Judge Clark Douglas still wakes up in the dark and hears the screaming of his disappointed readers.
Our reviews of Hannibal (published August 21st, 2001), Hannibal (Blu-ray) (published October 12th, 2011), Manhunter (published October 12th, 2007), Manhunter (Blu-ray) (published October 12th, 2011), Manhunter: Limited Edition (published August 21st, 2001), Manhunter: Restored Director's Cut (published August 20th, 2003), The Silence Of The Lambs (Blu-Ray) (published April 1st, 2009), The Silence Of The Lambs: Collector's Edition (published January 30th, 2007), The Silence Of The Lambs: Criterion Collection (published December 4th, 2000), and The Silence Of The Lambs: Special Edition (published August 21st, 2001) are also available.
May the silence be broken!
"Memory, Agent Starling, is what I have instead of a view."
Facts of the Case
In Manhunter, Detective Will Graham (William Petersen, CSI) attempts to hunt down a mysterious serial killer nicknamed "The Tooth Fairy" (Tom Noonan, Synecdoche, New York). The Tooth Fairy has been murdering families in a particularly gruesome manner, and if Graham doesn't act quickly even more innocent people are going to die. In order to solve the case, Graham is forced to consult the fiercely intelligent cannibal Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Brian Cox, Deadwood), a man who was caught by Graham only three years earlier. Lecter cheerfully offers his assistance, but he clearly has his own motives. Can Graham solve the case before The Tooth Fairy is able to continue his violent quest?
In The Silence of the Lambs, FBI Agent Clarice Starling is given the challenging assignment of a serial killer nicknamed "Buffalo Bill." Much like Graham before her, she seeks the assistance of the imprisoned Dr. Lecter (now played by Anthony Hopkins, Shadowlands) in the hopes that he will be able to give her some clues about the killer's motives. Can Clarice find a way to win Lecter's trust without succumbing to the psychological traps he is setting for her?
Finally, Hannibal jumps forward ten years to a time when Clarice (now played by Julianne Moore, The Big Lebowski) is a much more experienced FBI Agent and Lecter (still Hopkins) is living comfortably in Italy while continuing to elude the grasp of law enforcement officials. However, when Lecter decides to return to America, he finds himself not only being hunted by Clarice, but also by a vengeful disfigured millionaire named Mason Verger (Gary Oldman, Air Force One).
The Hannibal Lecter franchise is currently a few notches past dead thanks to the miserable nail in the coffin that was Hannibal Rising, but once upon a time Thomas Harris adaptations were intelligent thrillers and Dr. Lecter was a genuinely terrifying individual rather than an overexposed punch line. This 3-disc Blu-ray collection gathers together what are arguably the three best films involving Lecter, beginning with Michael Mann's 1986 film Manhunter.
Mann's film is based on the Harris novel Red Dragon, the first Lecter novel which was later given a second adaptation courtesy of Brett Ratner. Though the Ratner version was more or less designed to make Manhunter (which does not feature Anthony Hopkins in the role of Lecter) obsolete, Mann's work still holds up as the superior version. William Petersen is quietly effective as Will Graham, offering a weary intensity that plays quite well against the quietly growing tide of evil that slowly envelops the film as we spend more and more time with the creepy Tooth Fairy (played superbly by Tom Noonan). As with so many Mann films, Manhunter is a very distinct mood piece that employs striking visual elements in the service of creating a brooding, almost dream-like atmosphere which belies the very detail-oriented nature of the film. Lecter is essayed by Brian Cox, a fine actor who I've always admired. Though Cox is quite good in the part (radiating a smug intelligence), it's very difficult not to compare his work to that of Hopkins. While Cox is convincing, he isn't half as frightening as Hopkins. Otherwise, Manhunter is a very fine crime thriller that holds up as vintage Mann.
Mann's efforts were quickly topped by Jonathan Demme's The Silence of the Lambs, rightly regarded as one of the best crime horror/thrillers of the past twenty years. Lecter was elevated from an intriguing supporting character to one of cinema's great monsters, and Hopkins unleashed on moviegoers a taste of pure evil so potent that they could feel it every time he appeared. Looking at the film again, it's interesting to note that Hopkins has less than a half-hour of screen time, but his work is so strong that it overwhelms one's memories of the film. However, The Silence of the Lambs clicks on all cylinders. Demme's thoughtful attentiveness boosts almost every scene, and every character of note feels well-developed and complex, from Jodie Foster's strong-yet-damaged reading of Clarice Starling to Ted Levine's deranged turn as the serial killer Buffalo Bill. Elegant, intelligent and yet terrifying on a very primal level, The Silence of the Lambs deserves its classification as a classic.
The most troublesome installment of the set is unquestionably Ridley Scott's Hannibal, a strange film that doesn't quite work but is somehow still an intriguing viewing experience. Its biggest mistake is allowing Lecter to roam freely, which goes a long way towards making him a much less frightening character. Julianne Moore also fails to live up to the strength of Foster's portrayal of Clarice Starling, and director Ridley Scott chooses to replace the subtle scares of The Silence of the Lambs with macabre gore. Despite all of this, Hannibal certainly isn't a boring experience. Hopkins is still on his A-game despite the poor choices made regarding his character, and there are superb supporting turns from Gary Oldman, Ray Liotta and Giancarlo Giannini. The literate script courtesy of Steve Zaillian and David Mamet (!) makes time for some intriguing conversations, and though I disapprove of the gore-driven direction of the film it must be admitted that the less palatable elements are engaging examples of Grand Guignol. It's just a shame that Hannibal couldn't have been something more considering the talent involved.
Manhunter looks and sounds okay on Blu-ray, though it should be noted that this transfer is considerably better than any of the previous DVD releases. The level of detail is pretty stellar throughout despite some softness, but the image generally looks somewhat flat and lifeless. Natural grain has been left intact, but unfortunately you'll also find a minor stream of scratches and flecks here and there. Black crush is a minor issue at times. The audio is also a mixed bag, as the somewhat overbearing synthetic score is simply too loud in contrast to much of the rather muted dialogue. I found myself having to adjust the volume on a few different occasions. Sound design feels rather suppressed and pinched at times. Still, it's a reasonably clean track if an underwhelming one. Sadly, no extras of any sort have been included on the disc.
Silence of the Lambs was released on Blu-ray earlier in 2009, and the disc included in this set is identical both in terms of the transfer and audio. The film looks stellar in hi-def, though it's not a standard-setting disc by any stretch of the imagination. The image is slightly flat and dirty at times, though considerably more vibrant than it was on DVD. Detail is solid, and the darker scenes benefit from much more clarity than they had in standard-def. The audio is adequate, though honestly not much better than what you would expect to hear from a basic Dolby Digital Surround track. Supplements include the 57-minute making-of documentary "Inside the Labyrinth," a featuring spotlighting composer Howard Shore called "Scoring the Silence," a 42-minute television special called "From Page to Screen" which focuses on the process of transforming the novel into a screenplay, an 8-minute archival featurette, some deleted scenes, and a theatrical trailer. The one hi-def exclusive is a picture-in-picture track called "Breaking the Silence."
As you might expect, Hannibal is the best-looking film of the set, though there's a less striking difference between the hi-def and DVD transfer in this case than with the other two films. The DVD transfer for Hannibal was generally well-regarded, and this hi-def version hasn't gone very far out of its way to make things dramatically better. Darker scenes are a bit murkier than I would like, but detail is very strong and the image has considerably more depth than either of the other two films. The DTS HD track included is quite good, though again not dramatically better than what was included on the DVD. While the 2-disc DVD release was packed with terrific supplements, this Blu-ray release is bare bones, aside from a few trailers for other films. Such a disappointment.
I have mixed feelings about this collection. Though the inclusion of one classic, one very good film, and one ambitious misfire is enough to warrant a recommendation for those who don't own these films, the merely so-so transfers and the inexcusably lacking supplemental package give me severe reservations about suggesting an upgrade for those who have the DVDs. Too bad.
The films are free to go, but this collection is guilty of failing to provide
sufficient incentive to upgrade.
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What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
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