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review added: 1/19/01



Manhunter

review by Greg Suarez of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsTHX-certified


Manhunter: Limited Edition



Manhunter
Limited Edition - 1986 (2001) - Anchor Bay

Film Ratings (Theatrical Version/Director's Cut): A/A+

Disc Ratings - Theatrical Version (Video/Audio): A-/B

Disc Ratings - Director's Cut (Video/Audio): F/B-

Disc Rating (Extras): C+

Specs and Features:

Disc One: The Theatrical Version
121 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:06:09, at the start of chapter 19), double Amaray keep case packaging, The Manhunter Look featurette, Inside Manhunter featurette, novelty FBI file folder (contains photos, essays and film-based material), talent bios, theatrical trailer, THX Optimode test signals, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (30 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned

Disc Two: Director's Cut
124 mins, NR, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, single-sided, single-layered, double Amaray keep case packaging, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (30 chapters), languages: English (DD 2.0), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned



Manhunter

Manhunter
1986 (2001) - Anchor Bay

Film Rating: A

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): A-/B/C+

Specs and Features:

121 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 1:06:09, at the start of chapter 19), double Amaray keep case packaging, The Manhunter Look featurette, Inside Manhunter featurette, talent bios, theatrical trailer, THX Optimode test signals, animated film-themed menu screens with music, scene access (30 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 & 2.0), subtitles: none, Closed Captioned


"What are you dreaming? That's something you can't afford for me to know, is it?"

Anyone that's has been collecting DVDs for any length of time knows that exhilarating feeling of seeing one of your favorite films finally released on the format. You're impatient for that approaching street date. It's exciting. It's an event. Anchor Bay's release of Manhunter on DVD is such an event for me. It's no secret that I'm a fan of director Michael Mann's moody filmmaking style. While Manhunter might not be Mann's best film technically (Heat? The Insider?), it is my favorite. But does Anchor Bay's DVD treatment of this film (which includes a 2-disc edition limited to 100,000 pressings) live up to fans' expectations? Read on…

As you might expect, there's a serial killer on the loose in this film. He slaughters entire families and leaves bite marks on his victims. Dubbed "The Tooth Fairy" by the police, Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan) has eluded the FBI. And since he's on a lunar cycle and poised to kill again, the Feds are getting desperate. Enter Will Graham (played superbly by William Petersen). A former FBI agent, Graham spent his career tracking down serial killers by getting inside their heads. After capturing the evil Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox), Graham was left mentally and physically damaged - a shell of the man he used to be. But Graham is reluctantly called out of retirement to help his former coworkers hunt down The Tooth Fairy before he strikes again. Against friends' advice and his doctor's orders, Graham visits Dr. Lecktor to reenter the mindset that almost killed him before. Can Graham stop The Tooth Fairy, and stay sane at the same time?

Michael Mann's dark, almost severe style fits this film perfectly. While influences of the 1980s are heavily in effect (most notably in the clothing, music and pastel color palette), it's Mann's gift as a storyteller and meticulous filmmaker that makes this film memorable. Mann's careful attention to detail and ambiance kept me entranced throughout the movie. This is a flashy film, but in a dark, nihilistic way. It's pure eye candy and you can't help but look. The music in Manhunter is pure 80s synthesizer fare, but it fits this film's modernistic edge more ideally than a traditional orchestral score. The songs' sweeping melodies and pulsing rhythms add much more energy to some of the scenes, especially in chapter 25. Graham is struggling with his thoughts, and the music builds to a slow crescendo as he makes the important discovery. Petersen turns this simple scene into a sprawling revelation, with his piercing eyes and intense monologue. But take the music away and much of the drama is lost.

While there is no shortage of wonderful performances in this film, William Petersen definitely stands above the rest. His brooding portrayal of Will Graham is profound and immediately engaging. Playing a man with a deep canyon of internal emotional struggles, Petersen puts believability and sincerity above everything else. While he's almost always deathly serious in this movie, his performance never sinks into the depths of melodrama. Tom Noonan's turn as serial killer Francis Dollarhyde is eerily convincing. Noonan is appropriately scary and dominating in his role, but plays it with unusual humanity and vulnerability given the character's situation. And of course, Brian Cox introduces the world of cinema to Dr. Hannibal Lecktor.

Okay, here we go - the obligatory comparison of Anthony Hopkins versus Brian Cox as Dr. Lecktor (note that in Silence of the Lambs and the forthcoming Hannibal, Dr. Lecter's name is spelled correctly as it appears in Thomas Harris' novel The Red Dragon, on which Manhunter is based). It's hard to believe that a lot of people out there still have no idea that Dr. Lecter existed on the silver screen before Anthony Hopkins' performance in Silence of the Lambs. Cox, a Scottish actor, breathed life into Dr. Lecktor for Manhunter and, as in Silence of the Lambs, the good doctor serves simply as the film's backdrop, driving the aura of evil in the story. Hopkins' more flamboyant portrayal of Lecter never sat right with me, because his methods work against the character's shrouded mystery and reputation for hidden danger. It's almost as if Hopkins reveals too much about the character. Cox's more straightforward portrayal of Lecktor makes the audience feel uneasy with Lecktor, because they know that there's a lot of bad stuff going on behind his eyes - things you only get a glimpse of in the way he matter-of-factly taunts and psychoanalyzes Graham. Cox's more subdued attitude, working in conjunction with what the audience knows about Lecktor's violent past, makes Cox's portrayal more intriguing to me.

Anchor Bay is releasing this film on DVD in 2 versions - a 2-disc limited edition (which contains the theatrical cut as well as a new director's cut) and a single-disc (of just the theatrical version). The theatrical version of Manhunter is presented in anamorphic widescreen (framed at 2.35:1), and thankfully looks better than I was anticipating. The overall presentation is a bit on the hazy side, but the transfer is damn good given the age and relative obscurity of the film. Many scenes exhibit impressive detail and clarity, and color fidelity is better than I've ever seen it. While black levels may not be up to par with newer transfers, they're still good here and compression artifacting was never a problem. On the other hand, the Director's Cut of Manhunter (found on the second disc of the limited edition) is just terrible. The anamorphic transfer is pervasively soft, with no detail or clarity, and colors have an obvious red push. It's hazy, dull and looks no better than a discarded Beta master that Mann might have found in his office. The picture is virtually unwatchable, which is a real shame - especially considering that the Director's Cut is the preferred version of the film.

Just a little background on the Director's Cut - it's 3 minutes longer that what was shown in theaters. Added are a couple of brief scenes focusing on building Will Graham's character. But one of these scenes is a powerful addition to the film's finale, in which Graham visits the family the killer was going to victimize next. It's a very short, simple scene, but it injects a fairly predictable ending with some unexpected emotion.

Let's talk audio. Blessed with a new Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack, the theatrical version of Manhunter sounds fairly good considering its age. The audio can be harsh and strident at times, and dialog can come across as a little unnatural and veiled. But the music is very nicely presented on this track, and there are even some nice directional effects and rear channel ambiance fill. The Director's Cut contains only a Dolby Digital 2.0 track, which is similar to the 5.1 version but is lacking in dynamics.

Michael Mann's films on DVD typically aren't loaded with extras because, the director prefers the focus to be on the film itself. However, Anchor Bay has gathered a couple of nice supplements to appease fans of the film. First is a 10-minute interview with director of photography Dante Spinotti, titled The Manhunter Look. Spinotti discusses his history with Michael Mann (they have worked together numerous times, but this was their first collaboration), and some of his methodology for shooting Manhunter. Next is the 18-minute featurette Behind Manhunter, containing new interviews with Petersen, Noonan, Cox and costar Joan Allen. It's a fairly entertaining supplement for fans, as the actors discuss making the film, how they prepared for their role, and what it was like working with Mann. A set of talent bios and the film's horrible theatrical trailer (presented in widescreen) round out the supplemental section. One last note - exclusive to the limited edition set is a novelty miniature manila FBI file folder containing a couple of brief essays, production photos and memorabilia from the film. The contents of the folder are a nice addition for collectors, but the folder itself is a bit cheesy. The pages in the file are loose, so be careful not to drop them.

So did Anchor Bay live up to fans' expectations with their DVD handling of Manhunter? Yes, pretty much. Dampening my enthusiasm somewhat is the lousy transfer of the Director's Cut on the 2-disc set, but I'm sure that Anchor Bay did the best they could to make a lousy source look as good as possible. I might have liked to see the deleted scenes simply pulled and isolated as a supplement, but I can't really complain considering. I don't mind so much that the extras as a whole weren't more informative or meaningful, because I've come not to expect many extras on Michael Mann discs anyway. I'm very happy with the audio/video quality of the theatrical version at least, and can count my blessings that Anchor Bay put great effort into making this version of the film shine. If you're a die-hard fan of Manhunter, spring for the extra $15 and get the limited edition of this DVD. It's nice to have both versions of the film in your collection for the sake of completion, and the novelty folder does contain some great tidbits. Otherwise, the single-disc theatrical version will more than please the casual fan.

Greg Suarez
gregsuarez@thedigitalbits.com


Manhunter: Limited Edition


Manhunter


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