MANHUNTER 25th Anniversary Edition / Blu-Ray Review

Manhunter, the first film adaptation of Thomas Harris's Red Dragon, first published in 1981 and the debut of that now rather outré serial killer Dr. Hannibal Lecter, is pretty much responsible for kick-starting the whole sub-genre of criminal profiling, serial killer analysis and forensic science that litter our screens and have inspired such television series as The X-Files (1993-2002), Millennium (1996-99), Profiler (1996-2000), CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and its spin-offs that have been running since 2000 and the films Seven (1995), The Bone Collector (1999) and of course The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and its sequels and prequels, including the remake of Red Dragon in 2002 and the disastrous prequel Hannibal Rising in 2007.

Manhunter establishes and uses the major aspects of the genre: an investigator who must endeavour to enter the mind set of the killer he is pursuing in order to out-think him and predict his patterns of behaviour; communication between killer and policeman through coded messages; a killer symbolically evolving and changing into a new state of being and creating a new identity; and clues about the killer gleaned from obsessive detailing of the crime scenes and the victims personal effects. Along these axes, Mann explores the nature of Harris's two killers, Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (as he's known here) and Francis Dollarhyde, in relation to the criminal investigator FBI agent Will Graham (played by William Petersen who in an ironic twist eventually headlined the CSI series itself as forensic entomologist Dr. Gil Grissom) who captured Lecktor and, despite suffering physical and psychological scars in the encounter, is asked to return to duty to track down Dollarhyde.

"You want the scent? Smell yourself."
Graham, Lecktor and Dollarhyde enter into a subconscious ménage à trois and the film explores the dreamscape in which all three characters exist and, to an extent, merge together. Graham must match wits with Lecktor, himself an acclaimed forensic psychologist, in order to understand Dollarhyde's sociopathology. There is sense that Graham, already a victim of his own success at becoming like these killers in order to outwit them, fears a further descent into this psychic terrain.

This is all synthesised in the very first encounter between Lecktor (Brian Cox proving he is able to channel all the subtle wit, charm and intensity required for the role that Hopkins later turned into an Oscar winning slice of ham) where Lecktor faces Will in a clinical, brightly lit white cell and pushes enough buttons in the detective that he almost drowns in this sterile world as Lecktor proclaims that "the reason you caught me Will is we're just alike. You want the scent? Smell yourself."

Cox is superb in the roughly ten minutes of screen time he has as Lecktor - particularly funny in two scenes where he's on the phone, initially tracking down Graham's home address to pass on to Dollarhyde with such insouissant charm and later talking to Graham about the case, lounging with his legs up against the cell wall, waggling his feet cocooned in big, grey woolly socks. The initial encounter in the cell is also one of many symbolic uses of the reflective gaze in which Will and Lecktor's confrontation is shot in such a way it as if they are looking at a mirror image of each other.

It underlines Will's growing fear that he is becoming like Lecktor in order to then entrap Dollarhyde. Throughout the film Graham is caught within the antiseptic architectural spaces of the facility holding Lecktor, the anonymous inner sanctum of the police department, the great archways of rooms, tunnels and airports. They map out his return to duty and they also depict police procedural dominated by technology. Lecktor's prison bars become the sickly green light behind the blinds on the window of police headquarters.

Graham's identification with Dollarhyde is also underlined by two very similar scenes in the film. The opening of the film shows Dollarhyde's viewpoint as he stalks through the house of his latest victims. There are a number of degraded subjective shots, suggesting that he is actually filming his attack on the house, as he makes his way up the stairs and into the bedroom. This series of shots is mimiced precisely when Will later returns to the house and retraces the killer's steps. Graham also begins a conversation with the killer, an internal monologue that he externalises as he picks over the sunlit yard outside the house or examines home movie footage of the victims.

This dialogue switches from Graham talking to the killer to Graham speaking as the killer when he returns to the scene of the crime and in his mind's eye sees a vision of the murders culminating in one of the victims, Mrs. Leeds, appearing in an hallucinatory moment with her eyes and mouth glowing as if they were mirrors reflecting her desire for the killer. An image that repeats the killer's methodology of placing broken mirrors in his victims' eyes to magnify the desire that he imagines they have for him and his own narcissism.

The killer's gaze is an essential ingredient in the film and Will reflects as he begins to trace Dollarhyde's modus operandi, "everything with you is seeing." It is when he examines the home movie footage of the murdered families that Will makes the connection to Dollarhyde's role as spectator and viewer of the films and emphasises to us Mann's own use of reflections, mirrors, flowing water, by declaring, "your primary sensory intake that makes your dreams live, is seeing." The male gaze overlaps continually throughout the film between what Kathleen Murphy sees as the "trinity of males, a perverse father, son, and holy ghost" of Lecktor, Dollarhyde and Graham. This is in direct contrast say to the female subjectivity of Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs.

Mirrors, reflections and shadows are key visual symbols in the film, suggesting the internal struggle to regain sanity and control for both Graham, still undergoing a crisis of masculinity in his encounter with Lecktor, and Dollarhyde, a traumatised victim of child abuse who has become a monster. Indeed, this is something Graham himself emphasises in a scene with his boss Crawford (Dennis Farina) who then asks, "Are you sympathising with this guy?" "Absolutely," replies Graham, "my heart bleeds for him as a child. Someone took a kid and manufactured a monster. At the same time, as an adult, he's irredeemable." Graham's sympathies are something that even Crawford has manipulated when, earlier in the film, he approaches Graham to investigate the killings by deliberately appealing to his conscience as a family man and showing him the photographs of families butchered by Dollarhyde.

The two key female figures in the film are Reba McClane (Joan Allen) and Graham's wife, Molly (Kim Greist) and Mann cleverly uses the motif of the killer as spectator to then explore the killer's duality as victim and victimiser when the story subverts our expectations of Dollarhyde by introducing the potential love interest, Reba. She is a co-worker at the processing lab where Dollarhyde works and was first able to see the home movies of his victims. Reba, a blind woman, unable to look upon the disfigured, awkward Dollarhyde, reveals through her desire for the creature a vulnerability and tenderness that Mann uses to destablising and ambiguous effect, to make us feel some kind of sympathy with the killer. Dollarhyde later feels betrayed by her as he watches her being brought home by another man, where he imagines a desire between them and pictures the two embracing and kissing on the doorstep when in fact they do nothing of the sort. The glow of illusory desire mimics the earlier scene when Graham imagines what Dollarhyde saw as he murdered his victims.
"Take my word for it, I'm smiling."
In two extraordinary scenes - one where Dollarhyde helps Reba, supervised by a vet, to tenderly touch a sedated tiger and then listen to its heart beating and the other where she repeats almost the same action with Dollarhyde in bed - Mann equates Reba's tenderness as an uneasy encounter with two creatures capable of killing. As she strokes the tiger, she pulls back its upper lip to reveal huge, savage teeth.

Dollarhyde's harelip mouth is a parallel symbol, open as he swoons in sexual ecstasy while watching Reba and the tiger and with the tiger's mouth symbolic of their first encounter where he prevents her 'seeing' touch when she asks to feel his face to find out if he is smiling or frowning. Ominously, he asserts, "Take my word for it, I'm smiling." Consider this in context with the later scene as they both share a bed and Dollarhyde, now vulnerable, places her hand on his disfigured mouth as she sleeps, giving her permission to touch.

The tiger also prefigures the importance of the William Blake painting in Dollarhyde's self-actualisation, a representation of the fearful symmetry of his poem 'Tyger, Tyger, Burning Bright'. It is a primeval, supernatural element to Dollarhyde's lunar cyclic killings in the film, emphasised by his predilection in home decor of photographs of the Moon, the surface of Mars, a mobile of stars. Philip L Simpson notes that Dollarhyde sees himself as "a cosmic force of nature manifested in the masculine sun devouring the feminine moon" and this is also developed in Dollarhyde's obsession with Blake's painting 'The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun'.

His aspiration is to be like the all powerful dragon in the image, 'becoming' divine. This is supplemented by red, fiery images; from the flaming death of tabloid journalist Loundes to the post-coital moment with Reba, where they are both framed in the rising sun outside his apartment with this moment of tenderness suggesting that she has been allowed into his universe. Later, when Graham shoots down Dollarhyde, his body is framed by blood in the shape of wings rising from his spreadeagled arms. He has, in death, become the red dragon.

At the same time, Graham must disassociate himself from family life, put his wife and son out of harm's way, as he descends into the same Underworld within which Dollarhyde exists. The fencing off of the turtle eggs on the beach is highly symbolic of his role as protector, as what John Kenneth Muir calls "defender of innocence." As he sleeps during a plane journey, he dreams of a sailing trip with Molly in bright blue oceans until the child sitting next to him, who sees the crime scene images on his tray table, wakes him up from his idyll. Molly is the symbol of the innocence he is defending. She also repeats Reba's desire to reach out and touch the wounded male figure and at the end of the film we see her reunited with Graham on the beach, touching his recently cut face, after spending much of the film in isolation to him.

We see him gradually submerge into darkness. He almost kills a jogger during a police stake out as a consequence of manipulating the press to tease Dollarhyde out into the open. On the passenger plane he freaks out the child, who probably thinks he is a serial killer, when his dossier of images of the murdered families inadvertently falls open as he sleeps. He also retraces Dollarhyde's steps in the Leeds family apartment and momentarily becomes him.
"literal alienation"
This parallel journey by profiler and killer also finds its visual equivalent throughout the film in Mann's noir and Expressionistic style, his abstract vision of space, architecture and landscape and the colour schemes that he and cinematographer Dante Spinotti apply to the film. Graham is often associated with the natural landscape, with earthliness - the opening and closing beach scenes, the blue hue of his apartment with its windows looking out onto the moonlit sea, the climb into the trees by the yard as he traces Dollarhyde's voyeuristic path, his son helping him protect turtle eggs on the beach - compared with Dollarhyde and Lecktor's abodes - the clinical white cell with a pool of purple light, Dollarhyde's chaotic home bathed in green light, the blood spattered interior of the victim's bedroom and the cold, dark city streets.

The climax of the film features some unusual touches. Dollarhyde bursts through the huge photo blowup of the landscape of Mars (John Kenneth Muir refers to this as his "literal alienation" from normal society) and in the shootout Mann uses jump cuts and repeated footage to emphasise the madness at the centre of the clash between Graham and his killer alter-ego. This and Mann's extraordinary use of colour, architecture and framing elevate the police procedural of Manhunter, beyond the limitations of producer De Laurentiis's title, into cinematic art.

Another important ingredient in Mann's film is his use of music and in particular at this time his use of synth pop and prog rock. The problem with looking back on the film now, 25 years after it was released, is that some of the music does rather date the film. Sonically, it most definitely is a film of the mid-1980s but upon reflection a great deal of the music in the film is used rather sensitively and with a penchant for all things retro just now much of the electronica on the soundtrack can actually be reappraised. Certainly, the use of music to decorate and emphasise the film's emotional core and the inner thoughts of Will Graham shouldn't be discounted, and there are some exceptions and I'll get to those later, but Mann's soundtracking is just as important as his and Dante Spinoti's impressive use of colour in the cinematography to suggest mood and symbolise character. 

Mann's appreciation for epic sythesiser sounds was not just a matter of personal taste at the time. Prior to Manhunter, his debut feature film, Thief (1981) was scored by German synth prog rock group Tangerine Dream, who also scored his 1983 supernatural film The Keep, and his executive produced series Miami Vice (1984-89) made generous use of synth and electronica on its soundtrack with compositions by Jan Hammer and contributions from many UK and US pop rock artists dominating all five seasons. By the time of Manhunter's release other major Hollywood productions were making use of European electronic music composers with Harold Faltermeyer having already scored Top Gun (1986) and Beverley Hills Cop (1984) and following hot on the heels of Vangelis and his scores for Chariots of Fire (1981) and Blade Runner (1982), Tangerine Dream's previous work on Friedkin's Sorceror (1977), Moroder's scores for Midnight Express (1978) American Gigolo (1980) and Cat People (1982).

The layers of synth soundtracking the film are almost constant, creating a tension just below the surface of the imagery and performances. Music by The Reds and Shriekback link the investigator Graham's return to the heart of darkness as he attempts to connect to the mindset of the killer Dollarhyde. A number of rock songs from Iron Butterfly and The Prime Movers also permeate the sonic landscape of the film, preeminently exploring Dollarhyde's inner turmoil and violent temperament as he selects and attacks his victims.

While the sounds of the film might now sound a little dated, and very much of the 1980s, this is nothing compared to the end title song, 'Heartbeat', from Red 7. If the opening titles of the film declare its schizophrenic character in the way typefaces are used in the credits, the horrible whiff of serial-killer exploitation B movie evoked in the comic book green title case mixed with the cooler minimalism of the acting and technical credits, then Red 7's bombastic and repetitive song on the close of Manhunter sits in stark contrast to the icy and brittle swathes of electronics the film is bathed in.

The music might date it and William Petersen's performance isn't always as good as it should be, although he does manage an exceptional line in brooding intensity, but Manhunter is a fascinating film, using performance, deliberate design and colour palettes, music cues and editing to explore the fearful symmetry between good and evil, the killer and the profiler and the journey that Graham must undertake to restore his own sanity and protect his family from the unhealthy forces that dwell in the industrialised cities. Petersen is supported by wonderful performances from Cox, Farina and from Tom Noonan, who is mesmerising, chilling and pitiful as Dollarhyde. Despite the tiredness of the Hannibal Lecter franchise, Manhunter's reputation continues to grow.

About the transfer
A slick looking high-definition picture with crisp, sharp detail that in many instances does pop out of the screen bit it isn't consistently good. It can be a little bit soft and plastic looking in some scenes but it showcases Mann's visual eye and the staggeringly lovely compositions he uses as well as Spinotti's colour enriched cinematography.

This is so vital where the film uses colour as emblematic of specific emotions that the characters are expressing. Greens, blues, purples and reds are very prominent. Flesh tones are rendered very well and there is fine detail in faces, hair, clothes and in the environments, be they sun drenched woodland or dark street scenes. Contrast is robust and full and the transfer copes well with many of the very dark scenes. A good transfer for such a handsomely made film and a step up from the DVD.

You have a choice of audio options, a 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio that doesn't trouble your soundstage too much. It's an atmospheric mix with good clear dialogue and few frills. Not that the film needs them. The synth driven music is key to the mix and is rendered crisply and cleanly with the bass end of the compositions getting a nice boost. The 2.0 LPCM Stereo track is your alternative. Good if you want dialogue as your main affair.

Special features
Essentially a port over from the Anchor Bay Special Edition of some years ago:
Director's Cut
This differs by roughly an additional three minutes in running time but does offer alternate takes, extensions to existing scenes and completely new scenes, most notable being the visit that Graham pays to the Sherman family who were next on Dollarhyde's list of victims. It's also in standard definition and some of the replaced footage is very below par as far as picture quality is concerned. It does not significantly improve the film and feels rather like a gimmicky afterthought instead of a completely reconfigured work with important material restored to the cut. Bit underwhelming.
Director's commentary
If you feel the need to watch the Director's Cut then you might improve things by letting Michael Mann chatter away about the film. He offers much background detail about the casting, shooting and design of the film.
Inside Manhunter
Made for the Anchor Bay DVD release this is a seventeen minute featurette that primarily focuses on the actors and their characters. Some fascinating anecdotes from Noonan about how he physically prepared for the role and decided to isolate himself from the rest of the cast. Petersen explains how he spent some time working with the FBI to bring authenticity to his role. Cox discusses his casting and methodology in creating the original Lecktor.
The Manhunter Look – A Conversation with Dante Spinotti 
A brief ten minute interview with cinematographer Dante Spinotti and how he worked with Mann to achieve the highly stylised look for what was his first Hollywood film. He also chats about the use of colour in the film.
Trailer

Manhunter
De Laurentiis Entertainment Group (DEG) / Red Dragon Productions S.A 1986
Optimum Home Entertainment Blu Ray / Released 26 September 2011 /  OPTBD1311
Cert: 18 / Region B / Running Time (Theatrical Cut): 119 mins approx / Colour PAL / Feature Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 / Video: BD50 / AVC / 24p / Feature Audio: 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio  - LCPM 2.0 stereo / English Language / Subtitles: English for the hearing impaired

 
Bookmark and Share

Viewing Figures

The Legal Bit

All written material is copyright © 2007-2017 Cathode Ray Tube and Frank Collins. Cathode Ray Tube is a not for profit publication primarily for review, research and comment. In the use of images and materials no infringement of the copyright held by their respective owners is intended. If you wish to quote material from this site please seek the author's permission.

Creative Commons License
Cathode Ray Tube by Frank Collins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.