If you enjoy Michael Mann's psychological police procedurals such as Thief or Heat, or if you have a taste for the stylings of the original Miami Vice television show, you'll understand the DNA of Manhunter. Today Manhunter is somewhat known for technically being the original incarnation of Thomas Harris' Hannibal Lecter in cinema. Frankly the film is more a vision unmistakably filled with the personal obsessions of director Michael Mann. If "film is fashion" as David Fincher has said, then Manhunter is the ultimate 80's fashion statement.
Will Graham (William Peterson) is in retirement from crime scene investigation after a serious traumatic injury at the hands of Hannibal Lecter (Brian Cox, here spelled Lecktor). Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina), Graham's old boss at the FBI, asks him personally to investigate an ongoing serial murderer being called the Tooth Fairy. The FBI can't crack the case and the killer is going to kill again on the next full moon. Graham's wife Molly begs him not to go for the sake of her and his son. Graham explains Crawford's justification: that he'll just be an advisor, he won't have to get close. Everyone including Graham knows that Graham isn't capable of half-measures, he has to go all the way in. He must learn to think like the man he is trying to catch and the crazier that person is, the harder it is for him to come back from it. Working from home video tapes of the victims and conducting his own crime scene investigation, Graham discovers clues no one has been able to see. We meet Francis Dollarhyde, creepily played to perfection in a striking break out performance by Tom Noonan. He works in a photo and video exposure lab. He meets blind coworker Reba (Joan Allen) and they strike up a romance. Francis is half-innocent, almost child-like, but the extreme damage to his ego has caused delusions and a need to make himself significant. He must show everyone what he is becoming and it involves the violent destruction of other human beings. As Graham gets deeper into Francis' mindset, he gets closer to catching his man, but also is pushed further towards the edge of his own sanity. Is his own family in danger? And will he catch Dollarhyde before it's too late?
The forensic analysis is methodically presented as are the other aspects of law enforcement procedure. Some credit Mann with inventing what has now become the police procedural subgenre. Mann had already spent extensive research time with the Chicago crime unit for Thief and he was able to get Peterson access to both the Chicago and FBI crime labs. Mann insisted on shooting on actual locations whenever possible and on authenticity even in less evident particulars such as the exact type of helicopter that would be used by the FBI. De Laurentis presumably must have put up with these production obsessions (and what I assume were possible budget overruns) because he was hoping to translate some of Mann's Miami Vice magic to the silver screen. Unfortunately, De Laurentis' newly built studios were not doing well at the time and this methodical brooding thriller didn't have the audience appeal he was hoping for on initial release.
However, like other singular visions, Ridley Scott's Blade Runner and Terry Gilliam's Brazil come to mind, the look and tone of the film have influenced other filmmakers to such a degree that it has now itself nearly become cliché and is a film referenced by those in the know. Although perhaps not the powerful influence in production design the aforementioned films were, Manhunter nonetheless has an almost clinical precision to the camera work and the actions juxtaposed with a heavily emotional electronica score. You can see this combination even in recent films of other genres like Kosinki's Oblivion. Here the baroque gothic imagery we've come to expect from the world of Thomas Harris is replaced or at least toned down with a compulsively clean aesthetic. Visually the camera is generally cool and exacting while using vibrant splashes of color to build an unsettling visual scheme. Green/Cyan and Magenta gradually enter in to the color palette over the course of the narrative building until the climax when they collide in almost every frame. Graham is given a visual sense of being trapped either behind glass or by being surrounded by overwhelming darkness in the frame. Shattering glass, viewing others behind glass or literal reflection are motifs consistently used throughout the film to express the fractured psyche of both Dollarhyde and Graham. Graham is usually framed off center to one side of the frame or the other perhaps to illustrate him being unbalanced. There's a slightly more frenetic energy to the world of Dollarhyde in terms of camera movement. There is a contrast created in Dollarhyde between him, and the camera, being calm and smooth moving as he contemplates becoming the Red Dragon and his more frenetic and nervous movements as Francis.
Mann and Director of Photography Dante Spinotti were inspired by a painting series from Rene Magritte known as the Empire of Lights which gives the feeling of underlying darkness with the paradoxical images of a nighttime street lit by lamp light under a beautiful daylight sky with clouds. Mann uses these contrasts to create unease. For instance, Dollarhyde's residence is worthy of Architectural Digest on the outside: clean lines, nicely landscaped, on the water with a nice view. It's beyond normal, it's exceptionally beautiful. On the inside, everything is wrong and cartoonishly bizarre. With slanted windows, oversize pictures of outerspace, art deco chairs, televisions that play nothing but static snow and wavy lines, it's not a place that anyone who isn't blind or crazy would want to spend much time. Also referencing David Hockney paintings, Mann uses still tableau framing of the characters on many of the master shots paired with modern architecture and sudden splashes of vivid color. Most shots of Graham with another person involve this tableau-style master with then separate 3/4 profile shot-reverse-shots. You can see this in the opening scene with Crawford, with his wife on the docks, and with his son in the supermarket as they discuss what happened on the previous case. It's interesting to note that both Tony Scott with Top Gun and Michael Mann here used deep blue lighting for love scenes in the same year. Although Tony Scott's version became instantly more famous it would seem there's more of an intellectual idea behind the way Mann uses the lighting. Every time we cut to Molly Graham's home environment at night, it has this blue cast, which could be to give a sense of her melancholy or perhaps it's a serene feeling of comfort for Graham, the way water itself appears to affect him throughout the film, calming his nerves. The production design style is also reminiscent of Miami Vice with Graham's look in particular: five o' clock shadow, carefully designed "messy" hair, and a mix of beach-wear and skinny tie leisure suits.
The two Blu-ray set comes packaged in a clamshell case. In the manner that has become the standard for Shout Factory Collector's Editions there is newly created cover art on one side of the sleeve and the option to reverse to the original cover art. It is housed inside a glossy cardboard slipcover also with the new cover art.
Presented in widescreen 2.35:1. Two versions of the film are included on two separate Blu-rays. The theatrical cut is a nice mostly clean presentation in high definition 1080p. There are some specs of dust that seem like they would have been easy to clean up if a new print master was made, but isn't distracting overall. Around the twelve minute mark in the theatrical cut there are some video issues as Graham is at the crime scene reading his case file. There is a healthy amount of grain which is appropriate to the Super 35mm format. The director's cut on the other hand is a missed opportunity for Shout Factory. Although it's only four minutes longer there seems to be even more than four minutes presented in Standard Definition on the director's cut. The Anchor Bay Divimax DVD from 2003 was an exciting revelation for its time and I assume those are the elements being used here other than the "HD inserts." This is a frustrating experience that feels like a lazy bootleg. I'm glad they included it, but it should be considered more of a "bonus" than a main feature.
5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio. English Subtitles for the hearing impaired. Both tracks are nicely represented. Gunshots have a nice bassy power. The loud surging music is intentional and for a film of its period the mix feels appropriate. Similar to the Tangerine Dream score on Thief or pounding Phil Collins in the Miami Vice pilot, the musical landscape borders on being a music video, often nearly drowning out dialogue or effects on the track. It can only be described as overpowering and has the thumping of a heartbeat or the physical vibrations of pure emotion.
•NEW The Mind of Madness (18:16) - Interview with actor William Peterson
•NEW Courting a Killer (15:54) - Interview with actor Joan Allen
•NEW Francis is Gone Forever (22:03) - Interview with actor Tom Noonan
•NEW The Eye of the Storm (35:56) - Interview with Director of Photography Dante Spinotti
•NEW The Music of MANHUNTER (42:22) - including interviews with Composer Michel Rubini, Barry Andrews (Shriekback), Gary Putnam (The Prime Movers), Rick Shaffer (The Reds), and Gene Stashuk (Red 7).
•Audio Commentary with Michael Mann on the Director's Cut
•The First Lektor: an interview with Brian Cox (40:29)
•The Manhunter Look (10:04) - a conversation with Cinematographer Dante Spinotti
•Inside Manhunter (17:17) - with stars William Peterson, Joan Allen, Brian Cox, and Tom Noonan
•Theatrical Trailer (2:05)
•Still Gallery (about 100 images)
Manhunter is undoubtedly a cult classic and worthy of the "Collector's Edition" treatment it has received from Shout Factory. As usual Shout Factory shows immense respect for the fans by creating new interviews that help put the film in context. Michael Mann fans will want to own this as the best version of the film to date presented in high definition.
Completists can be satisfied in the knowledge that they have all the previous extras (minus the digital screenplay on the Divimax DVD) and both cuts of the film. Unfortunately, the director's cut is not a true high definition version. Overall the mastering of the theatrical is very solid, but isn't a revelation. I would have loved to give this presentation even higher marks, but the video presentation of the director's cut in particular makes me feel as though I should temper my response.