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Feature


Note: The feature part of this review is copied and slightly edited from my 2011 review of the MGM Blu-ray release

Several years before Jonathan Demme and company racked up a fistful of Oscars for Silence of the Lambs (1991), director Michael Mann adapted Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon, the first book to feature the character Hannibal Lecter (spelled Lecktor here, played Brian Cox), into a stoic, super-cool thriller entitled Manhunter (1986). Mann’s film follows retired criminal profiler Will Graham (William Petersen), who is pulled reluctantly back into the profiling game when his former boss, Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina), comes to him with the case of a serial killer dubbed ‘The Tooth Fairy’ (Tom Noonan). Manhunter is a persistently ‘80s period film. Mann never shies away from his hyper-clean, neon and pastel Miami Vice roots, which might not endear the film to modern eyes. However, I find that the imagery is one of the enduring aspects of the film. No one has ever accused Mann of making ugly films, but, 30 years later, we’ve arrived at the point where all of the Lecter movies (and now a television series) precisely represent a fashionable moment in time. I assume that even former detractors can appreciate the sincere and thoughtful ‘80s-ness of the production. Personally, Manhunter’s smooth dolly shots, arbitrary high and low angles, studied mise en scène, and minimalist production design all leave me longing for a time before Mann discovered digital video. The specifically period-friendly imagery isn’t arbitrary either, as evident in the juxtapositions between the sanitized FBI offices, the severe modernist architecture, the natural Floridian vistas, and Francis Dolarhyde’s home, which is made literally alien, thanks to its giant moonscape wallpaper.

 Manhunter: Collector's Edition
Some might consider Manhunter to be a separate entity from the Anthony Hopkins-led Lecter movies, but Harris’ trademarks permeate throughout Mann’s adapted screenplay in the form of police procedural pieces and terse, technical dialogue. In years past, I would’ve accused Manhunter’s pseudo-art film aesthetic and colder approach to character stifling, but it now seems like the most authetically dramatic movie in the franchise, save perhaps Silence of the Lambs. Mann’s largest issues are tied to his story editing, such as introducing Reba (Joan Allen) and Dolarhyde so late in the film and creating a lopsided narrative by stopping Will’s story dead in its tracks. Still, the deliberate pacing sets the film apart from similar, studio-driven ‘80s crime dramas and other post-slasher thrillers. Additionally, I’d argue Demme’s Silence of the Lambs, Ridley Scott’s Hannibal (2001), and the series Hannibal (which adapted Red Dragon as the second half of its third and final season) promote extreme imagery over naturalistic substance, while Brett Ratner’s more down-to-earth Red Dragon (2002) is an unmitigated bore and dramatic failure. Perhaps Harris’ work simply lends itself well to artier interpretations. Manhunter’s performances are uniformly solid, permanently flavouring the future Hollywood careers of William Petersen, Tom Noonan, and Brian Cox.

Video


Manhunter hasn’t exactly been scarce on home video. It was very easy to find on VHS and was first released on anamorphic R1 DVD by Anchor Bay in early 2001, alongside a limited edition two-disc set that included a composite version of they called the ‘director’s cut.’ Then, they released a slightly improved version of the director’s cut on its own with a ‘DIVIMAX’’ label. MGM’s own barebones DVD was also anamorphic and a ‘true’ theatrical cut, therein correcting minor mistakes Anchor Bay made while restoring the film. That corrected theatrical cut was later released on Blu-ray via Optimum Releasing in the UK, StudioCanal in Germany, and MGM in the US. Of those, the MGM transfer was the best, because the other two were slightly over-brightened and over-scrubbed with DNR. In fact, I’d be willing to say the MGM transfer was darn near perfect, which is why it’s not disappointing to say that Scream Factory has reused that transfer for their new 1080p, 2.35:1 Blu-ray. Both feature rich colours, tight details, complex textures, and a clean image that doesn’t detract from the intended film-based look. While neither transfer has any major issues with digital artefacts (there is similar minor blocking in the deepest reds and browns), the Scream Factory encode is ever so slightly more compressed (the file size is a couple gigs smaller), likely due to the new extras it shares disc one with. As a result, the MGM transfer has the advantage in terms of grain structure. I took the time to gather some screen caps from both releases, but decided not to waste webspace on them, because the differences are so minimal that the .jpeg compression rendered the comparison moot.

 Manhunter: Collector's Edition
This brings us to the second disc in Scream Factory’s set, which features a hybrid version of the director’s cut that was created using HD shots from the theatrical transfer and SD inserts from the director’s cut scenes, which are not available any other way. This is the first time a hybrid version has been put together, as the StudioCanal BD collection included a purely SD option for the DC. There was some hope that Scream Factory could somehow find original film elements to rescan, but it seems that they are lost forever and that the additional footage (a little more than five minutes) was taken from the same source as the SC BD and AB DVD. I don’t know if it has ever been verified what that source was, but I assume it was some kind of video tape. The results are as ideal as one can expect from the material. Viewers that find the shift from HD to messy SD too stark may also watch a completely SD version that seems to match AB’s DIVIMAX release. Samples of the SD inserts can be seen directly below this paragraph

 Manhunter: Collector's Edition

 Manhunter: Collector's Edition

Audio


Almost every DVD and Blu-ray version of Manhunter has included a 5.1 remix of the original 2.0 stereo soundtrack. I’m not sure who exactly produced it or if Anchor Bay and MGM used the same 5.1 remix, but it’s definitely not new. Unlike some early 5.1 home video remixes, this one does not go out of its way to change the basic structure of the 2.0 tracks. I’ve never noticed any additional, remix-only sound effects or awkward directional shifts. As a matter of fact, outside of music, there’s very little in terms of stereo or surround aspects at all, aside from an airplane moving in and out of frame, racing cop cars, and the climax’s slow-motion gunfire. The 5.1’s real advantage is the discrete centering of dialogue and basic effects. The outrageously ‘80s electronic score, credited to Michel Rubini and The Reds (Jeff Burke, Mark Ryan, and Mike Throneberry), sounds extra smooth in the stereo channels and gets a decent bass boost care of the discrete LFE track. The climactic use of Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida” gets a decent frontal spread and an effective echo surround track. Other rock tracks by Shriekback, Kitarô, and The Prime Movers also benefit from the punchiness of the LFE track.

Scream Factory has included the original 2.0 in uncompressed DTS-HD MA, which is a first for a North American release. The differences between the tracks are pretty minimal, though the original track is a bit quieter. The HD hybrid version of the director’s cut utilizes the same uncompressed 5.1 and 2.0 options, though the quality clearly dips during the deleted scenes.

 Manhunter: Collector's Edition

Extras


Disc One (Theatrical Cut):
  • The Making of Manhunter: The Mind Of Madness (18:20, HD) – The first of Scream Factory’s exclusive new interviews features actor William Petersen, who recalls his lasting relationship with Mann (he was almost in a very early version of Heat), the process of developing Manhunter, shooting on locations all over America, Mann’s obsessive filmmaking style, and his fellow cast members.
  • Courting A Killer (15:50, HD) – For the next new interview, actress Joan Allen discusses her early career leading up to Manhunter, Harris’ original novel, her perspective on Mann’s intense process, learning to act as a blind person, interacting with the rest of the cast, and petting a live tiger.
  • Francis Is Gone Forever (22:00, HD) – Actor Tom Noonan’s new interview is an easy-going affair in which he talks about Manhunter as his real breakthrough, despite not being even close to his first movie. He discusses the importance of understanding Dolarhyde’s melancholia, developing a process with Mann and the cast, physical prep, and tattoo designs (which were not used).
  • The Eye Of The Storm (36:00, HD) – In this new interview, director of photography Dante Spinotti (the second in the collection) chats for quite a while about producer Dino De Laurentiis pushing him on Mann, Mann supplying him with René Magritte paintings to help set a visual tone, working with a mostly Italian crew, and a number of technical processes.
  • The First Lecktor (40:30, HD) – The most surprising ‘get’ for Scream Factory, as far as I’m concerned, is actor Brian Cox, who I don’t believe has gone on record about the film very often. This is also a slightly more polished featurette. The content runs a lengthy forty-plus minutes and covers just about every imaginable nook and cranny of Cox’s part in the production, from casting, other actors that were up for the role of Lecter (or Lecktor), the psychology of the role and psychopathy in general, the blocking/lighting/rehearsal of his scenes, and much more.
  • The Music Of Manhunter (42:20, HD) – The final new extra includes substantial interviews with composer Michel Rubini, and soundtrack band members Barry Andrews (Shriekback), Gary Putman (The Prime Movers), Rick Shaffer (The Reds), and Gene Stashuk (Red 7).
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Still gallery

Disc Two (Director’s Cut):
  • Commentary with Michael Mann – This is the same commentary track that Mann originally recorded for Anchor Bay’s DIVIMAX DVD and it has also appeared on Momentum Pictures’ R2 director’s cut DVD.
  • The Manhunter Look (10:10, SD) – This vintage interview Dante Spinotti was conducted for Anchor Bay’s initial DVD and has appeared on a number of DVD and Blu-ray versions of the film.
  • Inside Manhunter (17:20, SD) – The original MGM EPK features Petersen, Allen, Cox, and Noonan interviews from the set of the film.


 Manhunter: Collector's Edition

Overall


Manhunter remains a personal favourite and a film I’ve learned to love more and more in the decades since I first saw it. My love of the short-lived Hannibal television series has only strengthened my affection for the different versions of these characters and this movie is ground zero for Thomas Harris adaptations. If you’re a fan that already owns MGM’s perfectly fine barebones Blu-ray release and aren’t interested in all of the extras that this version has to offer (or its exclusive audio options), just hang on to that disc. The new extras are substantial, though, and the presence of the director’s cut – not to mention the director’s commentary that accompanies it – is enough for me to recommend the double (triple? quadruple?) dip. Even if I still prefer the original theatrical version…

 Manhunter: Collector's Edition

 Manhunter: Collector's Edition

 Manhunter: Collector's Edition
* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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