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You may remember the character of Hannibal Lecter from “Silence of the Lambs”, where Anthony Hopkins won an Oscar® for his portrayal of this psychotic cannibalistic genius.  He then returned as the same character in the recent follow-up entitled “Hannibal.”  What is less well known, is that the character of Hannibal Lecktor (notice the slight difference in spelling that is unique to this movie) first made an appearance in this Michael Mann movie, called “Manhunter.”

"go on, you know you want to be a Manhunter again, please"
Movie
“Manhunter” is based upon Thomas Harris' book “Red Dragon,” with the focus of the film centring on a former FBI agent called Will Graham (William Petersen).  Graham departed from the force some time ago after being left both physically and mentally scarred from his past encounter with Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox).  Apparently Hannibal had his wicked way with him whilst Graham was investigating a series of gruesome murders, although for some reason, Hannibal’s tendency to chew on a bit of human flesh was never touched on in this movie.

Anyway, Graham is requested to come back onboard as an agent and help to discover the true identity of  “The Tooth Fairy” – that is, the person behind a series of nasty murders that appear to be linked.  The links between these murders are somewhat vague, but it is apparent that the victims suffered in a similar fashion, and that both events occurred during the night of a full moon.  Aided by FBI Section Chief Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina), Graham progresses through his investigation by visiting the crime scenes and attempting to enter the mind of the killer.  Basically, the procedure involves walking around the scene on your own, narrating into a tape recorder and occasionally pausing to talk to yourself.  Yes, you read right, he starts talking to himself every so often as if the killer is right next to him, he does this: in a house, up a tree and in a busy restaurant – kind of an annoying habit don’t you think?

On his journey he consults with an expert of the subject matter, one Hannibal Lecktor.  Graham requires Hannibal to aid in the construction of the killer’s profile and hopes that by consulting with him, some clues about the killer that may have been missed can be realised.  Whilst in conversation you can sense their constant battle to outwit each other, with Graham being the weaker of the two.  You also begin to learn more about Graham’s ability to get into the killer’s mind, discovering that it was first tried-out successfully whilst originally attempting to capture Hannibal – though this resulted in some undesirable effects for Graham.  Slowly but surely, Graham does slowly catch up with the “The Tooth Fairy” as the movie progresses, with a few dramatic killings and surprises on the way to keep things interesting.

It is worth noting here that Brian Cox (the actor that plays Lecktor) acts the role in a much more intense, less comical fashion when compared with Anthony Hopkins’ interpretation.  In fact, it could be argued quite successfully that Brian’s version of Hannibal is much closer to the character as described in the books that inspired the movies.  As a result, Lecktor’s appearances in the movie are some of the better, more memorable moments – even though these appearances are unfortunately few.

Both William Petersen (Will Graham) and Tom Noonam (Francis Dollarhyde) provide very convincing performances, if you take a glance in the special features area of the disc then you’ll find out how much effort Tom put into getting into his character.  William shadowed various real life manhunters for several weeks before the movie was filmed, this was in order to get an idea of the kind of work that his character would be involved in.  Kim Greist who played Graham’s wife Molly, had to be both protective of her husband, yet a tad scared of him at the same time – which she did successfully; it’s just a pity her role in the movie was significantly reduced.

"if you know anyone with teeth like these, contact the police"
Video
This region two version of Manhunter contains an Anamorphic transfer based on the original theatrical print in a 2.35 aspect ratio.  This is important, the special edition region zero of this movie contains two versions, an extremely good quality theatrical transfer and a very poor (almost VHS-like) quality director’s cut - apparently put together for a TV network in the States.  Thus if there is only going to be one transfer then the theatrical transfer is preferred.

As I said, this transfer is of a very good quality, especially when you take into account the age of the movie.  Blacks are intense; colours are vibrant and of course required given cinematographer Dante Spinotti’s use of colourful filters and gel packs to give the movie the feel that it bestows.  For example, there’s Graham’s rich blue shaded bedroom.  Also evident is the amazing contrasts between very bright scenes like Lecktor’s cell and darker ones towards the end, these are all handled superbly by the compression used.

Probably the most significant feature that you will notice about this film (I know I did) was it’s general visual appearance.  Immediately you’ll get the impression that this movie came from the eighties and has a sort of eighties cops show persona with a very slight hint of the Terminator’s visual style.  That is probably because Michael Mann (director/writer) also did “Miami Vice” – in fact he had only just finished working on that television series a couple of months beforehand.

Audio
There are three different tracks on this region two DVD, one is a new English remix of the original and the other two are Dolby Digital 2.0 variations; one in Italian, the other in German.

The remastered Dolbly Digital 5.1 English track isn’t as impressive as it could be; this is as a result of the limitations of the original track that has resulted in a significant lack of depth.  Having said that, the track is none-the-less pretty damn good; there is very little distortion exhibited and it features is sturdy forward soundstage (possibly with too much emphasis on the front though).  

Extras
“Manhunter” is one of those discs that ask you what language you wish to use when you first insert it into the player, this is used in the menu system so that you aren’t forced to read the menu is English – which is pretty commonplace.  Three languages are supported: English, French and German.

Once you get into the menu system, you find that this is a fairly basic disc consisting of two featurettes, a theatrical trailer, some stills from a Lineone user’s web site and the usual stuff like chapter selection and so on.

The theatrical trailer is in a 1:1.85 aspect ratio implementing an Anamorphic display method, and since the movie is fairly old, the trailer isn’t going to spoil your viewing of the movie if you decide to watch it first.  It is quite unusual to find a trailer presented in an Anamorphic fashion – even with new releases.

The Cinematographer Dante Spinotti appears in the first featurette entitled “The Manhunter Look”.  In this, he takes you through the various visual elements of the movie, describing why they used the methods that they did.  He covers the influences at the time that affected the way the movie appeared visually.  This is of a technical nature, but not too technical to be considered boring by those without the knowledge to understand.  You find out about why different camera angles are used in certain scenes of the movie to project hidden messages.

“Inside Manhunter” on the other hand, allows much of the cast and crew to offer their comments of the movie and describe their involvement – running at around twenty minutes.  It was very interesting, not one of those promotional products that you get where each actor takes turn saying how good the movie and everyone else is.  For example, you learn that they had to rename the movie from "Red Dragon" to "Manhunter" because the book title sounded too much like a martial arts movie.  Brian Cox mentioned that he wasn’t exactly keen on the new title, calling it "cheesy".  Other interesting aspects were the insight into Michael Mann’s filming methods and Tom Noonam’s role preparation.

Neither of the featurettes are of a promotional nature, however I should mention that a large number of the cast appear in the featurettes apart from Michael Mann himself.

Hannible Lecktor - the English incorrectly spelt version
Overall
Manhunter is a great thriller, if somewhat slowly paced.  The murders are more of the implied variety; so if you think you’ll be more impressed by action, then this movie probably isn’t for you.  Tom (I like “The Rock” and “60 Seconds” only) Woodward for example, hated this movie.  I on the other hand found it to be interesting but I probably won’t have bought a copy myself.

It is a visually impressive film and thanks to the excellent transfer afforded by the creators of this DVD, it definitely is worth purchasing on that side.  Performances by the actors were excellent, as is the story.  The DVD is well supported by a small but good quality selection of special features.

The only reason for not purchasing this version of Manhunter is that it lacks the director’s cut that the special edition region zero version provides.  If you really want to see that, then you will have to get that version.  But remember, the picture quality of the director’s cut is very poor and apart from that, both discs are almost identical – not quite identical because one has a cast and crew section, the other has a stills gallery.

Manhunter really should be seen first to ensure you like it before purchasing, so I really do recommend renting this movie first, then purchasing the DVD later (unless you’ve already seen it).


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