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The 1-Disc MANHUNTER is the way to go
on February 14, 2001
MANHUNTER was a flop when it was released in the mid-1980s, but has enjoyed a much-deserved renaissance in the past few years with the box office success of HANNIBAL and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS. And now, finally, it has been released on DVD for a second chance with audiences.
The debate rages on as to whether MANHUNTER is the best of the trilogy, and you can read numerous postings below about this. Personally, I think MANHUNTER is superior because it deals with the detailed investigation of horrific crimes versus the crimes themselves, its villain is much more terrifying because he's portrayed with more humanity, and the tone overall is creepy and serious versus horrific and campy.
If you're seeing MANHUNTER for the first time and are a fan of the other two films, be forewarned that:
1. This is a crime drama, not a horror movie. And while it is well shot, it is a low budget film with production values just slightly above a TV-movie. But you will be so engrossed in the story that this won't matter.
2. It is definitely a film of its time period, with 80s fashions and a MIAMI VICE-type booming soundtrack that tends to interfere with otherwise quiet and introspective moments. But the music, as with most of the other films directed by Michael Mann, is excellent, well chosen and progressive (for the mid-1980s). Even though the film seems dated to some, if we are to judge movies forever by the time periods they were created in, then we might as well stop going to the cinema.
3. If Hannibal Lector and Anthony Hopkins are one and the same to you, then seeing Brian Cox in the role might be jarring. He plays Lector (spelled "Lecktor" here) with much more subtlety than Hopkins, and may disappoint those who are fans of Hopkins's over-the-top (though enjoyable) portrayal.
You can read plot details in the many postings below - the real question is how good is the DVD? Since I was forewarned about the bad video transfer on the 2-disc Director's Cut, I bought the 1-disc Theatrical Cut, which has all the extras of the former. I am very pleased with the transfer I've seen. There is some graininess at times, but the picture is generally sharp with vivid colors. Probably the best version I've seen since I saw it in a theater in the 80s - maybe better. The audio can be muddy in spots, but the soundtrack booms out of the speakers, particularly the excellent Shriekback songs.
There are a couple of scenes on this DVD that I don't remember seeing before - someone can correct me if I'm wrong. One involves Will Graham touring the empty home of one of the murder victims with a real estate agent, the other is a love scene with his wife in a hotel room. The former seemed unnecessary, but the latter only heightened the emotional stakes in Will's pursuit of the killer.
There are a couple of short, but very informative, documentaries at the end of this film - one featuring the actors, the other featuring the cinematographer. It was very interesting seeing Tom Noonan (the villain) interviewed, as I've never seen him in any other context but this film. There are some great nuggets of information for fans of the movie, as well as a collection of movie posters from around the world.
The glaring omission is any input from Michael Mann himself. I, for one, am not as enchanted with running audio commentaries on DVDs, as I feel they tend to take away some of the "magic" of the film itself. But it's too bad he didn't contribute to the docs at the end. There is a sense from the actors' interviews that the crew had had it with Michael Mann toward the end, and began walking off the set, leaving a skeleton crew for the final action sequence. Perhaps this has something to do with it.
To sum up, the 1-disc MANHUNTER DVD is probably the best version we'll ever get of this classic film. Picture and audio are excellent, and the film itself - at least to this viewer - has aged well. The solving of the crime is so complicated that repeat viewings are beneficial and enjoyable. And the extras are very informative without being long and overwhelming. Highly recommended!