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It's astonishing to think that Hannibal Lecter has been a cinematic boogeyman for over 20 years. Writer/director Michael Mann first tackled him in 1986's Manhunter, a grim procedural shot through with psychological undercurrents that recalled Mann's own work on "Miami Vice" and anticipated a decade's worth of crime films that were just as concerned with the mental landscape as they were whodunit.
Anyone who has seen Brett Ratner's stylish but inert 2004 remake Red Dragon would do well to scrub that flick from the memory banks and check out Mann's take on Thomas Harris' novel instead. Starring a lean and mean William Petersen (fresh off another brilliant Eighties crime drama, To Live and Die in L.A.) as former FBI agent Will Graham, Manhunter follows Graham, the man who put away the maniacal Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox, in an underrated performance), picking up the trail of a serial killer dubbed "The Tooth Fairy." Inevitably, Graham must once again face his demons, the very man who drove him to leave the FBI and give up profiling, in order to capture a murderer run amok.
Look past the obviously dated set design, the gaudy pastel colors and the silly synth-driven score and focus instead on Mann's (by now) trademark knack for wringing every last bit of visceral feeling out of a story and its characters. Granted, Petersen is an actor that burns through the screen in most roles, but he's laser-like in Manhunter. Mann uses that frayed intensity to power the film forward, orchestrating clashes between Lecktor and Graham with relish. It's a solid, low-key thriller that accomplishes what it sets out to do and these days, that's a quality to be treasured and celebrated.
Manhunter's history on DVD is a long and tortuous one. While this release muffs the technical presentation, there are other, more complete and audio/visually polished discs available. In the course of researching this review, I found this detailed site (http://website.lineone.net/~manhunter/manhunter.html) that should satisfy anyone looking for a dissection of the differences between the myriad DVD versions.The DVD
Well, now we know why MGM didn't make a big deal out of this re-release earlier this year: It's a friggin' 1.33:1 fullscreen transfer. Why do studios insist on fobbing these half-hearted discs off on consumers? Perhaps it was licensing issues or something, but I can't fathom why, in 2004, MGM released the "Hannibal Lecter Collection," which featured a widescreen version of this, the theatrical cut, but three years later, dumped a full-screen, bare-bones disc in stores. All that said, this is a clean-looking print of the film, albeit one chopped at the sides.The Audio:
It might be a sub-par visual presentation, but the aural end of things is pretty solid, with a remastered Dolby Digital 5.1 track providing plenty of atmosphere and detail, keeping the dialogue crisp and clear. A French 1.0 mono track and a Spanish 1.0 mono track is here, as are optional English, French and Spanish subtitles.The Extras:
Slim pickins -- the theatrical trailer for Manhunter and trailers for Species 3, Species, Unspeakable and Wicker Park is all she wrote.Final Thoughts:
Manhunter is a solid, low-key thriller that accomplishes what it sets out to do and these days, that's a quality to be treasured and celebrated. I desperately want to advise those of you interested in writer/director Michael Mann's film to skip this release, but a chance to see the theatrical cut for those who missed the 2004 "Hannibal Lecter Collection" might merit a rental at the very least.