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Many people believe that 1991’s multi-award winning The Silence of the Lambs was the film that introduced the world to Dr. Hannibal ‘the Cannibal’ Lecter, but in reality the not-so-good doctor made his first screen appearance some time before that in Manhunter, a film based on the Thomas Harris novel Red Dragon. Interestingly enough Michael Mann’s 1986 feature doesn’t give Lecter (or Lecktor as he is in Manhunter) a lot of screen time, and instead concentrates on the FBI agent responsible for his incarceration and the pursuit of a new serial killer - the Tooth Fairy.

 Manhunter

Feature


William Petersen plays Will Graham, a retired FBI profiler who was responsible for apprehending the cannibalistic psychiatrist Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox), but at significant cost to his own psychological well being. Graham uses a particularly ingenious, not to mention dangerous technique when pursuing his quarry. In order to better understand criminal impulses he immerses himself in the psyche of the killer, thinking as they would in order to anticipate their next move. Although effective it has a severely detrimental effect on his mental health, as he risks losing his own identity.

When a new serial murderer surfaces Graham is coaxed out of retirement by FBI Section Chief Jack Crawford (played here by Dennis Farina). The killer, dubbed the ‘Tooth Fairy’ because of the bite marks he leaves on his victims, is murdering whole families in their homes and appears to be following a lunar cycle. With only three weeks left before the Tooth Fairy is due to strike again, Graham agrees to help track him down. In order to do this Graham needs to construct an accurate profile of the killer, and to that end he visits the incarcerated Hannibal Lecktor...

 Manhunter
In a performance that almost certainly had an influence on the decision to cast him as CSI's Gill Grissom, Petersen portrays Will Graham as an intensely thorough character, one who is almost as meticulous in his work as the killer he is trying to capture. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the interaction between Graham and Hannibal Lecktor. Brian Cox portrays Lecktor very differently to Anthony Hopkins, which is no bad thing. Cox’s performance is understated, emotionless and very unsettling, standing in direct contrast to Hopkins’ camper turn. The fact that Lecktor is locked away behind bars in a completely sterile environment and given very little screen time makes his appearances here even more powerful. However, what must not be forgotten is that the exchanges between Graham and Lecktor are merely a small part of a much larger picture, that of the pursuit of the Tooth Fairy.

The character of the Tooth Fairy, portrayed by Tom Noonan, is explored in greater detail than Silence's Buffalo Bill. We're given a window into his troubled past, which in turn allows us to understand what motivates him to commit his heinous acts. The Tooth Fairy is a product of his environment; almost as much of a victim as the families he now butchers. Noonan is superb in the role, lending an irremediable character an almost sympathetic quality and to this day he remains one of the most unsettling villains I’ve seen in a film. There's really not that much to set him apart from the next person so he could be someone you know, and this is what makes him an effective figure of fear. His tragic relationship with the blind Reba MccLane (Joan Allen) shows us a being who longs for acceptance, but is kept firmly on the fringes of society due to his lack of basic social skills. Speaking of Joan Allen, she delivers a wonder performance that is central to the film's success. Honourable mention must also go to Dennis Farina, who plays Crawford very differently from Scott Glenn in Silence but is no less effective for it.

 Manhunter
StudioCanal's Blu-ray Disc includes two versions of the film: the previously released director's cut in standard-definition and the theatrical cut in high-definition. What's more, when I say 'theatrical cut' I mean the original theatrical cut, not the alternate theatrical cut. This hasn't seen the light of day on a UK home video format for quite some time and while there's not a huge amount of difference between the original and alternate theatrical cuts, with both gaining and losing footage, it's sure to please the purists.

Video


The high-definition theatrical cut of the film is presented here at its original 2.35:1 ratio (1080/24p VC-1), but unfortunately it's a maddeningly average, inconsistent effort. While the benefits of the increased resolution are obvious, an unhealthy amount of DNR has been applied. Grain has been virtually eradicated, and although one or two shots do look fairly sharp the vast majority of the film lacks the fine detail you'd expect from an HD title. Save for one or two close-ups textures are ill-defined, with the image appearing soft and waxy in a way that a film shot on Super 35 simply shouldn't. On top of that contrast is a bit flat and there are issues with posterisation in a few scenes. There are also a few instances where the film jumps a few frames, but in fairness they have been in the film for years. I also think I spotted a smidgen of edge enhancement in a few scenes.

 Manhunter
With that said there are some positives. The film has a very distinctive look that is firmly anchored in the eighties, what with the abundance of neon and the use of blue filters and the like. Even so the palette is generally very natural, especially the brightly lit exterior shots in which organic colours such as green are very well-represented. Skin tones are also fairly accurate and the transfer is relatively free from film artefacts, which actually came as something of a surprise. The aforementioned banding aside the compression isn't too bad either. A couple of years ago I would probably have been quite impressed with this transfer, but things move on and as it stands I can't really bring myself to award anything other than slightly above average marks. Truth be told Dante Spinotti’s excellent cinematography deserves more care and attention than it receives here. I'm sure there are some reviewers who would be even more critical than me. If only the content makers held back on the DNR...

As I mentioned earlier the disc also includes the director’s cut of the film. It is presented at 2.35:1 and anamorphically enhanced, but the image quality is truly appalling. Honestly, it really is that bad. From what I understand parts of it were sourced from one inch tape taken from Mann's personal collection, and boy does it show. These scenes are grainy, lacking in resolution, have poor contrast, impure colours and a lot of artefacts. The rest of the film doesn't actually fare much better either, what with some pretty shocking compression. It's nice to have the director's cut here for reference, but you won't be watching it over the theatrical version unless you're a masochist. Think of it as bonus material rather than another, complete version of the film. I do, and as such it doesn't factor into my scoring.

 Manhunter

Audio


DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is the order of the day here, although there's also an LPCM 2.0 Stereo offering for those who lack multi-channel capabilities. However, with the Master Audio selected you might be forgiven for thinking that you're listening in stereo, as the track is dominated by the frontal array. Dialogue reproduction is generally healthy, and there weren't too many instances where I had to strain to hear what was being said. There's some nice stereo panning in a number of scenes, namely those with vehicles in them, and the surround channels even manage to get in on the act when a helicopter takes off and a Learjet lands. Beyond that surround utilisation is limited to the wonderfully atmospheric music, which is comprised of eighties synth music from the like of The Reds and Shriekback, but even its presence is uneven. Bass is also fair anaemic, but then there's not really a lot of call for thumping LFE save perhaps during the climactic scenes. I'm in two minds about this one. It's certainly not demo material, but it does the basics well and Manhunter isn't a particularly dynamic film aurally so there's no real cause for complaint.

Again the director's cut comes off second best in the audio department, with a standard Dolby 2.0 Surround soundtrack at a lowly 224Kbps. Like the standard-definition video it doesn't actor into my scoring. The theatrical cut also includes English subtitles.

 Manhunter

Extras


The director's cut of the film features commentary by Michael Mann. This marked the first time I had heard the commentary, and in fact the first time I've heard any Mann chat track. I'm not quite sure what I was expecting, but it's a pretty dry effort with numerous lengthy periods of dead air. Mann does share some interesting behind the scenes information and offer some intriguing insights into the characters, but I'd be lying if I said I found listening to it an enjoyable experience. Next up we have a featurette entitled 'The Manhunter Look: A conversation with Cinematographer Dante Spinotti' (10:12 SD), which is exactly what you'd expect given the title. Spinotti discusses his involvement in the production, specifically Mann's chosen look and how they achieved it. A second, slightly longer featurette entitled 'Inside Manhunter' (17:24 SD) includes interviews with most of the principal cast including Billy Petersen, Tom Noonan, Joan Allen and Brian Cox, although director Michael Mann is conspicuous by his absence. They discuss the casting process, preparation (which included hanging out with real FBI profilers), The film's theatrical trailer (02:07 SD) is also included for good measure, and it's a pretty atmospheric little teaser.

 Manhunter

Overall


As far as I'm concerned Manhunter is superior to Brett Ratner's more recent Red Dragon, which despite its all-star cast never really did anything for me. In fact, I’m going to stick my neck out and say that I think its on par with The Silence of the Lambs and better than the rather disappointing Hannibal. Unfortunately this Blu-ray Disc is a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand it's great to finally have a copy of the original theatrical cut available on any format, let alone in HD, but on the other the quality isn't what it could have been. It certainly looks a lot sharper and cleaner than the DVD release, but I'm convinced there's an even better looking version of the movie hiding under all of that noise reduction. Sonically it's competent if unlikely to amaze, and the extras are nothing that we haven't seen before on previous releases. If you're a fan of the film it's still worth picking this disc up, but don't expect top-tier A/V.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release 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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