Manhunter - 25th Anniversary Edition Blu-ray Review
The Original Theatrical Cut of Manhunter comes to Region B-locked UK Blu-ray complete with a 1080p High Definition video presentation that immediately showcases the movie better than it has ever been seen before. Detail has been significantly improved throughout, yet there appear to be no signs of overt digital manipulation – i.e. there’s no excessive interfering DNR or frustrating edge enhancement. It’s not flawless, but it is considerably better. On a direct comparison with the Anchor Bay Limited Edition SD-DVD the image retains a strong part of the grain structure whilst bringing to life so much more within the scene – I almost didn’t want to know that it wasn’t William Petersen flipping Stephen Lang onto that car – and yet this presentation reveals all the little touches, both on the longer shots and the close ups. Fine object detail is also superb, and you would be hard pushed to figure out which shots you thought looked better: the stunning full-screen sunset panorama (and check out the detail on the sunrise scene between Dollarhyde and Reba), or the photo-quality portraits which reveal every hair blowing in the wind (like in the scene where Will is dreaming on the plane).
The colour scheme, in my opinion, has been tweaked slightly. I’m not sure whether this was because the Studio who mastered this Blu-ray decided some tones were far too extreme of their own accord, or whether it was because Mann had some input, but the most obviously different sequences are the ones involving Will and his wife in their home towards the beginning. Bathed in cool blue, denoting the calm tranquillity and security of their home and life together, this scene now looks a tiny bit more muted – the blue town now more of a steel blue. It’s far from a complaint, as I think it’s much more subtly effective (a strong point of the film in general) than the intrusive, borderline garish tones that Mann originally utilised. Black levels are also quite dominant, which is fantastic – and far better than ever previously seen – but which does leave tiny touches, like the flecks on Will’s flecked sports jacket, slightly engulfed in the deep black sea. There is also one other scene that I simply must mention – the finale, where Graham is running through the woods. This sequence always looked quite hard to make out, suffering quite a lot from compression and minimal lighting. Well, here it looks like one of the best (visual) moments in the entire movie – the whole thing almost monochrome, retaining a huge amount of detail and simply compelling your jaw to drop. Amazing. Although I can’t award points for effort, if I could, Manhunter’s demo quality video presentation would surely deserve a 10/10.
NB. The Director’s Preferred Version also included on the disc comes presented in limited Standard Definition 2.35:1 widescreen. It looks just about the best you would expect from a SD-DVD-quality video rendition, except in a couple of scenes (like the briefing sequence), where the video quality drops significantly, probably due to the specific source material culled for the alternative cut.
The accompanying DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track does a reasonably good job with the 25 year-old material, the end result being very good indeed, but not demo quality in any respect. Dialogue comes across clearly and coherently throughout, largely dominating the fronts and centre channels. In fact, the majority of the material is disseminated from across the frontal array, and, as such, the track often feels marginally limited by its scope and surround usage. Still, effects are given more freedom than ever before, we now get crashing waves, bustling streets, chirping crickets and snapping flames broaching a broader sound-scape, audible in the rear channels even if the track only occasionally gives you some all-encompassing atmosphere. Gunshots echo stylistically, verging on the hollow, but still fairly thunderous thanks to both the surround use and some LFE accompaniment. The aggressive New Age score fares considerably better than anything else on the track – even the dialogue – and, if anything, makes up for any of the lacking atmospherics, creating a veritable atmosphere of its own (as was obviously the intention) and coming across extremely well through all the channels. This is by far the best that Manhunter has ever sounded, a thoroughly enjoyable, although far from perfect accompaniment. It should be noted that the movie comes with some decidedly dodgy Subtitles which often get the dialogue entirely wrong – as if somebody just wasn’t paying proper attention when transcribing them (access to the final script would have no doubt helped). I wouldn’t normally complain, but when Lecter’s subtitles don’t even make sense within the scope of his dialogue, it is frustrating to say the least.
NB. The Director’s Preferred Version that is also included on the disc comes complete with a LPCM 2.0 Stereo track which, whist totally reserved to the frontal array, is still, by and large, quite acceptable. Of course, as noted with the video for this supplementary cut, some scenes are decidedly worse than others, again a result of the quality of the original source material.
Far from a bare-bones disc, this release sports a number of extras – most of which have been available on one or other SD-DVD version, but never all packaged together like this. The first, perhaps most important, extra is the Director’s Preferred Version itself, which is a massive bonus and which has already been dissected at length in the main body of the review. The added benefit, of course, of including this particular cut, is that it comes with an accompanying Commentary by Director Michael Mann. We also get the previously available Featurettes, and the Original Theatrical Trailer.
First up we get a full-length Audio Commentary provided by Director Michael Mann (available only on the Director’s Preferred Version) himself. These days, many of his releases – and even Blu-ray re-releases – sport Commentaries from him, but back when he recorded this one (the best part of a decade ago), he was not quite so keen on providing them. Anybody familiar with his informative narration will know exactly what to expect – he is clearly a very clever chap indeed, taking his time to contemplate his every word, reflecting on many interesting little bits of behind the scenes trivia, and taking us through everything from the pre-production work and cast preparation, through to the difficulties incurred on the shoot and the choices made in the editing suite. He explains why he picked the specific music chosen, what he personally thought about the various characters and how unusual they were right from the outset (especially Graham who he notes has the gift/curse of being able to understand these monsters, but is damaged by the immense sensitivity that is required to do so), and the story which threw us straight into the midst of the case (similar to his later Miami Vice). He often references the film (even quoting from it at one stage – “a robbery detective knows that a jewel thief’s motive is cash...”) and, he talks extensively about the differences between the various cuts, and discusses the scenes which are only specific to the non-Theatrical Cut versions. Unfortunately, despite this wealth of information on offer, the delivery is slow and protracted, often monotonous, and with some truly unforgiveable pauses – so long, indeed, that you wonder whether you accidently switched it off. True fans of the movie will take the time to absorb the information in its piecemeal delivery, but I can fully understand why some may not have the patience.
Inside Manhunter is a 17 minute 1.33:1 fullscreen Featurette, recorded relatively recently (i.e. for one of the last SD-DVD special editions), and coming complete with some interesting background trivia as delivered by various members of the cast and crew. Stars William Petersen, Tom Noonan, Brian Cox and Joan Allen all discuss how they got involved in the project, the research they did in preparation, the killers that they took ideas from and the cops who they met to discuss how to switch off from what you see on the job. There’s some great cross-commentary from Petersen and Cox talking about the Graham / Lecter relationship, some interesting research stills, and only a little bit of final film footage. Overall an excellent and worthy accompaniment that makes for compulsive viewing for any fans of the film.
The Look of Manhunter is a further 10 minute Featurette with just the Cinematographer Dante Spinotti, who explains the colour choices for the various characters from the movie, how clinical Michael Mann was in what he wanted (including matching up the bars in the Graham/Lecter confrontation to create perfect symmetry) and how every single shot had some intention behind it: nothing was by coincidence. He talks about the removal of the tattoo sequences, and the loss of some great shots as a result, and discusses the editing of the final shootout, and the different film speeds Mann worked with. Again, an excellent accompaniment that is well worth your time.
Finally we get a moody 2-minute Trailer set to music from the movie, disjointedly applied to the edited footage. It’s pretty good for a 25 year old advert, and even voiceover man is kept in check!
Through meticulous research, expert storytelling, clinical directing, stunning cinematography and strong casting, Director Michael Mann crafted one of the greatest psychological thrillers ever made. A near-perfect, highly atmospheric vision, Mann’s take on the Thomas Harris book Red Dragon is not only superior to the later, more popular adaptations that followed suit, but Brian Cox’s infinitely more intelligent portrayal of the notorious and legendary character Hannibal Lecter also brings considerably more realism and credibility to the piece. Driven by a powerhouse performance from underrated method actor William Petersen as the tortured Special Investigator tasked with tracking a vicious serial killer, the film is further enhanced by the stylistic choices and mood-specific colour tones overseen by the Director, and by the purposefully invasive soundtrack, which perfectly suits the brooding atmosphere. Indeed Manhunter remains a tremendous modern classic; and a truly intelligent psychological thriller, its horror more mental than physical, more implied than explicit; exploring the notion that what it takes to catch a serial killer is tantamount to being one. Highly recommended.
On Region B UK Blu-ray we get a superb package that gives us the option to watch either the superior Original Theatrical Cut or Mann’s alternative Director’s Preferred Version, the former boasting a stunning video presentation and solid aural accompaniment, the latter with just SD video and audio. Rounding out the disc we get all of the extras previously available, but pooled together in one package: a decent commentary and two worthy featurettes providing the bulk of the material on offer. Fans who are capable of playing Region B material should already have this in their shopping cart – it blows any previous SD-DVD release out of the water in terms of presentation, and boasts the generally favoured Original Theatrical Cut where many previous releases sported inferior workprint variations. Newcomers, even those who are more familiar with Sir Anthony Hopkins’s Lecter movies, should consider this a must-have for any decent film collection, a top notch thriller which everybody should see and own. Pick it up, now!
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