde in John S. Robertson’s 1920 and Maurice Phillips’ 2003 films.

The strange case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson is one of the greatest stories of all time and a literary classic which has been adapted into countless movies . One of the first adaptations of the film was in 1920, directed by John S Robertson and one of he latest adaptations was made in 2003, directed by Maurice Phillips . The adaptation of 1920 was a very high budget film, one of the biggest films of the time. The film starred John Barrymore, one of the best actors of the time , as well as Martha Mansfield and Brandon Hurst. The cast was a high profile one and the film tagline was ‘The worlds greatest actor in a tremendous story of man at his best and worst’. This shows that money was spent on the film and the film is still available today.

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The second, more recent adaptation has been directed by Maurice Phillips in 2003 and stars John Hannah and David Warner. The movie was not shown in cinemas, unlike the 1920 film and is a low budget film which was made for television but nevertheless has many special effects .

Both films are based on the literary classic , which is about Dr Jekyll, a mild mannered, good Christian doctor who at night takes a potion and turns into the evil, horrendous Mr Hyde. The book is about how man is not one but truly two and that every person has a good side as well as a bad side. The book also highlights the hypocrisy of Victorian society . The book shows that Dr Jekyll turns himself into Mr Hyde because he wants to do the darker things in life but because he wants to maintain a good reputation, he turns himself into Mr. Hyde to do such dark deeds. He then is addicted to turning himself into Mr Hyde and commit such deeds.

Both transitions of Jekyll turning into Hyde are shown in different , but very effective ways. The scene in the 1920 version starts with Dr Jekyll making the potion. There are a number of camera shots that have been used, which were very advanced for the time. A fusion of two shots has been used, which involves Jekyll consuming the potion as well as Jekyll’s face superimposed over the top in close up. There is a close up on the face of Barrymore and there is a wide shot which has no effects.

The 2003 version has different s camera shots used. The scene starts with Jekyll meeting Hyde, and a panning effect is used so that Jekyll and Hyde are standing next to each other. The suspense is built through the wide variety of colours used, such as dark colours for Hyde and Jekyll has the spotlight shone on him to make his face look extremely white. This is because is white is considered angelic whereas black has mysterious and dark connotations. The camera moves slowly and there is a zoom effect used to zoom into Jekyll eye. This emphasises that Jekyll and Hyde are the person as well as add suspense.

There are different colours used in both adaptations of the book as well. The 2003 version is in full colour whereas the 1920 adaptation is in black and white, however, there are different shades of black and white used.

The 1920 film uses white light to represent Jekyll, as white has peaceful ,good and religious connotations whereas when Jekyll turns to Hyde, he is now darker, and has more of a shadow, this automatically suggests something sinister and evil. The 2003 adaptation is very similar as Hyde is shown in a shadow in the dark but Jekyll is shown in a lighter area and is not under a shadow. This is similar to the 1920 film and suggests that Jekyll is good whereas Hyde is evil. This is because the dark colours are mysterious whereas white is considered good.

Another main part of every film is what the characters say. The main job of the dialogue is to tell the story .In the 1920 version , there is no dialogue as technology at the time did not allow this. There is no sound on the film However, there is text so the viewers can understand what goes on and enjoy the film. The 2003 film is very similar here as even though the technology is far better and allows the characters to talk, there is not much dialogue in this scene. The characters say very little, this is because the scene is very visual and too much dialogue would ruin the action. The lack of words said between the characters also builds up suspense. Both films are very similar in this department, however, in the new film, the few words that are said, “Welcome Dr Jekyll ” build up suspense .

Another main feature of all movies is the soundtrack. Both adaptations have different types of music in the background . The 1920 film has calm music for the caption, so the viewers are not distracted as the words are essential for following the story. The actual transformation has extremely dramatic music, which would have been played by an organ in a cinema hall for the original audience. The music is extremely dramatic and has a “crazy” theme.

This music is a little over dramatic , nevertheless, this music gives the whole scene an out of this world effect, suggesting something amazing going on and goes well with the superb acting. The 2003 film has different music. The music is spooky and very eerie, suggesting suspense and mystery . There are also effects such as echo enhancing the mystery effect and there is also a use of dissonance , where the sound is distorted. Both films are difference in this category as the 1920 film is suggesting action; dramatic sense with the music but the 2003 film suggests a darker, sinister and mysterious air of the film.

The 1920 film has different camera angles as well as a sepia effect in the scene, which enhances the action. This effect was one of the best of the time and is still used in films today. The 2003 film has many more special effects. The same actor, John Hannah is shown in the same shot twice, staring at himself. This emphasises the message that the director is portraying, that every person has two sides and that nobody should be judged on face value . Jekyll is also seen walking into Hyde’s footprints which suggests that evil and good are in every man. This coincides with the fact that good vs. evil is one of the main themes of the book . The film also has a special effect where the camera zooms into the eye, which gives the effect that the viewer is going inside Jekyll’s mind.

Both films use lighting in a very similar way despite the differences in technology. The 1920 adaptation uses white light for the face of Jekyll , to suggest purity and innocence and black for Hyde to represent sinister and evil feelings.

The 2003 version is similar in this sense . Hyde being shown in dark light vagueness and immorality. Jekyll , however, has bright lighting on him which has pleasant connotations. This is extremely effective as Hyde and Jekyll both stand face to face during this scene.

Both films show the transformation very differently . The 1920 film shows a physical transformation and Barrymore expresses himself very well, which is proved by the fact that he dislocated his jaw while filming the movie. Jekyll turns into a large , ape like animal . This contrasts with the 2003 version where physically both Jekyll and Hyde are the same but inside they are completely different. There is no physical transformation in the film which shows that the director is trying to prove that not everything should be judged on surface value.


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The transition from Dr Jekyll to Mr Hyde. (2017, Nov 04). Retrieved from

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