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I know what you’re thinking: this disc was released years ago. You’re right of course, and I’m only reviewing it now because I recently decided to pick it up to compliment my copy of the UK edition on account of its reportedly superior visual presentation. With the disc in hand I felt like whipping up a quick review to highlight some of the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two releases. Read on…

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, instead concentrating 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) at significant cost to his own psychological wellbeing. 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 runs the risk of 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, and 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 a sheet of glass in a completely sterile environment and given very little screen time makes his fleeting appearances here all the more powerful. However, 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 wonderful 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
Unlike the UK release, which included both the original theatrical cut in HD and Mann’s preferred director’s cut in SD, this MGM Blu-ray release includes only the theatrical cut in HD. It’s not much of a loss though, because it’s the best version of the film.

Video


Presented at its original theatrical ratio, MGM’s Manhunter is a more filmic and ultimately more pleasing presentation than StudioCanal’s UK effort (my review of which is linked below). Whilst both versions appear to have originated from the same master the MGM disc is free from the noise reduction that marred the UK disc. Instead of a smooth, sometimes waxy image we have a beautifully textured one that does a much better job of preserving the integrity of the grain. This allows for an altogether more detailed presentation, particularly in the finer elements of the picture. Of course there’s no getting away from the fact that some of the original photography is quite soft, but at least this isn’t compounded by DNR. The gamma is also superior to the UK release, with the entire picture being noticeably darker, leading to more convincing delineation between light and dark. My UK review also mentioned minor posterisation and some possible edge enhancement, but I didn’t notice either on the MGM disc. The former is possibly due to the fact that the US encode has a much healthier average bitrate than the UK release.

 Manhunter
Of course all of the positives from the UK release still hold true, only more so. Dante Spinotti’s marvellous cinematography has a distinctive look that is firmly anchored in the eighties, with its abundance of neon and the use of numerous filters. Regardless, the palette is generally very natural and, dare I say it, organic, offering up some wonderfully rendered hues. Flesh tones are also more accurate than the UK release and blacks are inky without crushing detail. The image is relatively free of film artefacts, although there are a few more than the UK release. This is most likely because the overt DNR masked some of the speckles on the UK effort, but they’re so small and infrequent on the US version as to be all but inconsequential (and infinitely preferable to the removal of the grain). Those of you less concerned by things like DNR might struggle to see what all the fuss is about, but in my view MGM’s release offers a genuine advantage of Studiocanal’s. This is how I always envisaged Manhunter looking on home video!

 Manhunter

Audio


An English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is the order of the day here, but you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re listening in stereo as the presentation is dominated by the frontal array. Dialogue reproduction is good, even the whispered lines that could have proven troublesome. There is some stereo panning in a number of scenes, namely those with vehicles in them, and the surround channels even get a limited look-in during a couple of these moments. Beyond that surround utilisation is limited to the wonderfully atmospheric music, which comprises eighties synth music from the like of The Reds and Shriekback. Bass is also fair anaemic, but then there's not really a lot of call for thumping LFE save perhaps during the climactic scenes (and my sub did rumble into life a few times). In terms of a comparison with the UK disc, this one is much easier to gauge as the same limitations and weaknesses apply. You’re never going to mistake it for demo material, but the track does the basics well and Manhunter isn't what you’d call aurally dynamic to begin with. In short, there’s no real cause for either celebration or complaint.

 Manhunter

Extras


This is the one area in which the UK release is the clear winner, as MGM’s disc doesn’t include any bonus material whatsoever.

 Manhunter

Overall


I think it’s fair to label Manhunter a divisive picture; one that lacked the critical and commercial success of the Lector films that followed. However, as far as I'm concerned it sits alongside The Silence of the Lambs as the best entry in the franchise (for very different reasons). This Blu-ray release might be lacking bonus material, but it’s not an issue for someone like me who is primarily concerned with audio-visual quality. In my review of the UK release I had the following to say about the video encode: ‘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.’ Well I was right, because there was, and it’s here. As far as I’m concerned this is the best version of the film from an AV standpoint, but those of you who like your extras might want to look elsewhere.

* 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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