Thomas Harris' extremely popular "Hannibal Lector" character has appeared in 80% of the author's novels and five separate feature-length films. Most would find Lector synonymous with 1991's landmark The Silence of the Lambs, in which Anthony Hopkins turned the soft-spoken cannibal into a cultural icon. The character's subsequent film appearances are all more exaggerated than the last, so it makes sense that 1986's Manhunter shows Hannibal at his most...normal? It also serves as director Michael Mann's third film, but it flopped at the box office and still stands in the shadow of its more popular young brother. Based on Harris' second novel Red Dragon (and remade in 2002 by Brett Ratner, unfortunately), Manhunter deserved a bigger audience then and still deserves a bigger one today.
Part thriller, part character study and part horror film, this tale of FBI profile expert Will Graham (William Petersen) often crackles with suspense. Having retired to his peaceful family life due to exhaustion, Graham is approached by his former boss Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) after an unknown killer's quiet rampage has already left two families dead. Hannibal isn't the culprit, of course: he's safely behind bars due to Graham's tireless efforts with the FBI, but he might be personally linked to the killer at large. Fearing another series of murders may be only weeks away, the intensely dedicated Graham decides to pursue the case, using his behavioral knowledge to carve away at the killer's unknown location.
As in Silence, the character of Hannibal Lector (here spelled "Lecktor", and portrayed by Brian Cox) only pops up occasionally to offer twisted guidance, but his presence looms heavily over the entire film. Silence's menacing Buffalo Bill is one-upped, though, by the more sympathetic, layered and quietly intimidating Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan), a lab worker whose dark personal life fuels violent impulses. Working on a lunar cycle, Dollarhyde's third slaughter grows closer as Graham and Crawford attempt to track him down. Manhunter's approach to Dollarhyde is extremely effective: the film's almost half-over before we even catch a glimpse of him, and the slow reveal works wonderfully. The last time I saw Manhunter, the film's 120-minute running time didn't seem to go by quite as fast.
Manhunter was released on DVD multiple times...and to varying degrees of success. Perhaps the most well-rounded was the Divimax "Restored Director's Cut", which paired a solid technical presentation with a number of terrific extras. Alas, the momentum doesn't continue on Blu-Ray: this is the exact same disc from "The Hannibal Lector Collection" (a Blu-Ray boxed set also featuring Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal, also owned by MGM), with modestly improved A/V quality but no extras. This factor alone makes the stand-alone release of Manhunter a bit disappointing...but let's take a closer look.
NOTE: This release includes the superior theatrical cut of the film, not the Director's Cut as seen on certain DVD releases. It's roughly four minutes shorter, for those keeping score at home.
Video & Audio Quality
Presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio, Manhunter has always been less than perfect in the visual department. This 1080p transfer does have its highlights: not only do we get a nice, natural layer of film grain but the film's color palette looks good too. Black levels can be inconsistent, however, and several dimly-lit scenes are loaded with grain and look especially flat. Oddly enough, other scenes appear to have a bit of digital noise reduction applied, though it's not terribly distracting. In any case, this is the best that Manhunter has looked at home, even with a few glaring faults.
The audio treatment is a bit more satisfying, especially since Director's Cut releases on DVD have been limited to 2.0. The DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track does a fine job with the film's score, while subtle atmospheric touches are well-rendered and crisp. The film's synth-heavy soundtrack occasionally overpowers the dialogue, so you may have to crank the volume higher to understand everything clearly. Luckily, optional English (SDH) and Spanish subtitles are provided during the main feature.
Menu Design, Presentation & Packaging
The Blu-Ray's static, silent menu designs load fast and aren't gimmicky, which is refreshing. This 120-minute film is divided into just over a dozen chapters, no layer change was detected and this dual-layer disc appears to be locked for Region "A" players only. It's housed in a silly "eco-friendly" case with appropriately dark cover art, although it doesn't capture the film's spirit very well.
Nothing at all, and that's ridiculous. The "Restored Director's Cut" DVD boasts an audio commentary, a few featurettes, the trailer and more. A bit of effort would've made for a fairly solid disc.
Manhunter is arguably the least-known of the "Hannibal Lector" films...and that's a shame, because it's easily second best behind Silence of the Lambs. Michael Mann's solid direction anchors this cat-and-mouse thriller quite well, but the horror is more cerebral than commercial. Unfortunately, this stand-alone release is the same as the "Hannibal Lector Collection" disc, pairing a decent technical presentation with no bonus features at all. This one's worth a spin if you haven't seen Manhunter in awhile, but a lack of effort limits the appeal considerably. Recommended for new viewers and folks looking for a technical upgrade, but everyone else should wait until a better version comes along.
NOTE: The above screen captures were obtained from promotional outlets and do not represent Blu-Ray image quality.
Randy Miller III is an office monkey based in Harrisburg, PA who does freelance graphic design, teaches art classes at a local gallery and runs a website or two in his spare time. He also enjoys slacking off, telling lame jokes and writing stuff in third person.