Ah, not-so-good ol' Hannibal Lecter, he of the "fava beans and a nice Chianti!" Most of the world was introduced to this rather chilling character in Silence of the Lambs, the tension-filled psycho-thriller based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Harris. It starred Anthony Hopkins as "Hannibal the Cannibal" and Jodie Foster as FBI Special Agent Clarice Starling. It was a big hit and was followed some years later by the sequel, Hannibal, again starring Hopkins, but with Julianne Moore playing Starling. It was also based on a Harris novel and while successful in monetary terms, some critics and filmgoers were a little disappointed. Now on DVD comes Red Dragon, the prequel to Silence…, featuring Hopkins reprising his role as Lecter and Edward Norton as FBI serial-killer catcher Will Graham.
Red Dragon was first released as a film in 1986 with the title Manhunter, and starred Brian Cox as Lecter (who? you're probably asking), but it is this version that most will probably favour simply for the continuity of Anthony Hopkins, even though Manhunter manages to hold its own as a film.
Red Dragon opens with Lecter at a live classical recital, followed shortly thereafter by a dinner party for some of the orchestra, except for one violinist who is listed as missing. Lecter, the perfect host, has prepared a fine meal for his guests, though he is rather reluctant to tell them just what it is they are eating.
Enter Will Graham, on the case of several murders, who stumbles upon the solution to a series of them whilst discussing the case with Dr Lecter. Trouble is, it's Lecter that has been committing them. After a scuffle that sees Graham end up in hospital, Lecter is confined to the small brick cell that should be familiar to those who have seen Silence of the Lambs.
Later, when two families are murdered in identical fashion, with no obvious connection, the FBI calls for Will Graham who has since retired to Florida. He reluctantly agrees to help out with the intent of establishing the killer’s profile and letting them run with it. When it is suggested that he enlist the help of the incarcerated Lecter, he becomes furthered involved, as much to put his own demons to rest as anything else.
Lecter performs his usual party tricks of providing information hidden behind clever words, cryptic clues and his most effective weapon, his imposing and vast intellect. He enjoys the fear that he arouses in people and decides to help Graham out as much for the challenge as for the enjoyment of psyching him out. As with Starling, Lecter enjoys an unusual and intriguing relationship with Graham.
Through clever and manipulative means, and with the FBI closing in, Lecter manages to find out where Graham lives. When the man responsible for the family murders makes contact with Lecter seeking his approval, Lecter replies through cryptic means, and instructs the murderer that to really earn his admiration, he should kill Graham's family. The game stakes have been raised and time is running out for just about everyone involved.
Red Dragon is stylistically more akin to Silence of the Lambs than Hannibal. This is the more serious, calm, stylish Lecter and he is far more menacing for it. The story is more straightforward than Silence of the Lambs and the relationship between Lecter and Graham is similar to the one between Lecter and Starling.
The acting is solid, as you would expect from a cast that includes Harvey Keitel, Ralph Fiennes and Phillip Seymour Hoffman. The story is quite believable, the tension and suspense just right, and while there are a few gruesome scenes, it is mostly not as blunt as Hannibal, relying more on suggestion.
As a psycho-thriller, Red Dragon succeeds. If you liked Silence of the Lambs you can rent (and eventually purchase) Red Dragon safe in the knowledge that this is just as good.
There is mostly good to report in this transfer starting with the 16:9 enhanced 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Sharpness is good and there is excellent definition in this dirt and mark-free print. There are no white speckles either, and very little to no grain. There is some rather noticeable shimmer on some objects such as car grilles and rooftops, but it is not frequent.
Black levels are fine, though shadow detail is a little poor in the very dark scenes, but then the whole thing is slightly on the dark side, matching the sinister mood of the film.
Colours are fine and skin tones are accurate. There is no evidence of nasties such as edge enhancement or noise, and even the layer change at 63.10 slips by almost unnoticed.
The audio choice for many wil be the DTS5.1, but there is very little to distinguish it from the Dolby Digital 5.1. Both are rather subtle but effective and make great use of the surrounds to create ambience, and the occasional scene that requires a bit of ‘pow’. The delightful score is well placed and balanced using all 5.1 speakers, though most action is focused on the front, with all the audible and clear dialogue almost exclusively placed in the centre speaker. There are no issues with synchronisation.
There is some noticeable panning and separation of sound, in what is a generally well thought-out audio track. The subwoofer is called upon quite frequently to provide some nice depth to the score, and that deep yet subtle rumble that occurs in the more eerie moments.
As for extras, there is just a theatrical trailer for The Hulk that lasts less than a minute, which is more of a teaser than a trailer. This trailer can be found on several rental DVDs that have been released lately.
Red Dragon goes a long way to redressing the imbalance in the Hannibal Lecter trilogy that many felt Hannibal had created. Like Silence of the Lambs, it is as much about the relationship between Lecter and Graham as it is about finding a very disturbed mass murderer. Everything that made Silence… a great film is contained here. Oh, and don’t miss the small nod to Silence of the Lambs at the film’s end, an amusing touch.