Manhunter is a classic, it marked the serial killer genre permanently and defined many a film to follow, and the new 25th Anniversary release on Blu-ray is intended to celebrate the film's achievements and spark interest with fans and newcomers alike.
The Blu-ray has brought the film back to life, as if you needed another reason to watch it again, and with offering the theatrical and Director's Cut in the package along with a commentary from Michael Mann, it's hard to turn your back on the film.
Graham's special talent is the ability to get inside the mind of these most terrifying of murderers, people who seemingly have no motive to kill other than the desires within themselves. They are the killers that the FBI struggle to catch, but Graham has the mindset of the murderer, and can understand, sympathise and ultimately predict these serial killers.
He's been responsible for tracking down two major killers, but the last one, Doctor Hannibal Lector, got inside his mind and left him scarred on the inside as well as the outside. He's taken a long time to get over the darkness that Lector brought and the thought of going back there is as terrifying to him as another family dying.
Crawford offers him full protection and distance from the killer, merely acting as an advisor to the case and providing his unique insights into catching the killer. Graham accepts, but the problem is as he gets closer the old feelings come back, and before long he can't stay away from the case, the killer or Lector.
Manhunter is a fantastic thriller that grabs you from the opening scene. One of the best things I love about the film is the way that it's so considered, taking every single scene and moment carefully delivering a superb pacing for the film from start to finish. Nothing is rushed, and when the film does have to kick into high gear it doesn't leap into typical Hollywood action, it keeps that strong pacing and still gives you time to consider each moment.
Michael Mann's visuals are throughout, apparent from the second scene as we meet Graham and Crawford for the first time and carry through the film with beautifully filmed scenes, wonderful colours and fantastically framed. There's a minimalistic feel to much of the film, and the tones are kept simple and the sets uncluttered, this is Mann at his best and his desire not to edit the film into a faster paced thriller keeps the strength and the endurance of the film.
It builds the tension scene by scene and never really releases any until the final moments of the film, and it does deliver a powerful ending, whichever version of the film you watch. It's not just Mann's cinematic eye to credit for this but also his excellent writing that takes the Thomas Harris novel and delivers an engaging and exciting script.
William Petersen's character of Will Graham is fantastically complex and much darker than many of the leading characters we tend to see, or at least would for a good while. He feels very real and plays the character consumed by his task, you can see the process his character goes through appear through everything he does, it's a surprisingly affecting performance and coupled with the writing, filming and editing really does bring him to life and take you to him.
I do find that surprising because the character is a difficult one to sell. He doesn't appeal to the audience apart from the few scenes with his son or wife, and even then he's distanced, troubled and curt. However Mann and Petersen do just that, and you can feel the slow change in the character scene to scene and they never take the character, or the story, too far. Still they achieve one of the strongest character changes you'll see in many a film and not just start to finish, but scene to scene.
There are many scenes where Graham is thinking, absorbing and ruminating, and in most films that would turn the audience off without something to keep them engaged, usually necessitating a voiceover, but Mann keeps it all paired back and together with Petersen's performance gives us plenty to draw us in and hold us with Graham.
These scenes are not just of the character looking around with a taught, angst filled expression. Unlike so many other films these scenes are superbly created and watching Graham walk through the crime scenes talking through what he thinks the character felt are powerful moments and provide a strong key to the character.
Dennis Farina is great as Jack Crawford and is another sign of the strong casting which carries through many of the secondary characters such as Stephen Lang as the sleazy Tattler writer and Joan Allen as the blind woman who is thrown into the middle of the story, who is just as convincing as everyone else involved, and all these characters help build the film into what it is.
There are two other actors and performances that need a mention, obviously Brian Cox as Hannibal Lector, a performance that often gains a lot of attention as the first person to play the character and sometimes as the one who should have kept playing the character.
Personally I believe there's room for the two different versions of Lector, and in this film Cox is perfect for this Lector. Suitably underplayed and with a nicety that still conveys a worrying edge, an edge that comes to the fore so well when we sit in on his phone call and we realise just how threatening he can be, even behind bars.
Tom Noonan plays Francis Dollarhyde wonderfully and although a lot of his character and performance can be signed off on his physicality the scenes where we see him exposed for the first time and discovering his own human side, the side he's almost missing, are the key to his character. He plays it superbly well and the scene in the truck where his possibility of redemption is thrown away as he fails to understand and check his own emotions and the killer returns is a hugely powerful moment that turns the film around.
It's also here that we get one of the two strongest musical cues of the film as "Strong As I Am" hits as the character releases the killer within, and come the end we get the iconic sequences as "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida" begins to play and fades in and out until the closing moments.
These closing sequences are as powerful and exciting to watch as they were when I first saw it, and they complete a superbly crafted thriller that shows off all aspects of film-making from writing to editing and acting to filming.
There does seem to have been a good deal done with the picture, while it doesn't look like it's been completely re-mastered it is much sharper and cleaner than I expected. The colours are vibrant and bold, and although there is a texture to the film it is filled with detail and much sharper and clearer than I remember. The film ranges from very dark scenes to bright, sunshine filled outdoor scenes with bold colours and the film copes with them all. There's no degradation although at times a little more grain does creep in, but with a film like this is does add to the character.
5.1 DTS MA, PCM 2.0
I was rather disappointed with the audio as it all seems to come from the front speakers. I take the direct HDMI audio and deliver it to the AV receiver without any processing. Here it hit only the front speakers and if I'm being honest I couldn't even recognise any movement of audio from left to right or vice versa. Also there were some scenes where you could hear the audio effects have been dubbed on after the filming and now they sound rather over done, much larger than everything else around it and you find yourself drawn to the smallest of details. There doesn't seem to have been anything done to the audio other than recording it directly onto a 5.1 track, leaving 3.1 with nothing to do.
Director's Cut; Director's Cut with Commentary from Michael Mann; Inside Manhunter; The Manhunter Look - A Conversation with Dante Spinotti
The Director's Cut isn't massively different from the original in terms of actual content, there are a number of scenes which are easy to recognise as they haven't been re-mastered and it's a great visual marker for a new scene. Some of these scenes add a different feel to the evolution of Graham and in places it's very obvious what affect the scene has. One of the most notable additions is the re-introduction of Graham's wife just for a short moment in the middle of the film, and the exchange between Crawford and Graham beforehand is a little more enlightening to the character. Another is the end itself, for there's a different closing scene, one I barely remember.
Director's Cut with Commentary from Michael Mann
Luckily for us there is a version of the Director's Cut with Michael Mann talking us through the film as well as the differences. It's never really clear why he makes some of them but he does talk about a Director's Cut on a much higher level. This is a fascinating insight into the film and he provides a lot of information from research to editing room. This is one of the better audio commentaries, but then it's Mann.
This is a featurette which has almost all the lead actors talking about their roles and revealing some information about the behind the scenes. They also discuss their interactions with each other in and out of the film. There's a lot of good information to be had from it and again it's full of information, not just a thrown together piece for a re-release. It's a great bonus to see so many of the actors talking about the film, so many times it's just one or two of the leads.
The Manhunter Look - A Conversation with Dante Spinotti
Dante Spinotti takes us through some of the look of the film talking about some key sets and scenes. This is nowhere near as in-depth as I would have liked but again it's another interesting addition to the disc that hasn't just been put on to make up the numbers of extras.
I don't often talk about the menu on a disc because they tend to be pretty uninteresting but the one on Manhunter has been put together well with some key sequences from the film playing behind a stylised print. It looks really good and adds a creeping dread to the film before you've even pressed play.
Manhunter is a fantastic thriller that stands out from the similar films that have followed by a mile, even now. With a considered script that drops us in the middle of events, superb performances that slowly develop the characters and subtly change through the course of the story, an underlying menace that arrives in the opening scene and a tension that grows and grows only released at the very end.
The Blu-ray offering is excellent, giving us two versions of the film and Mann's commentary. For fans of the film this does take you into the film. I would have preferred a better 5.1 track, but it doesn't detract from the film itself.
This is the best presentation of Manhunter I've seen, and Manhunter is the best film of its kind I've seen, and we have Michael Mann, William Petersen, Brian Cox and Dante Spinotti to thank for that.