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  Directed by
    None Listed
  Starring
  Specs
  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 1:06:12)
  Languages
  • English: Dolby Digital Stereo
  Subtitles
  • None
  Extras
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Cast/crew biographies - 12 pages of information on Michael Mann, Thomas Harris and William Peterson
  • 2 Featurette - The Manhunter Look, a conversation with cinematographer Dante Spinotti, & Inside Manhunter
  • Production notes - History of Hannibal

Manhunter

Shock Records/Shock Records . R4 . COLOR . 119 mins . M15+ . PAL

  Feature
Contract

Critically acclaimed upon its release in 1986 and condemned to commercial oblivion, Manhunter is based on Thomas Harris’ 1981 best-selling novel Red Dragon and introduced to the world the first screen appearance of Doctor Hannibal Lecter. It would not be until its sequel - The Silence of the Lambs - was unleashed upon international audiences in 1991, that Manhunter would resurface from obscurity and onto video.

Although retitled Red Dragon: The Pursuit of Hannibal Lecter for its re-release, Manhunter’s name change had less to do with capitalising on a phenomenally successful film and more with the idiosyncratic behaviour of legendary producer, Dino De Laurentiis.

De Laurentiis was adamant that Manhunter would not be titled Red Dragon, due to the disastrous box-office performance of his previous production, The Year of the Dragon, in 1985. Ironically, it was this decision to adopt a more melodramatic title that proved to be the catalyst for Manhunter’s decline. Tainted by the film’s poor box-office earnings, De Laurentiis waived the rights to produce The Silence of The Lambs. Not realising his grievous error in judgment until it was too late, the Italian producer had no hesitation in securing the film rights for the third instalment of the Lecter saga, Hannibal.

Buoyed by the blistering success of Hannibal - which had seen it earn $128.5 million within its first three weeks at the US box office - De Laurentiis is seeking to re-make Red Dragon. If the rumours circulating about Hollywood are correct, Anthony Hopkins will reprise his role as the infamous homicidal genius, joined by Julianne Moore as Clarice Starling - in a newly-written part not originally featured in Thomas Harris' novel.

Incidentally, for some peculiar reason, the film credits misspell Lecter’s name. In Manhunter, he is known as Lektor - as he will be referred to in this review.

"As a child, my heart bleeds for him. Someone took a little boy and turned him into a monster. But as an adult... as an adult, he's irredeemable. He butchers whole families to fulfil some kind of sick fantasy. As an adult, I think someone should blow the sick f**k out of his socks."

Unlike The Silence of the Lambs' slightly sensationalist approach, Manhunter's perspective revolves almost exclusively around the investigative side of criminal psychology, focusing on semi-retired FBI forensics agent Will Graham (William Petersen in a remarkably understated performance). Graham’s motives to leave the FBI stems from his pivotal role in the apprehension, and subsequent incarceration, of the pathological psychologist, Doctor Hannibal Lektor. It seems that during the confrontation which led to his arrest, Lektor had attempted to contaminate Graham’s mind with suggestions that the FBI agent shared more in common with the diabolical doctor than he dared realise.

Graham is recalled from his self-imposed retirement by Special Agent Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina), who requires his services to assist in hunting down a deranged psychopath, Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan in yet another disturbing role). Tagged with the darkly comical nickname 'The Tooth Fairy', Dollarhyde’s methods are chillingly ritualistic - at the start of each lunar cycle when the full moon is present, he stealthily creeps into an unsuspecting family’s home and slaughters them. His motives are incomprehensible to the FBI - except for Graham who is cursed with the ability to seemingly empathise with the killer.

However, in order to enter into Dollarhyde's mentality, Graham must first enlist the help of the individual who brought him to the brink of insanity - Doctor Lektor (a suitably disturbing Brian Cox). From this meeting with his former nemesis, Graham is plunged into his own personal odyssey where he must not only confront the Tooth Fairy, but also himself - as his investigation proceeds, Graham discovers that the delicate line seperating his moral duties and his darker, pathological nature are becoming blurred.

  Video
Contract

Manhunter is presented in its original theatrical screen aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and, despite the proclamation on the DVD cover slick stating otherwise, it is not anamorphic.

Blacks rarely achieve true solidity and seem to be lacking in depth. Foreground details tend to sharp while, in direct contrast, objects situated in the mid- and background are quite soft. There is no colour-bleeding or over-saturation - not surprising as the rich and vibrant colour scheme, designed by cinematographer Dante Spinotti, is presented as being very subdued. However, the transfer’s greatest problem is the amount of grain that is exhibited.

Grain is ever-present and very prominent during dimly-lit and night-time scenes - to an extent where I found it mildly distracting.

MPEG artefacts also make their presence known. Most affected is the scene where Molly Graham (Kim Greist), alerted by an intruder outside her home, creeps throughout the house, unaided by light. To simulate the darkness and lend to the scene a disturbing quality, Mann films it with the aid of colour filters, so that it appears as though the interior of the house is bathed in an eerie, incandescent blue glow. Compression artefacts, consisting of pixelated blocks, dominate the dimly-lit walls and hallways.

The layer change occurs at 1:06:12, and is logically placed at the end of Chapter 18. However, it exhibited on my player a relatively long pause of two seconds.

  Audio
Contract

There is but one audio selection, that of the Dolby Digital 2.0. Dialogue is mostly clear and easy to understand, but there are a couple of occasions where Petersen’s speech is muffled and obscured - most notably, in the scene where Graham is sharing a romantic interlude with his wife, and when he is reviewing footage of Dollarhyde’s most recent victims. However, this is not a fault in the transfer, but rather in the manner which Petersen delivers his lines.

As one would expect from a two-channel presentation, there is no activity in either the rear surrounds or subwoofer. I did not detect any audio distortion or drastic fluctuations in sound level.

Though dated in some aspects, the metallic synthesised film score provided by The Reds and Michel Rubin is suitably atmospheric and is a fundamental element in the generation of Manhunter’s tension. In retrospect, it is somewhat reminiscent of Tangerine Dream’s score for Mann’s previous film, The Keep.

The film’s climactic finale features an brilliantly orchestrated ballet of violence synchronised to Iron Butterfly’s ‘In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida’, which would have benefited greatly from a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. For a soundtrack which is vital to instilling an apprehensive mood within the viewer, the Dolby Digital 2.0 seems very limited and does not truly provide the ambiance that is needed.

  Extras
Contract

Inside Manhunter: An informative retrospective presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 and a full screen ratio, this feature delves into every facet of Manhunter’s development - from its conception to its fruition. Non-anamorphic, Inside Manhunter has a running time of 17:13.

The Manhunter Look: Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 with a 4:3 screen aspect ratio, this documentary is not 16:9 enhanced. Running for 10:00, it consists of a fascinating conversation with cinematographer Dante Spinotti, who provides insights into the creation of the film’s unique appearance.

History of Hannibal: This section consists of text-based information which details the comparisons between actors Brian Cox and Anthony Hopkins - and their portrayals of Hannibal Lecter.

Personal Files: Another text-based feature, this section offers twelve pages of information about Manhunter’s director, Michael Mann, Red Dragon author Thomas Harris, and actor William Peterson.

Theatrical Trailer: Presented in a screen aspect ratio of 2.35:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0, this trailer is not anamorphic. Running for 1:58, it is of acceptable quality, though it does contain a fair amount of grain.

  Overall  
Contract

The cover of Manhunter contains a bold quotation from Entertainment Weekly, proclaiming that it is ‘superior to Silence of the Lambs’. To the uninitiated not familiar with Mann’s film this would seem to be not only a bold statement, but also - on the surface, at least - quiet ludicrous. Yet, in some aspects, Manhunter achieves the seemingly impossible goal of being more frightening and psychologically captivating than its more financially successful sequels.

Mann’s film excels over both The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal in one crucial aspect - in its sense of deliberate understatement. I am not audacious enough to compare Mann’s talents with those of Hitchcock, but it is obvious that he is inspired by the Master of Suspense. In an interview, Hitchcock once remarked that the primary reason Psycho generated an almost unbearable level of tension was due to the fact that the horror inherent in the film was implied, rather than actually shown.

Manhunter has some horrific content, made all the more powerful by Mann’s conscious intention to underplay it. In addition, his direction is curiously detached which, when coupled with his penchant for post-modern washes of new-wave architecture and pastel lighting, provides a subtly cool feel to it. In the case of Manhunter, Mann succeeds admirably in creating the film’s palpable aura of evil.

Manhunter is a brilliant tour de force by Mann, marred only by an inadequate transfer. Unfortunately, I cannot really recommend purchasing this title without first renting it.


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      And I quote...
    "... A tour de force of deductive reasoning and criminal psychology, marred only by an undeserved transfer..."
    - Shaun Bennett
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Panasonic SC-HT80
    • TV:
          Panasonic TX-43P15 109cm Rear Projection
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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