Blu-ray Review: Manhunter (Collector’s Edition)

When Thomas Harris wrote Red Dragon, he probably didn’t think the novel would be adapted three times for the camera. Why would a movie about a serial killer that imagines himself as a William Blake’s print be brought back so many times? Manhunter, Red Dragon and the third season of Hannibal exist less because of the title killer and more from the arrival of Dr. Hannibal Lecter. This review is about our first encounter with the shrink who knew how to serve up his clients with the right wine. Manhunter: Collector’s Edition brings together the original theatrical cut with the “Director’s Cut.”

Jack Crawford (Crime Story’s Dennis Farina) of the FBI is stumped at a new serial killer nicknamed “The Tooth Fairy.” He’s slaughtering entire families and leaving pieces of mirror on their eyes. What is making the case extra difficult is that victims are from all over the country. He can’t make connections. Since the killer is striking on the solar calendar, he has doesn’t have long before the next victims are claimed. He has to beg Will Graham (CSI‘s William Petersen) to return to his role as criminal profiler. Graham really gets deep into pursuing his killers. He thinks like a killer. His previous case almost became his last as adviser Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (X-Men 2‘s Brian Cox) attacked him. Graham is reluctant, but Crawford just wants him to merely look over evidence and the crime scene. Graham promises his wife (Brazil‘s Kim Greist) that he won’t be physically involved in tracking down the killer. However the case draws him in as he connects with the Tooth Fairy (The Last Action Hero‘s Tom Noonan). Graham has to deal with two demons of his last case to out the suspect. First is the sleazy tabloid reporter who exposed his scars to the world. Second is Dr. Lecktor himself. Can he stop the next family from being slaughtered? Can he reason out how the victims are even chosen?

Director Michael Mann at this point in his career was known for creating Vega$ and coming onto the production team of Miami Vice after Anthony Yerkovich’s script, Thomas Carter’s direction and Bob Collin’s cinematography set the aesthetic for the series in the pilot. Manhunter was his time to shine and bring the elements he used on Miami Vice from the small screen to the world of Cinemascope. The film ups the dramatic lighting and angles that had been hallmarks of Dario Argento thrillers, but not used for American cop flicks. There’s also a lot of use of music except Mann goes a little overboard. The final scene has a song with vocals that step all over his actor’s dialogue. It feels like a student film at that moment rather than the hand of a cinematic genius.

The big question is how is Cox as Hannibal? Cox is less sophisticated than Anthony Hopkin’s portrayal of the dear doctor. Cox is given less of a theatrical cell. Instead of the Gothic glory full of moody lighting, Cox is stuck in a white cell with harsh lighting and an all white inmate wardrobe. He spends most of his time seated. He’s not in as many scenes as Hopkins received in the sequel. It’s two completely different approaches to the character so there’s no need to debate who ate the cast better.

Manhunter wasn’t a hit when it was released back in 1986. The main cast was relatively unknown at this point. Petersen, Farina, Allen and Noonan weren’t name above the title talent. When the film was being released, my only promotional memory involved Chris Elliot surprising David Letterman one night on Late Night. He wanted Dave to run a clip of his big Hollywood film. Elliot has a blink and you miss him moment as an FBI specialist. The reviews if the time seemed focused on how Mann had just adapted Miami Vice style to the big screen with more blood and less Don Johnson. The film pretty much vanished off the radar until Silence of the Lambs became a massive hit. Then people wanted rent the VHS and the movie got plenty of play on cable. This is where the Director’s Cut comes into play with a few extra scenes and a little bit of alternate editing. The 124 minute cut originally was used when USA cable channel ran the movie. Manhunter was revived as Red Dragon in 2002 so Anthony Hopkins could Hannibal in all three of the adaptation. Brett Ratner didn’t make anyone forget Manhunter existed. Michael Mann’s Manhunter remains a vital and entertaining thriller.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The transfer brings out the drastic lighting and the bloody crime scenes. The Director’s Cut has standard definition elements in the extra scenes. The audio is 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mixes. These are the original levels since the scenes where the songs obscure the dialogue are still intact. The movie is subtitled.

The Mind of Madness (18:16) interviews William Petersen. Turns out he worked with Michael Mann on Thief. He lost the initial role to Jim Belushi and Mann gave him a smaller role. This relationship led to him getting offered Manhunter. Petersen’s still amazed at the locations they received. Mann ran up the budget shooting at numerous cities on the East Coast.

Courting a Killer (15:54) lets Joan Allen remember how see went from Peggy Sue Got Married to a serial killer’s blind girlfriend. She hadn’t read the book.

Francis Is Gone Forever (22:03) is calm memories from Tom Noonan. He looks less scary with his beard. He nailed his audition to the point that Mann merely referenced his performance by the audition. He is very focused on his process and doesn’t care about the entire script.

The Eye of the Storm (35:56) chats with longtime Mann cinematographer Dante Spinotti. He had left working on Italian television to take gigs with Dino De Laurentiis. Dante mentions his time in Wilmington, NC at Dino’s DEG studios. Manhunter was his first big job. This is a master class level talk about how he works with Mann.

The Music of Manhunter (42:22) includes interview with members of Shriekback and other musicians. Many of the groups were used to him from providing music to Miami Vice.

The First Lecktor (40:29) captures Brian Cox. His theater work got him to New York City’s stages. Bonnie Timmerman saw him perform and brought him in for the role of the jailed cannibal. He mentions actors that were also up for the part.

Theatrical Trailer (2:05) was when it was released by DEG. It’s very moody.

Still Gallery (8:28) are hundreds of promotional pictures including the foreign posters.

Audio Commentary by Writer/Director Michael Mann is only on the director’s cut. He shares his approach to the film.

Director’s Cut in Standard Definition (124 minutes) of 480p transfer.

The Manhunter Look – A Conversation With Cinematographer Dante Spinotti (10:04) is a previously produced featurette. Dante gets into how Mann and him collaborated on the film.

Inside Manhunter (17:17) gives William Petersen, Joan Allen, Brian Cox And Tom Noonan a chance to recount the film. Noonan recounts how scaring the casting director with his delivery is what landed him the role. They discuss how the title was changed from Red Dragon for fear that people would think it was a karate movie.

Scream Factory presents Manhunter: Collector’s Edition. Directed by: Michael Mann. Screenplay by: Michael Mann. Starring: Willam Petersen, Tom Noonan, Joan Allen and Brian Cox. Running Time: 120 minutes. Rated: R. Released: May 24, 2016.

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