Manhunter Collector's Edition Blu-ray Review
Written by ZigZag
Blu-ray released by Scream Factory
Written and directed by Michael Mann, based on the book by Thomas Harris
1986, 124 minutes, Unrated
Blu-ray released on May 24th, 2016
William Petersen as Will Graham
Tom Noonan as Francis Dolarhyde
Kim Greist as Molly Graham
Joan Allen as Reba McClane
Brian Cox as Hannibal Lektor
Dennis Farina as Jack Crawford
Stephen Lang as Freddy Lounds
Frankie Faison as Lt. Fisk
David Seaman as Kevin Graham
When both the Jacobi and Leeds families are brutally murdered, FBI Special Agent Jack Crawford is alarmed to discover the crime scenes bear striking similarities, despite the lack of any obvious physical connection. Fearing the possibility of a serial murderer striking across state lines, Crawford is forced to reach out to his old friend Will Graham, a former profiler who retired after his last case proved nearly fatal. Graham really is the best at what he does, but his methods are a bit extreme in that he places himself in the emotional mindset of the criminal he is pursuing. A few years ago, he crossed paths with once-famed psychiatrist and now infamous psychopath Hannibal Lektor, and quickly discovered he had found his most deadly rival. It is with a heavy heart that Crawford comes to Graham, risking his friend’s fragile psyche and quiet family life. They promise Will’s wife Molly that he is only being brought in to supervise, but all three know better.
The mysterious Tooth Fairy is operating on a lunar cycle and it is only a matter of weeks before the next full moon, when he will destroy another family. Graham is out of practice and reluctantly visits Dr. Lektor to reclaim the scent, but is not entirely ready for this menacing reunion. His appearance catches the attention of tabloid journalist Freddie Lounds, who covered the previous case and is unexpectedly thrown into the middle of this one. Lektor proves to remain a dangerous opponent, even from behind bars, as he may have more than a passing connection to this current killing spree. Graham continues to fight the clock and his personal demons as he races to stop the Tooth Fairy before more victims are claimed. What follows is an increasingly tense thriller as Graham disappears down the rabbit hole into a nightmarish world where he will risk everything he loves to save someone he has never met.
Author Thomas Harris hit the jackpot with a series of books featuring the character Hannibal Lecter, starting with Red Dragon (1981). Writer/ director Michael Mann (Heat) adapted the novel for his film Manhunter (1986), bringing many of the stylistic flourishes of his popular television series Miami Vice into the mix. His screenplay divides the plot into three acts that balance the character introductions in a way that allows each of the key players to take the lead at different times in the film. Graham reluctantly heads the charge in pursuit of his mystery man for the first half hour, but is challenged by the introduction of Lektor (as the name appears here), a dominating personality not content to be a sidekick. Once the Tooth Fairy makes his grand entrance an hour in, he becomes the focus, as we see both the sensitive and cruel side of the man. Each character is well-rounded and brings an emotional depth in that everyone has something at stake and we feel their pain. Graham struggles to escape the darkness of insanity, Lektor lashes out in a quiet rage at those responsible for his imprisonment, and a killer longs to be accepted by a woman who cannot see his true intentions.
Manhunter is a beautiful film that is emotionally gripping, intensely suspenseful and serves as a visual precursor to the modern-day police procedural. Cinematographer Dante Spinotti (L.A. Confidential) creates an absolutely gorgeous world brought to life with rich colors and stunning compositions that practically shine with elegance. His distinct lighting and shooting style gives the picture the appearance of a work of art, a task he would later replicate when returning for the cinematic remake Red Dragon (2002). This experience is further enhanced by the intense synth-heavy score by composer Michel Rubini (The Hunger), driving home the angst of the characters trapped in a terrible situation. Director Michael Mann ties all of these elements together to create a truly special film that over the past thirty years has become something of a cult favorite.
The entire cast does a fantastic job, starting with an incredible performance from William Petersen (To Live and Die in L.A.) as Graham, the titular manhunter who dives past the point of no return without slowing to check his safety. Petersen infuses the character with a vulnerability that will keep viewers both rooting for him to succeed and worried about the costs of his efforts. Graham is good at his job, but doing it leaves him damaged. He has successfully gotten out of the game and is a different person now; he is a family man living on the beach. Petersen is perfect in the role and brings an emotional intensity to the character as he struggles to protect his own loved ones while mourning those slaughtered by a maniac. The always-welcome Dennis Farina (Get Shorty) is awesome as no-nonsense FBI Agent Jack Crawford, a man sick with the idea of hurting his friend, but helpless to avoid the task when pressed to stop a killer. The late-great Farina brought an Everyman charm to each role in his filmography, a difficult task that endeared him to audiences, and he really delivers as Crawford.
The real surprise in the cast is Brian Cox (Red), who with very little screen time leaves a lasting impression as Dr. Hannibal Lektor. His calm demeanor is betrayed moments after a meeting with Graham, when manipulating a secretary over the phone, revealing him to be quite dangerous indeed. The role would become synonymous with the work of Sir Anthony Hopkins in later franchise installments, but Cox delivers a uniquely different spin, setting the groundwork for the character that would become a horror icon. Hopkins performs the same material as Cox in Red Dragon, along with some expanded scenes and is of course wonderful, but it would be interesting to consider the differences had Cox been the sole actor to play the part. Tom Noonan (The Monster Squad) brings both sensitivity and genuine malice to Francis Dolarhyde, the mysterious object of Graham’s pursuit. His schedule is based on a ritual, yet this shy man allows himself the opportunity to jettison his plans for love when he meets Reba (Joan Allen, Face/Off). She is unaware of his monstrous side, not only because she is actually blind, but also because she somehow tames his restlessness.
Despite limited screen time, Kim Greist (Brazil) fills the character of Molly with trepidation, as she is protective of both her son and husband and does not want either harmed. Stephen Lang (The Monkey’s Paw) is delightfully scummy as tabloid dirtbag Freddy Lounds, a man more interested in getting the scoop than the destruction he leaves in his wake. Fans of this franchise will want to keep an eye out for Frankie Faison, who plays Lt. Fisk in Manhunter, but would return to the series as the affable attendant Barney in Silence of the Lambs (1991), Hannibal (2001) and Red Dragon. Additional quirky casting includes comedian Chris Elliott (Cabin Boy) as an FBI analyst and genre fave Marshall Bell (A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge) as a cop seemingly obsessed with VHS tapes.
Michael Mann’s dedication to the smallest of details in procedural pictures is always appreciated, as he works to keep the stories grounded in reality. We see the protagonists’ efforts and can appreciate the thrill of watching them chase down a lead. Manhunter is a tough movie that tells a familiar story in a unique manner. I can easily recommend this film to anyone who hasn’t seen it before, just as I can tell longtime fans to check out this new deluxe Blu-ray disc for a long overdue special edition, just in time for the 30th anniversary.
Video and Audio:
The theatrical cut of Manhunter is presented in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and looks very good, as it is likely the same respectable transfer used for MGM’s bare-bones Blu-ray release five years ago. Colors are rich, black levels are quite deep and there is plenty of small-object detail in hairs and fabrics. There are some soft moments and a few jump cuts stemming from imperfections in the original source materials. The director’s cut restores just under five minutes of material that was trimmed for pacing, primarily character beats including an extended ending. The original film elements are no longer available and picture quality drops noticeably whenever these clips appear, but it is nice to have them included.
Each cut of the film comes equipped with a pair of DTS-HS MA 5.1 and 2.0 audio mixes that get the job done. The former is a bit front-heavy, but brings a fullness to the powerful soundtrack that is greatly appreciated. The 2.0 option is likely more in line with the original release and is also nice, but when given the option for an expanded mix, I would recommend the 5.1.
Optional English subtitles are included on both versions for anyone in need.
Once again, Scream Factory goes above and beyond in its efforts to please fans, especially when asking them to double-dip on previously available titles, this time offering nearly three hours of new supplemental material.
A collection of new interviews makes up the majority of the content on the first disc in this set.
In the segment The Mind of Madness (18 minutes), William Petersen reflects on the film, its impact and his experience working with Michael Mann. Petersen is instantly likeable and completely respectful to the filmmaking process.
Actress Joan Allen discusses how she got involved with the project and what it meant for her career in the featurette Courting a Killer (16 minutes). One highlight includes her discussion of filming the tiger scene.
Francis is Gone Forever (22 minutes) finds the incredible Tom Noonan sharing tales of how he approached the uniquely creepy character and what it was like to be stuck to the floor at one point, among other stories.
Brian Cox spills all the beans in The First Lektor (40 minutes), a delightful segment that finds the actor comfortably discussing how he got the role and more interestingly, what his influences were in creating the performance. The editing between the two camera setup is a bit jarring at first, but the information is well worth it.
Cinematographer Dante Spinotti delivers some technical gold for anyone interested in learning about the craft of lighting for film in The Eye of the Storm (36 minutes). This really is a fascinating discussion and I encourage viewers to check it out.
Composer Michel Rubini is joined by contributing musicians Rick Shaffer (The Reds), Gary Putnam (The Prime Movers), Barry Andrews (Shriekback) and Gene Stashuk (Red 7) to discuss the process of creating the film’s dynamic soundtrack in the aptly titled The Music of Manhunter (42 minutes).
A stills gallery of over a hundred images plays as a slideshow (8 minutes) to the film’s soundtrack.
The original theatrical trailer is also included for your viewing pleasure.
I wouldn’t call the Director’s Cut a supplement, but in a nice bit of forethought, the folks at Scream Factory have anticipated audience response to the presentation. The film appears in HD with the extended content inserted from standard definition sources. In order to lessen the jarring edits in picture quality, the entire film is offered a second time, now in SD as it appeared on Anchor Bay’s DVD years ago.
This cut features an audio commentary from Michael Mann that first appeared on the earlier DVD release and remains both informative and entertaining. Mann did not contribute any new material for this Blu-ray edition, so it is nice to have this track.
Returning from the earlier disc is The Manhunter Look (10 minutes), in which cinematographer Dante Spinotti discusses his approach to the work.
Inside Manhunter (17 minutes) is another carryover, featuring interviews with stars William Petersen, Brian Cox, Joan Allen and Tom Noonan.