FBI agent Will Graham (William Petersen) has captured the diabolical Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Brian Cox), nearly losing more than just his mind in the process. But when Graham is called out of retirement to hunt the psychopath known as "The Tooth Fairy" (Tom Noonan in a role Entertainment Weekly calls "one of the freakiest madmen Hollywood has ever given us") he must once again confront the horrors of "Hannibal The Cannibal." If Will Graham enters the mind of the serial killer, can he ever come back?
Joan Allen (The Contender), Dennis Farina, Kim Greist and Stephen Lang co-star in this shocking thriller directed by Michael Mann and adapted from the novel Red Dragon by Thomas Harris. But be warned: Fans and critics alike consider Manhunter to be far superior to The Silence Of The Lambs, as well as one of the most unnerving serial killer movies ever made.
Let's be honest, 'Manhunter' might never been much more than a cult movie with a small following had it not been for Silence of the Lambs. It all but bombed at the box office, but I know it started to build a reputation for itself on VHS (before 'Silence' hit theaters), because I remember talking about it with my friends back in high school. "It's from the guy who does 'Miami Vice'." was the introductory line to the uninitiated back then, as Hannibal Lecter (or 'Lecktor' as it's spelled in 'Manhunter') was not yet a household name.
Of course, once 'Silence of the Lambs' took the world by storm, everyone pointed out that there had been an earlier movie set in writer Thomas Harris' universe, and a lot of people went back to take a look at 'Manhunter', although most feel it's an inferior film. But the truth of the matter is it's just a different film. I'm not going to argue that 'Silence' isn't a much better movie, but it's barely in the same genre as 'Manhunter', honestly. Brian Cox actually gives the best comparison of the two films on this release, so I'll use his words instead of my own (and I'm paraphrasing): 'Silence of the Lambs' is gothic; 'Manhunter' is clinical.
The movie is, of course, based on the novel 'Red Dragon' by Thomas Harris (with Mann penning the screenplay) and stars a pre-C.S.I. Willam Petersen as FBI profiler Will Graham, who is called back into service by his former Bureau boss Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) in the hopes that Graham can help track down a notorious serial killer dubbed 'The Tooth Fairy' due to the way he leaves bites on his victims. In order to catch the killer, Graham will need to enlist aid from the highly intelligent and extremely dangerous Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox), a psychopath Graham was responsible for catching and putting behind bars – but not without psychological damage of his own.
'Manhunter' was one of the first theatrical movies that really delved into the whole idea of someone who profiled killers for a living, and the idea that a person doing so would also be vulnerable to taking on the persona of the villain they are trying to track down is a fascinating idea that Director Mann only scratches the surface of in his movie. Because this was a primarily new concept for a movie protagonist, the script doesn't trust the audience to interpret what's going on inside Will Graham's mind, and instead has Petersen verbalizing most of his thoughts and feelings. It's one of the weak aspects of an otherwise strong film.
It's perhaps no surprise that the most interesting character here is Lecktor, and much of that has to do with the fact that he's only in two scenes (in the same prison cell location) in the whole movie. As Mann comments in the bonus materials on this release – the amount of screen time for Lecktor is completely intentional, and the hope was that "less was more" for movie audiences. It's certainly true that 'Manhunter' leaves viewers wanting to see more of Cox as Lecktor, but since the character is so involved in helping assist 'The Tooth Fairy' from behind prison walls, it also seems like some real opportunities are missed. Lecktor is still the subject of much of the second half of the movie, but we never see him again...at the very least, he deserved one more visit from Graham towards the end of the film.
Because the role of Lecktor is so strong, it has the unintended consequence of making 'The Tooth Fairy', whose real name is Francis Dolarhyde (and played by Tom Noonan), also less interesting and much less of a problem for Graham, as we already know he was good enough to bring Lecktor to justice. Noonan is creepily good in the role, but sadly Mann decides to turn his confrontation with Graham (at the film's conclusion) into a typical movie shootout, which is diametrically opposed to the cerebralism of the screenplay up to that point.
But these complaints about 'Manhunter' are really just nitpicks of an otherwise fine film. It's interesting how one's opinion of a movie can change over time. The first time I saw 'Manhunter' as a teenager, I didn't think it had enough action in it (typical, no doubt of someone in that age group). Viewing it again not long after 'Silence of the Lambs' invaded our nightmares, I thought it paled in comparison (and in many ways it certainly does). Now, after 30 years have passed, I think I've finally come to appreciate 'Manhunter'. I don't think it's a stretch to say that it clearly stands as the second best film (we'll leave the 'Hannibal' television series out of the conversation) adaptation of Harris's Lecktor/Lecter-centric novels. Not only is this Collector's Edition release a good reason to give it a second look, there's enough here to warrant a permanent spot in your home video library.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Manhunter' stalks its way onto Blu-ray in a standard Elite keepcase, which houses the two 50GB dual-layer discs and zero inserts. The keepcase's slick is a reversible one, with new artwork for the movie being featured on the outside (as well as the slipcover which slides overtop this case), while the reverse side contains artwork from one of the movie's original theatrical posters. Neither disc is front-loaded with trailers, and the main menu has selections vertically down the left quarter of the screen while a montage of footage from the movie plays to the right of those selections.
Both Blu-rays in this release are Region A-locked.
'Manhunter' was shot on Super 35mm film using Arriflex cameras and is presented here in its original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1. The image quality is pretty good, although not owning and never having seen either the bare bones or the Region B Blu-ray releases of this movie, I can't comment on whether this is a brand-new transfer or the one previously used, although I suspect it's the same one on the prior release with perhaps (or perhaps not) slightly different color timing. Anyway, I can say that the film looks decent...with the emphasis being on the word "film", as the movie retains a very cinematic look to it throughout.
First off, viewers should not panic about the quality of this transfer as the movie begins. The opening, pre-credit sequence features a POV view of someone walking up stairs with a flashlight until they get to the bedroom of a woman. The imagery here is intentionally made to look like it was shot on grainy video, and it's footage that doesn't benefit from an HD upgrade, as macroblocking and banding are evident, particulary when the flashlight is shined on the female's bed. But that's the last (obvious) incident of artifacting on this release.
The level and quality of detail varies, depending on the scene. For example, daylight scenes or scenes that take place with predominantly white backgrounds (like Graham's visit to the crime scene early in the movie or – most notably – his visit to Lecktor in prison) have the most depth and sharpness to them. Nighttime or darker scenes don't fare as well, with black levels suffering somewhat, noise creeping in, and the picture having a somewhat "flat" look to it overall.
I didn't pick up on any frequently seen Blu-ray glitches, such as aliasing or banding (aside from those opening moments), but potential buyers should be aware that there is still some dirt and debris on the print throughout. Nothing that will take away from one's enjoyment, but also fairly easy to notice and occurring in most of the scenes of this transfer.
The featured audio here is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, which is available for both the theatrical version on Disc 1 of this set as well as the Director's Cut on Disc 2. The surrounds on the 5.1 track are used primarily to enhance the music of the movie, with the dialogue and primary sounds all coming from the front. There are a few moments when the audio does come to life – particularly during the two featured songs in the movie: "Strong As I Am" and "Heartbeat", the latter of which closes out the movie.
In terms of directional use or any sense of immersiveness, there's really none of that to be found here. The audio is always clear, perhaps not quite as crisp as I would have expected, but there's certainly no hissing or popping, nor does the track seem muddy and murky. The bottom line is that, as 5.1 lossless tracks go, this is a very average one that doesn't distract, but doesn't impress a whole lot, either.
Not counting the audio commentary track (detailed in the bonus section below), the only other audio available on both discs is a 2.0 English DTS-HD Master Audio track. Subtitles are available for both versions of the film in English SDH.
After 30 years, it's probably time to confess that 'Manhunter' – although not perfect – is a pretty admirable version of Thomas Harris' 'Red Dragon'. This Shout Factory release gives viewers two cuts of the movie, along with a generous helping (fava beans not included) of bonus materials – both new and old. Fans of the movie should enjoy this set quite a bit, and I'm sure this title is going to generate more than a few new admirers of the film as well. This one is highly recommended.