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Red Dragon – another Hollywood remake. Will they ever stop rehashing old films? Evidently never with up and coming movies King Kong and the Italian Job being just two movies getting what many people believe to be an unneeded remake. The original film entitled Manhunter (directed by Michael Mann) was both acclaimed and panned by audiences especially as times changed and tastes alter over the years. The original was excellent the first few times round but as directional and film styles evolved it started to date very quickly. Remaking films in a lot of peoples eyes is wrong, however bringing the opening film in this trilogy in line with the other two films (Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal) does make a little sense. And on that note, this latest prequel starring Edward Norton, Emily Watson and Anthony Hopkins, starts.

Red Dragon Director's Edition

The Film
Edward Norton (Fight Club) starring as Special Agent Will Graham is on the track of a murderer. Using the skills of the eloquent Dr Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins) a psychological profile is created of their prey. However things change when Graham visits the good doctor and tells him their profile is incorrect. The killer is not cutting up people and keeping their body parts – he is eating them. And so begins the deconstruction of our pony tail wearing doctor.

Time passes (several years apparently) and Agent Graham relocates to Marathon (Snickers?) in the Florida Keys to recuperate and to blot out the troubles he faced against Lecter with a house and lifestyle now funded by the government. Fixing boat motors on the beach in this idyllic location, he is then approached by Agent Jack Crawford (now played by Harvey Keitel). A new series of murders (two families killed, in different states with no connection between them other than they way in which they were killed), have started which the FBI is struggling to resolve or even make any headway on. Graham has a special ability to “get into the mind” of a killer and start to understand how he thinks. It is this ability that Crawford’s staff are lacking which brings him to Graham’s door (or rather beach). After what happened to Graham before, he and his wife are reluctant for him to get involved, however Crawford explains that he only wants Graham to check the murder scenes for anything they might have missed and to help brief the local police departments on what they are looking for.

Entering the first murder scene, the process of Graham mind transforming into that of this killer begins. Studying the blood on the walls with the cold methodical procedure that only a trained agent detached from the scene can do, Graham continues to different rooms in the house each time speaking into a dictaphone and recording what he sees. However when he gets to the children’s room, his voice falters and we see for the first time that this has started to get to him. From here we see Graham starting to break down the crime scene and work out why the murderer did certain things to the bodies even after they had stopped breathing. Certain things this person does to the bodies link the crimes together and it is up to Graham to work out what they mean.

Red Dragon Director's Edition

Graham may be a good detective but in the past to solve the more complicated cases, he had Lecter’s help. Now he requires it again. Having to confront the man that nearly killed him, the man that ate his subjects is a chilling thought. However to save future lives, Graham faces up to his inner fears and pays the delectable doctor a visit. The typical Lecter banter begins as he deduces information about Graham and his lifestyle and after some what might be called “Hannibal-isms” he agrees to offer help to Graham, and the profiling of the now dubbed “Tooth Fairy” begins.

And so the first film of three, the last to be made begins. Going into too much of the story here will definitely spoil the plot as it does differ from the original film. Lecter has a lot of screen time here, a lot more than in the original film which is undoubtedly because he is such a prominent figure in the films following Ratner’s prequel. Hopkins is the same as always, hamming it up with the best of them. Norton produces a compelling character in Agent Graham however I did not feel he got into his prey mentally in the same way that William Petersen did in the original.

While this is essentially a remake, it actually is a new film in its own right and stands up well by itself which was surprising. The principles are the same and the characters have the same names however this time each is an evolution (albeit it into the past) of the characters from the following films. A big change for director Ratner to be at the helm of something this level. Previous fast paced comedy films include Rush Hour 1, 2 and 3 (in the future) as well as many music videos where as this heavily dialogue driven film featuring actors of such high calibre must have been a huge challenge for this young man. However he obviously has a bright future ahead of him as the direction was great as was the editing. The film really does flow along well at a good pace. At just over two hours the film is never boring or dull and at time very exhilarating with a score to match.

There were several minor points and problems in this film however detailing those here will spoil some of the action and plot so these will remain absent from this review. The menus are excellently crafted however there is a tendency to use a lot of Lecter’s voice which then lessened the impact of hearing his first lines on screen. The menus also take an age to get to the choice of playing the film or selecting extra features (after the copyright warnings it takes around thirty seconds to get to the menu proper, however note that hitting NEXT on the remote skipped the animated part). To top this off, Universal have seen fit to put a (skippable but not fast forwardable) one minute trailer for the new HULK film. If Universal feel the need to include such annoyances, then they should be selectable as an extra feature, not as part of the main program. The final part of the film in it’s closing seconds was however a great little touch in welcoming the next in the series, The Silence of the Lambs.

Red Dragon Director's Edition

A beautiful film to behold, this is wonderfully lit and shot and therefore the transfer to DVD of this to preserve the directors and producers intentions is very important. The transfer here is presented in 2.35:1 and looks great. No artefacts or blemishes on the print give it a very clean appearance while the subdued colours and digital grading produce a warm and dark atmosphere. The black levels are admirable as are the levels of detail present. The high quality of the set design and the high quality of the video mean that there are many things in the background of scenes in Red Dragon that might not be noticed the first time round, but will be noticed on subsequent viewings such is the attention to detail on set. This fantastic print with a smidge of grain (in the brighter colours which are few and far between) handles the dark environment excellently.

At first the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound was disappointing. The opening scene in a theatre where an orchestra is playing did not make enough use of the rear speakers (even though the troublesome flute playing was easy to hear) however fortunately this was not a true reflection of the films audio mix. Obviously a heavily dialogue driven film, the score during the film as well as a few other items make decent use of the rear channels. Bass is a little weak but for the most there is not much need for resonating bass levels. There were no problems in hearing the lines of verse at any time in the film and therefore the audio presentation could at the very least be described as adequate and at the most, subtle but not too involving.

The section entitled Enter the Mind of Hannibal Lecter is broken down into three sub sections, the first being Lecter’s FBI file and Life History. This constitutes of approximately twenty five pages of text in an FBI file style format covering not just his vital statistics and his life before and during the phase of time Red Dragon is shot in, but beyond that into the timeline of Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. A few spoilers for those who have not seen all three films yet.

Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer (hosted by John Douglas – an FBI Profiler) is next in this section. This eight minute featurette goes into how Douglas does his work and how he got into this disturbing role including mentioning that he once interviewed Charles Manson. This FBI job comes across as quite harrowing as he actually does try to get into the mind of the killer and victim including talking about what made Hannibal a cannibal. The last part of this section is a four minute featurette entitled Anthony Hopkins: Lecter and Me. In it he compares Lecter to the “Bogeyman” and in that, his popularity stems from peoples enjoyment of being scared. While chatting about his character he also talks about the way he prepares for the role in, as he always does, reads his characters part of the script a whopping two hundred and fifty times aloud. Apparently there is no mystic significance to this; he is just “a little bit obsessive”.  A very short look at the character which was a shame; I guess we should be grateful that we got anything at all.

Red Dragon Director's Edition

Inside Red Dragon is a section with eight sub sections. Two of these are commentaries which I will mention later. The first non-commentary feature here is The Making of Red Dragon. This made for TV feature runs for fourteen minutes, is presented in 4:3 and opens with a lot of clips from the film complete with the heinous Voice Over Man. Several interviews featuring all the main actors and the director run throughout the piece intermingled with a barrage of film clips. Certainly this should not be watched before the film as it gives too much away and ruins some of the built up surprises from the film.

Next in this section are the Additional Scenes. Split into three areas, first in the list is the Deleted Scenes. Each with an optional commentary with director, writer and editor there are seven in total which can be played individually or all in one go. It was interesting to have the editor present as the director can question his decision to remove a certain scene and the editor can explain why it was removed and then later for the editor to say the direction for a different scene was bad.  All are presented in 4:3 and letterboxed – no idea why this would be done this way and the total running time is five and a half minutes.

Next there are four Alternate Versions of Scenes already included in the film, again with an optional commentary with director, writer and editor. One of these scenes was particularly interesting (the Dragon’s Voice scene) along with the commentary comments as to why it was changed. These run for a total time of four and a half minutes. Finally there are three Extended Scenes which only have shorter cuts present in the actual completed film, again with the optional commentary. The total running time for all three is nearly two and a half minutes.

The Production Notes extra are twenty six pages of standard DVD extra fodder. Again, note that they are presented very well in keeping with the DVDs menu art and the style of props in the film. The Cast & Filmmakers section features a fairly comprehensive biography and filmography of five of the actors from Red Dragon and ten of the people responsible for bringing it to the silver screen. A list of the extra features provided for those with a DVD-Rom is next which apparently include games, screen savers, wallpapers and additional information about the movie as well as easy access to the Internet and Universal Studios links with current promotions and offers. There is no way any of that junk is going onto this PC - if you chose to install it, enjoy. Finally the Recommendations section does not even feature trailers, just one page showing the cover art for five older movies available to buy from Universal DVD.

Finally we get to both Commentaries available on this first disc of two. The first features the director Brett Ratner and the writer Ted Tally. It is quite an exciting commentary with both men not at loss for words particularly the supremely energetic and enthusiastic Ratner who’s vigour not only comes across here, but also in the many small interviews and on set video in other features on this disc. His comments are voiced speedily - apparently  the actors were too as originally they were talking so slowly that the film would have ended up being “four hours!”.  With all the dramatic pauses and looking around a typical actor includes in their performance. He loves the script and mentions this many times as well as explaining how he used the script to get one high profile actor to agree to work on the project, and then used the weight of that actor to get the next and so on and so on until he ended up with this incredible cast of actors involved with Red Dragon.

<br>Red Dragon Director's Edition<br>

The second commentary track is not a commentary track as such, as there is very little speaking on it. However for lovers of the films music, this is very interesting indeed – an isolated score of composer Danny Elfman’s music for this film. The speaking of the actors has been removed and it is just the music that remains in 5.1 Dolby Digital. While music is very powerful in this film and used to great extent (especially during exciting scenes) there are scenes which obviously do not feature music and are therefore totally silent which makes for an interesting way to watch a film. A perfect chance for you to do your best Norton or Hopkins impersonation. Elfman pipes up occasionally as he is “trying to stay out of the way” with a few tit bits in and around his score however it is certainly a change from the mile a minute Ratner on the other commentary.

The end of the first disc.

The second disc (single side, single layer) is just an extra features disc. First up to the plate is a feature entitled A Director’s Journey – the Making of Red Dragon. This 4:3 presentation runs for forty minutes and is an interesting look at Ratner over the period of a year as he is followed by a camera man. It opens with some shots from the films premiere. Ratner comes up with a few quips and jokes during the location scouting. Producer Dino De Laurentiis (Hannibal, Army of Darkness, Flash Gordon) is hilarious as he tries in his stereotypical Italian ways to coax a couple into letting the crew burn and demolish their two hundred year old house, not taking “no” for an answer and not understanding why they will not let him if he is prepared to pay them. The construction of the sets is truly incredible as is the thought everyone puts into such little details in the films, be it in the costumes, the dynamic of the explosions or the jail cells. This is a great feature – very enjoyable to watch.

Next up is Ratner’s (unrelated to Red Dragon) first film shot while he was at university. This audio-less film is presented in 4:3 and in black and white. It runs for some three and a half minutes and features a couple sitting down to a candle lit dinner, some seductive eating and then straight to bed for tomfoolery. A strange piece which should have been accompanied by a commentary track however for whatever reason is it not available.  

Next on the list is a feature entitled Visual Effects. I could not believe the blood on Lecter’s shirt in the films opening was computer generated and I was left wondering what happened to Fiennes’ teeth during one part of the movie (which is explained here). This short feature takes the before and after scenes and allows a direct comparison between the original shot and the finished altered product. This is very interesting as it allows the casual viewer to see how drastically computers have altered everything in the movies, even in movies such as this, that on first glance do not require much in the way of special effects, however so much of it is at least digitally graded to give certain colours more or less prominence. The running time here is just under four and a half minutes.

Screen and Film Tests follow this with a commentary track featuring Ratner, Spinotti and Matthew Mungle (Special Makeup Effects). Ratner explains the purpose of these tests, starting with the Hair tests and moving on to Lecter’s Cell, Blood, Teeth & Cleft Palate, Fire, Graham’s Wardrobe, Mask and Tattoo. Total running time is a little over eleven and a half minutes.

Finally for the end of the first page we have Make Up Application. This is presented with a warning:

<table width=385><tr><td>The following images are graphic and may not be suitable for all viewers.</td></tr></table>

Nice. Anyway, this is narrated by Ratner and Mungle. This forty five second feature shows how gelatine prosthetics are applied to the actors eyes so that the mirrors can be inserted without causing any pain. I did not find this particularly scary or horrific.

Page two of the bonus features starts with the four minute feature entitled The Burning Wheelchair. This opens with the director and actor discussing how much movement the on-fire man will have since he is or rather was glued to the wheelchair. Then the stunt man gets dressed up in his fire retardant outfit. After the shot is complete he certainly gets attacked by two firemen putting out the flames. What a way to make a living!

The Leeds House Crime Scene goes into detail on how the blood would splatter when people get shot and dragged using the skills of a Homicide Technical Advisor from the LA County Sheriff’s Bureau as well as from other advisors of different areas of expertise. For such a gross themed feature, it has excellently light hearted music which just feels totally out of place and is actually pretty funny. A three and a half minute runtime and the feature has ended.

Storyboards to Final Feature Comparison features four sets of storyboards and their film counterparts  These can be selected individually (or watched as one eight and a half minute feature) and they place the storyboards on screen at the same time as the final shot from the film allowing whatever comparisons budding film students wish to make.  

Red Dragon Director's Edition

Finally we get to the inevitable Trailers section. Two trailers are present - a teaser and the theatrical trailer. Both are presented in a 4:3 letterboxed format. Why do movie companies employ “Voice Over Man”? He ruins everything he touches.

This widescreen 2 disc Director’s Edition (do you think he’ll ask for it back when I am done reviewing it?) is a very entertaining package. The extras are pretty interesting and complement the film nicely. The film itself is actually a lot better than I expected it to be however I do not see why some of the extras on the first disc could not have been moved to the second disc to make way for a DTS soundtrack. Perhaps even in doing that there would not be enough room, however I doubt it. Very well presented with lush menus and a great look to the film, it is recommended viewing however now all three films are available I wonder if there will be a Collector’s Edition box set on the horizon at all? Also, I hate the fact that they bolted a HULK trailer onto the front of the movie. Still overall, a good set.