Manhunter (DVD, 2007) Reviews

Manhunter (DVD, 2007)

43 ratings (40 Epinions reviews)
Epinions Product Rating: Very Good
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Red Dragon with a more "mainstream" sounding title

Feb 15, 2007
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Great plot elements, strong performances

Cons:Poor audio design, choppy editing, dated music

The Bottom Line: Stronger plot elements than Red Dragon but poorer design, Silence of the Lambs is still the best

Manhunter is the first Hannibal the cannibal movie ever made. It covers the same material as Red Dragon and takes place prior to the events in Silence of the Lambs. Many say it’s the best of the four (soon to be five) Thomas Harris adaptations. While I disagree on that I think that it’s worth checking out.

Since Red Dragon was so widely released, and since my review of it is one of my most highly revered of any I’ve written for Epinions, it’s only natural that I draw comparisons.

The premise of the story is exactly the same. Someone is killing families in their homes. Will Graham is renowned for getting into the heads of killers and brought down one of the most brilliant, Hannibal “the cannibal.” (Lektor in MH, Lecter in the later ones). Jack Crawford wants Will’s help with this new case, and Will wants Lektor’s help. It’s a race against time to save the next family with Lektor diabolically hatching a revenge plot and the killer falling in love.

One reason I like this story is because the evil, sadistic killer would not be given a love story in many other tales. Psychotics need love, too. Seriously, though the profound effect love has on this twisted mind speaks to basic needs in the worst and the best of us.

Where MH really excels is where RD falls the most short, scope of the story. MH is more focused. RD tries to tell three stories which in some ways is fine. I enjoyed seeing the history of Lecter and Will whereas MH only hints at it. Beyond that, though, RD has more scenes that require setup and resolution going into detail that isn't really necessary and adding action scenes that MH doesn't have (and doesn’t need). This eats up time that could be spent on the more important plot points such as the connection between Dolarhyde and the moon. RD touches on this, but I never really caught on to its significance. MH makes this a chilling point which brings about an understanding that makes the path of the investigation more logical.

I like Will’s struggle with touching the minds of killers and feeling the responsibility to do so to save lives, but being scared of it at the same time. I get the impression that if Will didn’t have the love of his family to ground him he would walk dangerously close to the edge of psychosis, and he knows it. Will is not scared of Hannibal, he’s scared of himself, and Hannibal knows it. I think MH drives this home far better than RD. Come to think of it, I think that was completely omitted from RD.

The purpose of all that Dolarhyde does in his acts of violence is another such point. RD does a decent job of explaining why he does what he does, but doesn’t get across the big picture very well. Why is he doing any of it at all? I don’t mean that his grandmother threatened to cut off his manhood when he wet the bed, that may have birthed his psychosis (MH doesn’t touch on that, by the way), but I’m talking about his justifications, what he hopes to achieve by taking life. He's becoming, okay we got that. What does that mean? I don't know that Ratner (director of RD) ever understood the significance of that. It certainly doesn’t show through in his movie. MH, on the other hand, really nails this point and makes it one of the most gripping moments of any of the Hannibal movies.

Unfortunately, MH falls short in other areas. The sound design is terrible, and the synthesized score makes it feel painfully low budget. The editing, particularly in the action finale, is really jumpy. The song selections aren’t bad but date the movie. Better sound and an orchestral score might well have taken the movie to the next level.

Acting is good. I’m so used to seeing Will Peterson as Grissom in CSI that it was a little weird seeing this leaner version. I guess the big question is whether or not Brian Cox is a better Hannibal than Hopkins. Hopkins will always be Hannibal to me, but Cox does a fantastic job. I’m not one of those that thinks because one of them did a good job it invalidates the performance of the other. What’s important is that MH’s plot is strengthen by the performances given.

How does MH stack up against the other movies? I still think Silence of the Lambs is the best of the lot and Hannibal is the worst. That leaves the others in the middle. Manhunter doesn’t have the production quality of Red Dragon, but it has stronger plot elements so if you want to see a version of the story and don’t know which one that should be a decision consideration.

There is some bad language throughout. Some implied sex but nothing else and no nudity. There is surprisingly little violence especially considering this is a movie about serial killers. The finale has some bullets flying, but other than that you have to deal with bloody sheets and a few quick flashbacks that aren’t particularly graphic. Even the reporter burning to death on a wheelchair is tame by even TV standards. On the other hand, the investigators talk about the murders which gets rather graphic.

Whatever you think about the movie compared to RD, the DVD doesn’t hold a candle. Actually, there is some debate over how many different DVD versions of Manhunter exist. There are at least 3 with as many different cuts of the film which are reported to all be different from the theatrical version.

The only one I’ve actually seen is the Anchor Bay version. It’s just Manhunter: no Special Edition, Director’s cut, or any other such label. It has been remastered in THX. There's a new box set out with Manhunter packaged with Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal. I don't know if it's this same version or not.

It comes in a plastic case. The insert has a chapter list and original poster art. The poster art is rather unimpressive. I mean it’s nice to see and have along with the movie, but judging from that and the boring trailer it’s no wonder nobody saw the movie when it was released.

The video is 2.35 anamorphic widescreen. Audio has been remastered to 5.1 Dolby (THX standard). This is probably the best this movie has ever looked or sounded.

While weak in the extras department there are a few. About half an hour’s worth of interviews are split into two features: production design which is a bit dry but interesting and cast reflections which has the primary cast talking about how they got and prepared for their roles, Will Peterson talking about his struggle when the movie finished, shooting the movie, and other such topics.

There are 4 lengthy biographies with filmographies, the trailer that I mentioned earlier, and a THX optimizer tool.

Final Thoughts:
While I enjoy this movie I don’t know that it deserves to be called the best serial killer movie ever made. It certainly has its strong points, but also weaknesses. I gave Red Dragon 4*, but that was partially because of the strong DVD offerings. Since Manhunter can’t match that it will get 3*. If you liked any of the Thomas Harris Hannibal movies you should check out Manhunter, but a rental will suffice unless you're a collector or just find a great deal.

Recommend this product? Yes

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