Thomas Harris' creation, the conniving yet brilliant killer Hannibal Lecter, has lived a full cinematic life. Though he made his first appearance in 1986 with an entrancing turn from Brian Cox, he only reached iconic status when Anthony Hopkins' garnered an Academy Award for his performance as the cannibalistic doctor -- as well as the label for the shortest stretch of time that an actor has performed to win a Best Actor Oscar. Essentially, Hannibal Lecter is, quite possibly, the most illustrious and captivating supporting character to date. Though he's oftentimes far beyond arm's reach and rarely in our direct eyesight at the cinema, his presence can almost collectively be felt from start to finish in a film with barely a mention of his name.
MGM have put together a collection of the character's first three films -- Manhunter, The Silence of the Lambs, and Hannibal -- in a rich Blu-ray package that presents each one in the best visual and aural offerings to date:
Manhunter, though it has the fiercest title, is the leanest and most cerebral of all the Hannibal Lecter films. It relies more on the stirring psychoses than anything we really see on-screen, even though Michael Mann gives us plenty of visual imagery to heighten the experience. While contemplating the reasoning behind "Tooth Fairy" Dolarhyde's sadistic motives, we watch his future victim -- a blind woman -- as she strokes a sedated tiger under heavy anesthetics. Mann's film is much like this tiger, and we're the woman sightlessly feeling the ferocity kept sedated until the right moment. In all its neon-bathed "Miami Vice"-like glory, it's certainly a formidable creature.
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The Silence of the Lambs:
The Silence of the Lambs will forever be the picture that follows Jonathan Demme around for the rest of his filmmaking career, even when he takes stabs at other, "lighter" dramas like Rachel Getting Married or more important ones like Philadelphia. And why wouldn't it? The universe revolving around Hannibal Lecter is a touchy one to capture on film, holding the possibility to be overdone (see Red Dragon) or too bizarre (see Hannibal). But Demme orchestrates his take on the cannibalistic doctor with just the right blend of grotesqueness and compelling theatricality, coming together into a maddening exercise in dramatic horror that scrambles our neurological status quo with each time we visit the "good doctor". Demme's audience certainly wasn't the only ones left captivated and suitably disturbed: being one of the few films to win all five of the major honors at the Academy Awards, The Silence of the Lambs remains -- and will remain -- just as nerve-addling and tangibly frightening as ever.
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A Hannibal Lecter film put together by the man that directed Alien sounds promising, yet you've got to keep in mind what stage in Ridley Scott's career that he directed Hannibal. He's not the same filmmaker as he was in the late '70s, when he stunned both science-fiction and horror fiends with an enduringly frightening masterwork. No, this happens to be an adaptation of Thomas Harris' film sandwiched in between Gladiator and Black Hawk Down, two full-frontal, visually stunning yet somewhat brutal pictures. Hannibal is, as a result, a by-product of his timely influences, offering a take on Hannibal the Cannibal that's bloody, sumptuous, yet not the least bit mysterious -- or nearly as gripping as its predecessors.
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Video and Audio:
Manhunter has been presented from MGM in a beefy 1080p AVC encode, one that topples over nearly 40mbps in densely contrasted scenes amid its 2.20:1 framing. From the outside looking in, this Blu-ray is a stellar rendering of stylish '80s cinematography -- flesh tones are believable, a veil of natural grain drapes over the image, and black levels are especially inky. It's very cinematic in construction, yet the amount of detail present in the image can be impressive on many accounts. Coloring looks far more natural than it does in comparison to the 2001 Anchor Bay Limited Edition, rendering a much more controlled color scheme. It looks fantastic for its age, coming together in a very pleasing manner that fits many of the film's captured in cinematographer Dante Spinotti's eye -- reflecting something of a collage between L.A. Confidential and The Insider.
However, and there's definitely a however, the coloring and contrast levels might not be accurate. We're still working with many neon-drenched sequences, but some of the coloring has been drastically controlled -- looking far more probable and less "from the period" loud. Neon greens lean towards a creamier coloring in some instances, while an actual neon pink light now shows off a nice off-white bulb instead of one befitting a lightsaber. You'll also want to take a look at the climax's night sequences, which has been drained of color. Instead, it captures a tone more expected from a nighttime sequence, with some of the glaring blues and other hues flattened nearly to slight shifts in grayscale -- though greens are mostly retained. Though impressive in many scenes, the dark black sequences sometimes get a little "too" black, drowning out details like folds in clothing and minor textures in Will Graham's grayish-black textured jacket. Still, considering the natural-minded improvements, it's a very attractive image that certainly retains the mood of the film's tension to impeccable levels.
Along with the 1080p image, we've also got a lossless DTS HD Master Audio track that does the film's sound elements proper justice. It's an extremely front-heavy track that concentrates on clear dialogue and robust scoring, which are both preserved well. Surround elements are largely reserved for expanded musical cues -- the pan flute uring the tiger scene being the most prominent of them all -- which inclines one to simply see the surround track as little more than a stretched-out stereo track. However, dialogue remains very natural and audible, though it sports the period's slight age twang. Some sound effects, like the shattering of glass and the hang-up of a phone, exhibit the same level of clarity with a slight showing of the source's age. It's actually a very good-sounding track, though low on dynamics. Spanish and French 5.1 tracks are also available, as are optional English and Spanish subtitles.
The Silence of the Lambs (description from MGM's standalone release) has had a fairly extensive history on the home video front, ranging from Criterion's Laserdisc and early DVD days to MGM's recent entries. With each, it's been difficult to rustle up a perfect image, as it contains a load of rather awkward contrast and sharpness scenes that make it difficult to nail down a proper presentation. MGM's 1080p MPEG-2 encode of the 1.85:1 image takes a step above the recent Collector's Edition in handling some of The Silence of the Lambs' trickier points in lighting and detail, while exercising some surprising instances of high-definition polish. The color timing is largely similar to the recent DVD release, but with a tighter grasp on gradation and more natural skin tones. Many of the bright colors in the older release, like the greens in grass outside of the FBI headquarters, are mildly toned down and rendered with more of an expected, natural "pop".
Detail is also improved in many scenes, showing off little particulars like the pencil strokes in Lecter's drawings in his cell and the text in the Buffalo Bill newspapers in Crawford's office. But then there are also some real exercises in dimensionality and inky contrast rendering that make the image pop much more than anticipated, referencing a good portion of the close-ups and rack focuses in Tak Fujimoto's cinematography. More importantly, it handles these improvements through a fairly thick veil of film grain without showcasing any evidence of edge enhancement or noise reduction (maybe a smidge of lackluster smearing against a few facial textures, like in Foster and Heald's second conversation). Keep in mind that The Silence of the Lambs' image is an exercise in refinement on an already-strong rendering of some tough visuals, but the steps that this Blu-ray transfer takes over its SD counterpart are noteworthy enough for admirers of Demme's adaptation.
The same sort of "mild, yet noticeable" improvement can be noted for the jump from a 5.1 Dolby Digital sound option to the DTS HD Master Audio track. The Silence of the Lambs focuses primarily on atmosphere, dialogue, and Howard Shore's fantastic score, all of which receive an echoic and more dynamic presentation on this Blu-ray disc. Verbal clarity gets a velvety bump in transparency, while atmospheric effects like the clanks and thuds in the "Mofet" storage trailer and the sounds of bloody smacks all receive a substantial boost. Shore's score, however, receives the most robust facelift, filling the speakers with absurdly haunting potency that hits all of the crescendos and ranged pitches with top-shelf clarity. It's not an overwhelmingly dynamic sound design by nature, but it receives healthy boost in clarity and atmosphere above the previous presentation. Subtitles are available in English SDH, Spanish, Korean, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), and Thai (Other), while sound options are also available in French and Spanish 5.1 tracks and a Thai 2.0 track.
Hannibal's 1.85:1 image receives a bit of a facelift via MGM's 1080p MPEG-2 Blu-ray image, though it's not nearly as impressive as the AVC retooling of Manhunter. Scatterings of color (yellow on gloves, reds and yellows here and there) are bright and clean, while details like etching into a phone booth's plexiglass and texture on a gun handle are well-formed. Textures against skin also look good too, especially disturbing on Mason's face. However, some of the film is both a bit grainy and blurry on occasion, as well as looking a bit on the processed side. Skin tones fluctuate on several close-ups on Clarice, even as details against hair and clothing look rather distinguished. Lastly, a few slight instances of edge enhancement can be seen, though it's reserved only to distanced details and only a few starkly contrasted portions. In all, it's not too bad for a MPEG-2 transfer, but nothing stellar.
Fairing just a bit better, Hannibal's rich sound design comes loaded in an English DTS HD Master Audio track that places firm emphasis on Hans Zimmer's score. It's easily the best-sounding element in the track, stretching both to the rear channels and to mid-range / low-range bass levels for an enveloping musical experience. That's important, as the music keeps the mood even when action beats and middling tension don't. Surround effects are reserved for a few ambient elements, like crows chirping and the afterthoughts of money being counter and Clarice flailing against a keyboard. Most importantly, dialogue is mostly kept rich and clean without any pitched distortion -- though on one very minor, brief occasion, I could detect a little bit of a high-pitched distortion. Though front heavy, we're working with a very serviceable and clean Master Audio track. French and Spanish Dolby surround tracks are available, along with optional English and Spanish subtitles.
If supplements are an integral element in your purchasing decision, then you need look elsewhere -- as both Hannibal and Manhunter are both bare-boned versions of the film with little more than Trailers at the most on each. The Silence of the Lambs, however, carries over all of the special features from MGM's standalone release, which included a great interactive, semi Picture-in-picture commentary with the film and a slew of other goodies.
What we've got here are two exquisite films (Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs) and one mediocre one (Hannibal), all three encompassing Thomas Harris' morbid Hannibal Lecter universe. However, we've already got one of these on Blu-ray, which leaves those who have already snagged the superior film out of the bunch a little high and dry. With that in mind, it'll all depend on how much the other two will be worth, especially since the best of these films can be readily found as a standalone release for $10-15. Either way, this set comes firmly Recommended for those who don't already own The Silence of the Lambs -- ratcheting the praise a little lower for those that already do.