Before SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, Michael Mann (THE KEEP) was the first to tackle the rise of Hannibal Lector (or Lecktor) in MANHUNTER.
After two serial slayings of entire families by a killer dubbed the "Tooth Fairy Killer", FBI Behavioral Sciences agent Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina, THIEF) draws his former colleague Will Graham (William Peterson, TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.) out of retirement to discover the killer's identity and prevent the next slaying scheduled – if the killer sticks to his schedule – for the next full moon in just over two weeks. Physically and mentally traumatized after capturing psychopathic psychologist Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox, BRAVEHEART), Graham is apprehensive about entering the mind of another serial killer, but he assures his wife Molly (Kim Greist, BRAZIL) and young son Kevin (David Seaman) that he is only working with the evidence and that it is up to others to actually apprehend the killer. Visiting the crime scenes, Graham starts to form a profile of the killer and surmises that he lives a rich fantasy life and that the key to understanding him is in his dreams. Graham visits the imprisoned Lecktor to "recover the mindset" and seeks his input on the case but later discovers that the mad doctor has been in contact with the killer through personal ads in tabloid The Tattler. With the help of scuzzy reporter Freddie Lounds (Stephen Lang, AVATAR), who once snuck into Graham's hospital while he was sedated to photograph his injuries after his run-in with Lecktor, Graham tries to provoke the killer into revealing himself using himself as bait but this backfires tragically. With time running out and none of the physical evidence pointing towards a suspect, Crawford hopes to just get to the next crime scene while the evidence is still fresh but Graham wants to stop the killer – who regards his victims as "only elements undergoing change to fuel the radiance of what I am becoming" – before he strikes again.
Based on the novel "Red Dragon" by Thomas Harris, MANHUNTER is quite different stylistically from Jonathan Demme's later SILENCE OF THE LAMBS – which seems to have started the stylistic trends of backlighting and flashlight beams illuminating darkened crime scenes long before Peterson's later procedural CSI: CRIME SCENE INVESTIATION – and even Ridley Scott's operatic HANNIBAL or the more recently cancelled HANNIBAL series for NBC (the less said the better about Brett Ratner's RED DRAGON adaptation and HANNIBAL RISING "origin story"). Scripted by Mann, the film is divisive for its bravura technical displays of the cinematography of Dante Spinotti (THE COMFORT OF STRANGERS), editing of Dov Hoenig (DARK CITY), and the scoring of Michel Rubini (THE HUNGER) and The Reds guiding pensive Peterson's investigation over the serial killer genre's usual unsettling visual details and verbal conveyance of the grisly details of the crimes. Half-way through the film, the killer reveals himself in disguise to a terrified Lounds before the film starts a parallel depiction of Graham's investigation and how killer Francis Dollarhyde's (Tom Noonan, THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL) act of "becoming" is complicated by his attraction to blind film lab worker Reba (Joan Allen, PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED). The film is not a whodunit, so viewers unable to be mesmerized and carried along by Mann's auteur take will probably not find MANHUNTER as stimulating. Besides Mann, Spinotti, and production designer Mel Bourne (ANNIE HALL), Mann's subsequent producing partner Gusmano Cesaretti appears to have had a hand in defining the film's look not only as "visual consultant" but also the film's still photographer and second unit director.
Given a brief theatrical release by De Laurentiis Entertainment Group and then released to home video and laserdisc by Lorimar, MANHUNTER earned most of its cult reputation through cable airings. Although framed for 2.35:1, the film was shot in Super 35mm so the fullscreen presentations were semi-cropped but also opened up. Warner rectified the situation with a 1992 letterboxed laserdisc. Anchor Bay gave the film special edition treatment in 2001 with a single disc of the theatrical cut (actually a hybrid version that lost one major passage of dialogue and gained some other small bits) in a new anamorphic transfer and a limited edition two-disc with the director's cut, although it was a composite (ala Anchor Bay's limited edition director's cut of ARMY OF DARKNESS) of the sterling theatrical master with ugly, cropped inserts from a video source for the extra scenes. They did improve upon it in 2003 with a Divimax edition featuring a newer HD master of the theatrical footage and a better if not great source for the added footage. When MGM released their barebones DVD of the theatrical cut the following year, they went with a fullscreen transfer only upgrading to a widescreen transfer with the 2011 barebones Blu-ray (available separately and in a set with the other "Hannibal" movies).
Scream Factory's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 2.35:1 widescreen transfer of the theatrical cut (120:03) on disc one is derived from the same HD master as MGM's earlier Blu-ray. Working from an existing master, the results are slick but not quite as eye-popping as Criterion's 4K restoration of THIEF. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 encode of the Dolby Stereo track and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 remix are rather sedate in many sequences but deliver when it comes to gunfire, the score and song choices (particularly The Prime Movers' "Strong as I Am" and Iron Butterfly's "Iron Butterfly" during two exceptional sequences), shock bits (like Lounds' fiery reappearance) and Graham's sudden bursts of violence. Optional English SDH subtitles are included. The director's cut (124:19) on the second disc is – like Anchor Bay's director's cuts – a hybrid HD master of the theatrical cut and SD inserts for the added footage (the director's cut was available in a standard definition transfer on overseas Blu-ray releases). As with the Divimax disc, the quality of the inserts is poorer but nowhere near as bad as the first Anchor Bay attempt. The quality jumps are rarely distracting if the viewer is suitably drawn into the film, but Scream has also included on the second disc a full SD version (124:12) for viewers who want a more consistently inferior experience (the SD cut has Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo only while the HD version has DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and 2.0 stereo tracks and optional English SDH subtitles).
The HD director's cut is accompanied by the audio commentary with writer/director Michael Mann recorded for the Anchor Bay Divimax edition. Mann talks about his correspondence with real-life serial killer Dennis Wayne Wallace, and how adapting Harris' novel "Red Dragon" allowed him to incorporate some of what he had learned about Wallace rather than doing a picture explicitly based on the killer (which he was reluctant to do). He recalls his desire to shoot at various locations rather than fashioning them at De Laurentiis' North Carolina studio, and how the film was one of the first to show the FBI methods of forensic investigation and behavioral science profiling. In light of the Mann's reputation as a glitzy music video auteur, it is easy to forget that he adapted the novel himself and surprising how engaged he is with the story and characterization. Mann also discusses some of the changes made to the director's cut but in discussing Dollarhyde quotes from an important line of dialogue that exists only in the theatrical cut.
The extras on disc one are all newly produced, with the ported over extras relegated to the second disc. "The Mind of Madness" (18:16) finds Peterson discussing his beginnings on the stage, and meeting Mann who gave him a couple days work on THIEF. Years later, he would meet Mann again when the director had him in mind for a role in HEAT while he was finishing work on William Friedkin's TO LIVE & DIE IN L.A.. HEAT would end up on the back burner until the mid-nineties, but Mann ended up liking Peterson for MANHUNTER. Peterson discusses Mann's exacting eye for composition and set/costume elements, his research at Quantico and acting against Cox, Farina, and Allen (the latter two he knew from the stage). He also recalls his initial reaction to a screening of Mann's rough cut, unaccustomed as he was to how movies were put together. In "Courting a Killer" (15:54), actress Allen recalls just finishing her role on PEGGY SUE GOT MARRIED when she became involved with Mann's film. She discusses her research at a school for the blind, acting with Noonan, and the shooting of tiger sequence (in which the camera captured the actors and the anaesthetized tiger from behind a chain-link barrier). She also expresses her preference for the grittier MANHUNTER over SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. In "Francis is Gone Forever" (22:03), Noonan discusses his process for becoming the character, including being accompanied by an assistant to discourage the other cast and crew interacting with him, the red dragon tattoo based on the William Blake painting that ended up not used in the film (Mann ultimately felt that the visualization trivialized Dollarhyde's "transformation", and ending up stuck to the floor of the set by the stage blood after lying there for so long while the camera crew captured other shots promising to get back to him.
In "The Eye of the Storm" (35:56), director of photography Spinotti recalls working for Italian state television when Dino De Laurentiis came looking for young talent and put him in touch with Mann. He showed Mann a short reel of his work on Liliana Cavani's THE BERLIN AFFAIR (an Italian co-production with Cannon), and Mann in turn showed him a painting by Rene Magritte that he felt encompassed the look of MANHUNTER. He also discusses Mann's preference for harder-edged light and green gels for the film's feeling of irreality and how he introduced romantic blue gels to distinguish the scenes with Will and his wife, as well as his appreciation of Mann's exacting eye (especially when it came to picking just the right angles for the scenes with Lecktor). The featurettes ported over from the Anchor Bay disc on the second Blu-ray disc, "The MANHUNTER Look: A Conversation with Dante Spinotti" (10:04) and the "Inside MANHUNTER" featurette (17:17) with all four of the principal actors, covers the same ground.
"The Music of MANHUNTER" (42:22) features input from composer Rubini, Rick Schaeffer of The Reds, Gary Putnam of The Prime Movers, Barry Andrews of Shriekback, and Gene Stashuk of Red 7. Rubini discusses Mann's desire for him to use only the Synclavier for the distinct sounds it could produce from other synthesizers and the various versions of Graham's theme that he composed sight unseen and then had to digitally recut to fit to film. Schaeffer recalls hearing that Mann had used some of The Reds' songs on MIAMI VICE and then wanted to work with the band on the soundtrack, and discusses Mann's concepts for the sound and the placement of their music in the film. Andrews also recalls hearing of Mann's usage of Shriekback's songs in MIAMI VICE and Paul Michael Glaser's BAND IN THE HAND (which Mann produced). He found the usages in those works trite and but was pleased with the use of two of the three songs in MANHUNTER, demonstrating a sense of understanding of the songs' intent. Putnam recalls how The Prime Movers had just taken on front man Gregory Markel who wrote the song "Strong as I Am" used in the film, and expresses his own reactions to the emotional depth of the song. Stashuk briefly appears to comment on Mann's use of Red 7's song "Heartbeat" over the end credits.
Most substantive is "The First Lecktor" (40:29) in which Cox recalls starring in the play "Rat in the Skull" in London, and that it was invited to perform in New York where an American production was being mounted with Brian Dennehy (FIRST BLOOD) in the lead; indeed, Cox believes that Dennehy may have recommended him to casting director Bonnie Timmerman (C.H.U.D.), upon which he learned that Dennehy, John Lithgow (BLOW OUT), and Mandy Patinkin (THE PRINCESS BRIDE) were among the many actors up for the part. He reflects upon the "mundanity of evil" and his influences for the part in Peter Manuel, an American-born serial killer who terrorized Glasgow in Cox's youth, as well as Ted Bundy. He discusses the sketchiness of Lecktor's background in the film and actually seems to have gleaned some impressions of the character through the effect Lecktor had on Graham in the script. The first disc also includes the theatrical trailer (2:05) in HD and a stills gallery. The collector's edition comes with a slipcover of the new artwork and a reversible cover featuring new and original cover artwork. (Eric Cotenas)
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