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Preface: There was a three disc Blu-ray release in 2009 entitled The Hannibal Lecter Collection that contained Manhunter, Silence and the Lambs and Hannibal. This review represents the single disc releases of Manhunter and Hannibal only, and I’ve only grouped them in this review as a time saver, since I didn’t receive the discs until after the release date. Again, there is no Manhunter and Hannibal double feature collection, this is just a double feature review.

Manhunter


Several years before Jonathan Demme and company racked up a fistful of Oscars for Silence of the Lambs, 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, cool thriller entitled Manhunter. 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 tries to avoid comparisons to his work on Miami Vice, and though this might taint the film for modern eyes, 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 even 25 years later Manhunter still stands among his most attractive films. The director has found affection for naturalistic and digital film more recently, but with Manhunter he was still exploring smooth dolly shots, arbitrary high and low angles, studied mise en scène, and minimalist production designs. Most sets have little to no furniture or decorative elements, except Francis’ house, which is pointedly alien with its giant moonscape posters. This film also shows a particular interest in severe modernist architecture, which Mann sets against natural Floridian vistas to create an uneasy juxtaposition. Mann goes a little more virtuoso for the action climax, which features a bit of Peckinpah slow motion, and some abstract, but really cool skipped frames and speed ramps.

Manhunter/Hannibal Double Review
I like to consider the film separate from Silence of the Lambs, but Thomas Harris’ trademarks permeate Mann’s screenplay, mostly in the form of police procedural pieces. Mann keeps the dialogue pretty terse, but there’s no mistaking Harris’ words as they come out of the character’s mouths. Still, Manhunter is pretty unique in that it’s a pseudo-art film disguised as an adaptation of a popular print thriller. Occasionally Mann’s colder approach stifles some of the drama, and introducing Reba and Francis so late in the film makes for a slightly lopsided narrative, but the deliberate pacing sets the film apart from similar ‘80s thrillers, and I have to respect Mann’s steadfast refusal to deal in cheap scares (even though I’m often a fan of cheap scares). One could argue Jonathan Demme took just as much of a stylistic interest in Silence of the Lambs, or that Ridley Scott made Hannibal almost entirely about imagery over substance, so perhaps Harris’ work just lends itself well to arthouse interpretations. The performances are uniformly solid, and perhaps more importantly, memorable. It’s no coincidence that William Petersen, Tom Noonan and Brian Cox’s careers have been forever coloured by these roles, and a testament to their indelible qualities that this happened even though the film was a relative flop when released.

Hannibal


As a follow up to Silence of the Lambs (Anthony Hopkins’ previous stint as Hannibal Lecter) and Gladiator (Ridley Scott’s 2000 career rejuvenating hit), Hannibal is a clearly disappointment. But as a bloodthirsty piece of exploitation trash masquerading as a big budget, studio tent pole presentation, few films are its match. The film’s problems mostly rest in the source material, Thomas Harris’ original novel, which is, as I understand, generally pretty dreadful, specifically the ending, which was not included in this film version of the story. Silence of the Lambs director (Jonathan Demme), screenwriter (Ted Tally) and co-star (Jodie Foster) all declined to work on the film version of Hannibal based on the book. Ridley Scott only joined as director because he misunderstood producer Dino De Laurentiis, and thought he was agreeing to a movie about Carthage’s historical leader Hannibal. The movie version of the story is a bit of a mess of meandering narrative impulses and violent set pieces, and is more importantly missing the affecting character interactions found in Silence of the Lambs. The character issues don’t so much extend to Hannibal himself, who is played with campy relish once again by Anthony Hopkins, or Mason Verger, who is played with equally campy relish through tons of make-up by Gary Oldman, but to poor Clarice Starling, as enacted by poor Julianne Moore, who is a mere footnote in an already busy story, carrying none of the weight she brought to the previous film. She’s basically devolved into a basic damsel in distress by the end of the film.

Manhunter/Hannibal Double Review
But based on the original text’s problems, and the fact that nobody but De Laurentiis really seemed to want to make the movie, Hannibal had nowhere to go but up. Generally speaking it’s a visually striking, and luridly entertaining movie. This was arguably the perfect vehicle for Scott, who tends to err on the side of striking imagery over substance with most of his films. Scott (along with Manhunter director Michael Mann) got his start in commercials, and tends to approach filmmaking like a graphic designer more than a storyteller. Hannibal is a fantastic looking movie, from its high contrast Gothicism, to its flamboyant celebration of Italian architecture, Romanticism, and Renaissance art. In an effort to find something to excite him in the material Scott latches onto the locations, and shoots every one of them with straight-faced artistry, going as far as to create an entire Avant-garde opera set-piece to undercut the themes of Lecter’s relationship with Inspector Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini). Scott also recognizes the value in embracing the original book’s graphic violence. Most Hollywood blockbusters are hesitant to revel in ghastly gore as excitedly as Hannibal does. Not many films outside of the grindhouse feature a tusked boar eating an evil handicapped human callus face first, and even fewer feature a man willing eat a slice of his own brain.

Manhunter/Hannibal Double Review

Video


Manhunter looks positively wonderful on Blu-ray, much better than my dingy, compression artefact filled Anchor Bay DVD release, and from what I’ve gathered reading Chris’ review, a bit nicer looking than StudioCanal’s region B UK release. Chris describes a decent transfer with a bit too much DNR meddling. I see very little sign of DNR here, and when comparing this transfer to Chris’ screen caps I can weigh this difference pretty effectively. I understand the impulse to smooth out Mann’s hyper-clean images, but it’s still unattractive. This release is quite grainy, grainy enough that it will probably bother some people, but this grain is quite fine, and appears entirely natural (from what I understand Super 35 film is generally quite grainy). The StudioCanal release smoothes out some of the more insistent film noise, but this just creates more problems in the form of slick blobs over the entire print. There isn’t really a particular moment to point to concerning the clarity of this transfer, and modern eyes will likely be slightly flummoxed by the relative softness of the print, but there really is a night and day difference between this and the DVD in terms of detail levels. Mann’s use of colour is the chief reason I’ve looked forward to owning this film on Blu-ray. All the DVD releases I’ve seen have always been sizably duller than I assume the director intended. Reds are much punchier here, skin tones are more natural, and cool highlights are cleaner. Scenes bathed in solid colours, specifically the blue of Will’s idealistic bedroom, and the red of the dark room, are free of the blocking effects that plague the DVD releases as well. Blacks are a little inconsistent, especially when they take up a majority of the frame, and are rarely perfectly deep, but when used for contrast (often in wardrobe) the darkest elements are plenty sharp. Whites are sometimes damaged by all the grain, and occasionally absorb a surrounding hue a bit, but damn if Lecter’s cell hasn’t ever looked whiter than this. The transfer’s only major problem is a few slipping or missing frames peppered throughout.

I was expecting quite a bit from Hannibal on Blu-ray in terms of image quality, and I’m left almost shocked at how bad it looks. There’s basically zero difference between this MPEG 2, 1080p release and my decade old DVD copy. Between on the film’s vintage, the use of 35mm film, and blockbuster budget, there’s no excuse for the lack of quality. I’m not sure where to start. The most obvious issue is an excessive amount of edge-enhancement. Almost every contrasting edge is layered with white haloes. These are an effect of both over-sharpening, and increased contrast, and both also cause heavy white blowouts and aliasing effects. Even more distressing are the jagged black edges that sit beneath the haloes. On the occasions Scott and cinematographer John Mathieson use softer lighting and focus, often in connection a warmer pallet, the more severe compression effects lighten up, and give way to green noise in the place of what really should be thin black grain. Wide shots with deep-set details are the biggest problem areas, featuring ragged details, chunky compression artefacts, and more of those obnoxious aliasing effects. I suppose close-up details are a little sharper than the SD version, and the increased sharpness leads to some deeper black levels, but these, along with some brighter red hues (which become more important as the film progresses) aren’t really enough to spend the money on a double dip. Overall this is among the most disappointing transfers I’ve reviewed in some time.

Manhunter/Hannibal Double Review

Audio


Generally speaking Manhunter features a rather stark aural landscape, so there’s little on this DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack to impress, beyond its general clarity. Overall I found the mix to be too quiet, and turned up the system further than I’m usually comfortable with to hear the often whispered dialogue. There are very few stereo and surround elements. The most obvious all sit towards the climax, including an airplane entering and moving about frame, some racing cop cars, and slow motion gunfire. I’ve never been particularly fond of Manhunter’s score. It’s really the only outrageously ‘80s element in the entire film that I can’t quite deal with. At the same time, this synth heavy music serves a great purpose. The music also gives the LFE the best boost in terms of rock drums and throbbing synth bass lines. Iron Butterfly’s ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’ gets a decent frontal spread, and an effective echo surround track, but doesn’t move with the action, despite being presented as coming from set.

The bulk of Hannibal’s uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack (which sounds generally the same as the DVD’s DTS track, with a slight volume increase) is left relatively quiet to give way to eerie silence, which is punched every so often with basic dialogue, effects, or a really sharp scare sting from Hans Zimmer (which is sometimes tinges with abstract ‘scary’ noises). There’s a basic ambience set around every channel to keep us on our toes (almost every Italian set scene features quite a bit of echo), but things stay relatively quiet, even on the busy streets of Florence, save a few chirping birds and yammering tourists. The sound picks up during the ‘Vide Cor Meum’ opera, which was written by Patrick Cassidy, and made its first appearance in the film (I’m unclear on if it was written specifically for it). The chorus and symphony are warm and crisp, and features some minor surround support. Zimmer’s score gets quite boisterous during scenes of violence as well. The busiest bits of noise include the shootout that reintroduces us to Clarice towards the beginning of the film, and any scene featuring the screaming and snorting of giant boars. Gunshots and snapping bones give the LFE a decent kick as well.

Manhunter/Hannibal Double Review
Extras[/h]
Both discs are barebones releases. This is a bummer, as I’ve personally never seen the longer cut of [I]Manhunter
, and the original Hannibal DVD release came fitted with a wide assortment of behind the scenes featurettes, and a Ridley Scott commentary track.

Manhunter/Hannibal Double Review

Overall


One consistently under seen minor classic, and one popular sequel that gets a bad rap it doesn’t deserve. Together, with Jonathan Demme’s classic, you’ve got a nice triple feature that doesn’t quite line up as one big story, but give three different artists a chance to riff on Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter series. Let’s not even talk about Brett Ratner’s dull as dishwater Red Dragon, or that abomination Hannibal Rising. Manhunter looks quite good, better than any DVD release, and the UK Blu-ray, and sounds just fine considering its age. Hannibal looks rather dreadful, really no better than the DVD release, but sounds a bit better than I’ve heard it sound before. Neither release features any extras.

*Note: The images on this page are not representative of either Blu-ray image quality.


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