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Manhunter: Restored Director's Cut (DiViMax Edition)
WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?
When Brett Ratner's Red Dragon hit screens last year, all I could think was Why bother? The essential adaptation of Thomas Harris's first novel starring Hannibal Lecter had already been filmed by Michael Mann in 1986. It was called Manhunter, and it had smarts and style and mood to spare. Last year's Ed Norton starrer, a loud and irrelevant cashmonger, will never hold a candle to Manhunter, an admittedly dated but very fine adaptation of a classic thriller.
William Petersen (To Live and Die in LA) stars as Will Graham, troubled and retired FBI profiler whose career came to an abrupt end after his capture of the insidious Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox of Rushmore), who now seethes inside an ultra-white high-security lockup. To catch the ominous Lecktor, Graham had to delve inside the monster's head—he had to teach himself how a serial killer thinks so that he might anticipate the killer's next move. It's a dark gift that Graham has—a curse, even—and now his former boss, Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina of Snatch) needs Graham's help to solve a new case—that of the brutal and sickening Tooth Fairy (a genuinely disturbing Tom Noonan), who has murdered two entire families and shows no signs of stopping. To "recover the mindset," Graham decides to visit Lecktor in his white cell, but the experience is terrifying, and soon, Lecktor and the Tooth Fairy—along with despicable newspaper reporter Freddy Lounds (Stephen Lang)—are in league against Graham. Racing against time, Graham and Crawford use every trick in their arsenal to find the Tooth Fairy before he strikes again.
Manhunter oozes neon moodiness, thanks to Mann's Miami Vice stylings and the contributions of cinematographer Dante Spinotti, production designer Mel Bourne, and composer Michel Rubini. The film's style is really the only element that dates the film, because otherwise, Manhunter is a tightly constructed and under-appreciated gem of a thriller that consistently keeps you on your toes. It's a film that admirably never talks down to its audience, instead delivering its dialog and scenes matter-of-factly, in clipped, no-nonsense motion. The suspense builds naturally, an extension of the plot rather than forced through music and exaggerated emotion.
The film spends a great deal of time on its characters. How many thrillers today spend so much screen time humanizing the villain? Francis Dollarhyde (the Tooth Fairy) gets a significant subplot all his own, and we come to pity the poor fellow even in the midst of his heinous acts. Because Dollarhyde is very much a human being, displaying the whole spectrum of emotion, his inevitable actions are more and more terrible to behold. Peterson does an intricate job of bringing across Graham's intense psyche, and has several scenes among his family that strike a solid emotional chord. But the revelation of the film is the performance of Cox as Lecktor. He exudes haughty yet calculated lunacy, and he's a threatening presence, even from the confines of his ever-white cell. Despite his relatively short screen time (extended a bit in this cut), his presence is felt throughout the film.
WHAT'S NEW TO THIS CUT?
Strangely, we've never seen the actual theatrical cut of Manhunter on DVD. We've seen something close to it, but that version (Disc 1 of the Limited Edition) was missing key scenes. The unwatchable director's cut on Disc 2 added some scenes we hadn't seen before, but frustratingly, some of those are missing in this version. So Manhunter's history on DVD is a hodgepodge of innacuracies.
As an example, on Disc 2 of the Limited Edition, when Graham visits Lecktor in his cell, there's a brief scene in which he visits Dr. Chilton, and Chilton attempts to bait Graham. And what about the marvelous scene (found on old VHS versions of the film), in which Graham delivers a monologue about the motivations of Dollarhyde? He talks about how someone has taken a child and manufactured a monster. It's one of Peterson's finest moments, but it ain't here.
This director's cut adds several scenes (adding to about 3 minutes) to the original theatrical version, but they're largely inconsequential. I tried to keep a running tally of the added content, based on the quality of the film elements (see the "How's It Look" section). But I got the sense, listening to Mann's commentary, that other additions were made, using good film elements (for example, to the climactic showdown). Anyway, here's what I came up with.
1) 00:00—Different opening credits. Instead of credits on black cards, the credits appear over the opening scene between Will and Crawford.
2) 16:30—Extended police briefing.
3) 23:10—Conversation between Will and Molly.
4) 26:20—Conversation between Will and Lecktor.
5) 53:50—Conversation between Will and Crawford.
6) 55:30—Molly and Will at the hotel.
7) 138:30—Conversation between Will and Crawford.
8) 142:10—Extension of Will watching movies.
9) 156:50—Will visits Dollarhyde's next victims.
HOW'S IT LOOK?
Anchor Bay presents Manhunter: DiViMax Edition in a vivid anamorphic-widescreen transfer of the film's original 2.35:1 theatrical presentation. Apparently, DiViMax is a special process that involves mastering the film from a high definition (HD) film source to "provide state-of-the-art picture quality." I can't argue too much with that goal, because this image is extremely fine—it's the most clear, stable, and accurate image I've seen for Manhunter.
A direct comparison with the older 2-disc limited edition set reveals a few things. First, in comparison with the image quality of that set's theatrical cut (which was admittedly striking), this new transfer is even more solid. Colors are more accurate within the film's neon palette, and flesh tones are better. Whereas the earlier transfer had a greyish tone, even in faces, this new transfer looks as if a grey fog has been lifted from the proceedings to reveal a more naturalistic feel. Detail is more solid, reaching into backgrounds. Some shimmering plagued the earlier release, and it's all but absent here. I still witness grain and mosquito noise in some bright scenes, but it's nothing distracting, and it's a step up from the older release. I noticed only minor edge halos. The print contains minor flaws and specks, but honestly, it's cleaner than I expected. One interesting drawback that I noticed on several occasions was the existence of jarring little jitters in the image, as if frames are missing here and there. But that could be a player mishap—my Toshiba player might have very slight compatibility issues with the DiViMax process.
Second, I compared this version's "director's cut" footage with that of the 2-disc set. Throughout this new cut, Michael Mann has inserted new scenes and scene extensions (amounting to about 5 extra minutes), but he didn't have the best source material to work with. Apparently, he had trouble finding the film's original negative and had to resort to less-than-ideal elements. The result is that all the footage contained in the original theatrical cut looks pristine and sharp, but the inserted "director's cut" footage is somewhat ugly with grain and the appearance of a grey gauze over the film. That being said, the appearance of this footage is far, far better—much more stable, with better color and detail—than that of the older 2-disc set, which was an absolutely hideous, cropped, wobbly piece of excrement. On this new disc, there were a few instances in which I was so involved in the film that I didn't notice that change in quality. Which is not to say that the difference in quality is largely unnoticeable—if you're watching for it, you'll definitely notice it. But considering the source elements, Anchor Bay has done a bang-up job of bringing Mann's preferred cut to your living room.
HOW'S IT SOUND?
Well, here's a disappointment. This new disc contains only a Dolby Digital 2.0 track. Considering the older 2-disc set's inclusion of a Dolby Digital 5.1 track, which offered nice ambient surround activity, this is bit of a letdown. On the plus side, however, this soundtrack seems an accurate representation of the film's original audio presentation, offering good directionality across the front soundstage. Although the film has lost some fidelity over the years, and some of the presentation seems somewhat brittle and lacking in the low end, dialog remains fairly accurate, and the music comes across nicely, if not fully. Manhunter won't give your subwoofer a workout.
Another drawback: No subtitles.
WHAT ELSE IS THERE?
The primary extra is a Commentary with Director Michael Mann that is quite satisfying despite containing occasional lapses into silence. In his gruff Chicago drawl, Mann provides some excellent background material for the experience of Manhunter, including comments about the specific scenes he's added to this—as he puts it—"director's preferred version." He also talks about the anatomy of motive and his views on the serial killer phenomenon. He makes special mention of the ways that his script departs from the text of the Thomas Harris novel, particularly in the case of the Dollarhyde character. The track has a bit of an edited-together feel, as if it was recorded in at least two sessions.
You also get Manhunter's Theatrical Trailer.
Also included is a collection of Still Galleries, divided into Production Stills, Delted & Alternate Scenes, and Posters & Advertising subsections. This is a meaty collection of photos that includes many stills from scenes not even included on this disc.
Finally, you can view Manhunter's Screenplay in PDF format on your computer.
WHAT'S LEFT TO SAY?
This new DiViMax DVD of Manhunter corrects some wrongs of the previous 2-disc set—offering fantastic image quality and a very satisfying director commentary—but mysteriously leaves out a 5.1 surround presentation. Nevertheless, this disc is very much worth your time and cash. The physical presentation of that previous set, however, is so cool that you'll probably want to keep it. Perhaps you could simply toss the hideous Disc 2 "director's cut" of that version and replace it with this one.