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A view on Blu-ray and DVD video by Leonard Norwitz

Hannibal (The Hannibal Lecter Collection) [Blu-ray]

(Ridley Scott, 2001)

 

 

 

 

 

Review by Leonard Norwitz

 

Studio:

Theatrical: Scott Free

Blu-ray: MGM Home Video

 

Disc:

Region: Silence of the Lambs + Manhunter are region FREE, but Hannibal is region A-locked.

Runtime: 131 min

Chapters: 32

Size: 25 GB

Case: Standard Blu-ray Case w/ flip-page

Release date: September 15th, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 1.85:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: MPEG2 @ 18 Mbps

 

Audio:

English DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1; Dub: Spanish & French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Subtitles:

English SDH & Spanish

 

Extras:

• (none)

 

 

The Film: 6
The films in Fox’s Hannibal Lecter Collection are all drawn from specific novels written by Thomas Harris. The novels are chronological, as are the movies, each directed by a major auteur: respectively: Michael Mann, Jonathan Demme and Ridley Scott. The first, Manhunter, is based on Harris’s Red Dragon. Both Manhunter and The Silence of the Lambs place the investigator front and center. Psychiatrist and serial killer, Hannibal Lecter is already in prison in the first movie and makes good his escape in the second.

In the third film Lecter (an older and less sibilant Anthony Hopkins) is at large and, more or less, remains so. We find him in Florence, Italy, where legumes are a specialty of the region. But instead of dining on his guests, perhaps with some well chosen beans, wine and a well –turned phrase, Lector has assumed a new identity as an art scholar. Being in the public eye, however circumscribed, Lecter comes to the attention of Inspector Pazzi (the sad-eyed and terminally tortured Giancarlo Giannini). Instead of going directly to the American FBI or Interpol, he attempts to arrange to turn Lecter over to Mason Verger (Gary Oldman in disguise), who has offered a $3,000,000 reward for his capture. We learn elsewhere in the movie that Verger is a Lecter survivor of a fate worse than death and, we imagine, wishes to return the favor. Even if Pazzi had already read Silence of the Lambs or had seen the movie, we have to admit: the purse might be worth the game.

 

 


Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Agent Starling (now played by a repressed Julianne Moore) has been set up by persons in her own department to take the fall for an embarrassingly disastrous arrest, complete with bullets flying and innocent dying. Holed up in her basement she continues to pursue leads to find Dr. Lecter, but not before she runs down Nurse Barney who suggests a tie-in to Verger.

The movie attempts to bring together, not very satisfyingly by all accounts, three strong narratives: Lecter and Pazzi; Lecter and Verger; and Lecter and Starling. Sadly, for those of us who expected otherwise, the least interesting of these is the latter. And what interest it does retain is bequeathed by its antecedent. This is not the fault of Miss Moore, who is just fine in the part, but in the character, who has simply vanished. The most intriguing, and the dialogue whose cat and mouse execution is most deftly handled by Scott against a drifting sequence of Florentine alleys and byways, is that between Lecter and Pazzi. The business with Veger includes some of the most gruesome visuals for a movie by such an A-list director, cast and screenwriter (David Mamet), so the less said about them, the more appetizing for you, should you dare to join in the supper. But don’t forget to place a clean napkin in your lap first.

 


 

Image: 8/9     NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc. 
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

Ridley Scott, always with the eye for stunning images (Is there anything more beautifully jaw-dropping than The Duelists?), paints a considerable part of his movie on a Florentine canvas, which makes the rest of the film that much less interesting or well integrated, though it all works better than you’d imagine – thanks to Norris Spencer’s smart production design and David Crank’s art direction (Crank would go on to provide the superb art direction for HBO’s John Adams.) Even when there isn’t fog, per se, we see his story through a filter that does not permit all aspects of light and color to pass though with impunity. (I was often reminded of Blade Runner. Hannibal offers the best image of the trilogy – no surprise, there – I found no distracting blemishes or artifacts, enhancements. Everyone looks a little pasty, though I couldn't say why. It wasn't worrisome. Dimensionality is excellent, thanks in large part to John Mathieson’s lighting and cool color palette. (Mathieson, by the way, was also the DP on Scott’s Gladiator the previous year.)
 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 9/9
I admired the music and effects track on Hannibal so much that I longed for the option to be able to listen to it minus the dialogue. Music seemed omnipresent - we hear Lecter still playing the piano as he prepares a meal of fried brains; the opera still wafts in our memory as he sets the stage for his intercession with Pazzi. Church bells have a hypnotic funereal appeal. The sound stage is often huge, especially for the piazzas and drawing rooms of Florence. In America, gunfire is well differentiated as it sprays across the surrounds. At moments of relative peace we hear the distant sound of an ambulance or the drone of crickets. This is a demonstration audio mix.

 

Operations:

Without extra features, there’s little to comment on here, except that the disc loads directly.

 

 

 

Extras: 0
Zip! Worse yet, the 2-disc DVD had extras aplenty, making us wonder if a double dip is in our future.
 

Bottom line: 6
If you already have the 2-disc DVD, you should hold onto it until a proper Blu-ray is published with at least those extras. Or, you could rent the DVD just for the extras and buy or rent the Blu-ray set. We might wonder if a similar fate is in store for Manhunter. The thing is that most people are already likely to own Silence of the Lambs, making that movie redundant. So it comes down to how you feel about having Hannibal. The price isn’t steep. This, and having Hannibal's stunning audio track available right now, makes the set a little more attractive. In any case, try to find the Divimax DVD for Michael Mann’s commentary and to see the Director’s Cut for Manhunter.

 

Manhunter (The Hannibal Lecter Collection) [Blu-ray]

(aka "Red Dragon")

 

(Michael Mann, 1986)

 

 

Studio:

Theatrical: StudioCanal / MGM

Blu-ray: MGM Home Video

 

Disc:

Region: All

Runtime: 120 min

Chapters: 16

Size: 50 GB

Case: Standard Blu-ray Case w/ flip-page

Release date: September 15, 2009

 

Video:

Aspect ratio: 2.35:1

Resolution: 1080p

Video codec: AVC @ 38 Mbps

 

Audio:

English DTS HD-Master Audio 5.1; Dub: Spanish & French Dolby Digital 5.1

 

Subtitles:

English SDH & Spanish

 

Extras:

• (none)

 

 

The Film:

Comment:
A trivia question: We all know what character is present throughout the trilogy, but do you know what actor of any significance appears in all three movies? That would be Frankie Faison, who, in Silence of the Lambs, plays Barney, Dr. Lector’s guard/nurse at the Baltimore psychiatric prison. Barney reappears in the third installment, now retired, offering Agent Starling some important clues to the whereabouts of her prey. The actor is also seen briefly in the first movie as Lt. Fisk. He returns once again as Barney in the 2002 Red Dragon.

The films in Fox’s Hannibal Lecter Collection are all drawn from specific novels written by Thomas Harris. The novels are chronological, as are the movies. The first is based on Red Dragon, a title given up in favor of Manhunter to avoid the possibility it would be taken as an Asian film. Manhunter, like The Silence of the Lambs, places the investigator front and center. Psychiatrist and serial killer, Hannibal Lecter (for some unaccountable reason spelled “Lecktor” here), is already in prison, and is called upon to assist in apprehending a budding serial killer. Will Graham, unlike Clarice Starling, is no novice. In fact, he’s the man responsible for catching Dr. Lecter to begin with – not without some cost.

Graham has the unique ability to get into the mind of the killer as he visits the crime scene and sifts through the evidence. - It is no accident that the actor who plays Graham (William Peterson) was a major force in developing the TV series CSI, as well as headed its cast. - Young as he is, Graham is on an extended and indefinite medical leave from the investigating business. His wife (Kim Griest) would rather him not to get involved in another investigation, knowing that Will cannot remain emotionally detached, and the damage on the next outing might be irreparable.

 

 


Graham is approached by Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina), the same character played by Scott Glenn in the second movie (and by Harvey Keitel in Red Dragon, the 2002 remake of Manhunter) to help catch the killer of an entire family. Not without some soul searching and earnest embraces from his wife, Graham agrees. He visits the crime scene and, as he does so, speaks into a recorder, noting his observations in the third person about what the killer saw and may have felt. He remains intellectually engaged, but emotionally detached. And, as sure as God made little Dexters, Graham visits Lecter in his cell, asking for help. Graham doesn’t beg, but Lecter knows he’s got him hooked, and thus begins the gradual disintegration of the wall Graham so carefully put into place. Eventually the notes Grahams speaks into his recorder are in the first person.

It is well into the movie before we meet the killer, Francis Dollarhyde (Tom Noonan), going about his daily routine in a photo lab. We also meet Reba (a young and sexy Joan Allen), a blind technician, who becomes the object of the killer’s fascination. There is a surprising and ambiguous scene between Reba, Dollarhyde and a tiger that is well worth the price of admission for the movie.

The Movie: 8
While there is general agreement that the least of the three movies – i.e, the least scary, yet the most gruesome – is the last, the first movie, though largely overlooked in its initial theatrical run, has many friends. Ssome feel it is the best. Manhunter has the benefit of a psychically inert performance by Peterson for the first reels, and an appealing victim in the person of Allen.


Peterson’s Graham may not have the consistency of Jodie Foster’s performance, but we feel his psychic distress more immediately, even without knowing what Lecter did to him. When he is first approached by Crawford at the beach, we see in him people we know who are that cut off from themselves. Foster’s Starling, while effective, is an invention, not someone we know
from experience. She is the intermediary between us and Lecter. Graham is the self we entertain in our dreams. His intuitive powers are both his strength and his weaknesses.

Lecter is not nearly the presence in Michael Manne’s movie that he rises to in Demme’s. He remains in his cell. He is more dismissive of his captors and does not try to persuade us of his genius. Brian Cox plays Lecter with more arrogance, less ice than Hopkins. But, then, Graham already knows what Lecter is capable of and has his guard up, for what it’s worth. Clarice seems to desire Lecter, as if to replace her murdered father with a murderer. It is no wonder than she can only sit by and watch in the last movie.

 


 

Image: 7/8       NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc. 
The first number indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other Blu-ray video discs on a ten-point scale. The second number places this image along the full range of DVD and Blu-ray discs.

There have been a number of DVD editions of Manhunter, only one, as far as I know, that has an image quality worth sitting through: This would be the “Restored Director’s Cut” on Divimax (now out of print). On that DVD contrast is under control and the color is faithful, if undersaturated, and there is some persistent edge enhancement and black crush. The extra footage that accounts for the “director’s cut” is in less good shape, but does not ruin the experience. At first blush, the Blu-ray appears to be sourced from the restored print, but, alas, does not offer a director’s cut. That aside, the Blu-ray image is very good – very likely as good as we’re going to get for some time to come - but does not, in itself warrant an upgrade. Some blemishes are present, but not distracting. Blacks can get a little murky at times, resulting in an image flatter than it should be. Grain is not artificially manipulated, so the picture has a filmic look to it. Hair textures lack finesse, but detail is often good, not that the movie demands a razor sharp picture.
 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audio & Music: 6/7
The downside to the “Restored Director’s Cut” DVD is that the audio is a mere 2.0 Dolby Digital. It’s not bad, but the uncompressed DTS-HD mix tells us a little something about what’s missing – namely the eerie void that is Graham’s mind, filled by the ambient sounds of rustling leaves, whispering trees, and the way that the dead speak to him. It’s all very subtle, but it’s also what elevates this film into horror. Sadly, the score is balanced too heavily against what is often a dialogue track too subtle for its own good. If we turn up the volume to hear what is being said clearly, the music will be too loud.

 

Operations:

Without extra features, there’s little to comment on here.

 

 

 

Extras: 0
The Blu-ray fails to provide even so much as a commentary, such as is present on the Divimax DVD.

 

Bottom line: 6
If this movie were available by itself, I’d say: buy it, despite its lack of extra features. The thing is that most people are already likely to own Silence of the Lambs, making that movie redundant. So it comes down to how you feel about having Hannibal. The price isn’t steep. So that makes the set more attractive. In any case, try to find the Divimax DVD for Michael Mann’s commentary and to see the Director’s Cut.

Leonard Norwitz
September 22, 2009

directed by Jonathan Demme
USA 1991

From Thomas Harris’ novel, director Jonathan Demme explodes and reconstructs a classic genre, laying a foundation of emotional and political commitment beneath a perfectly constructed psychological thriller. Fourteen years after her controversial role in Taxi Driver, Jodie Foster finally makes the transformation from helpless victim to rescuing hero in this dark, gender-bending fairy tale of an American obsession: serial murder. As Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter, Anthony Hopkins is the archetypal antihero—cultured, quick-witted, uncontainable—a portrait of all the sharpest human faculties gone diabolically wrong. Winner of five Academy Awards®, including Best Picture and Best Screenplay Adaptation for Ted Tally.

***

A psychopath nicknamed Buffalo Bill is murdering young women across the Midwest. Believing it takes one to know one, the FBI sends Agent Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster) to interview a demented prisoner who may provide clues to the killer's actions. That prisoner is psychiatrist Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), a brilliant, diabolical cannibal who agrees to help Starling only if she'll feed his morbid curiosity with details about her own complicated life. This twisted relationship forces Starling not only to face her own inner demons, but leads her face– to–face with a demented killer, an incarnation of evil so overwhelming, she may not have the courage or strength to stop him. Horrific, disturbing, spellbinding. This thriller set the standard by which all others are measured.

NOTE: The below Blu-ray captures were ripped directly from the Blu-ray disc. 

 

CLICK EACH BLU-RAY CAPTURE TO SEE ALL IMAGES IN FULL 1920X1080 RESOLUTION

 

Short summation about the image quality is that - Yes, it is obviously superior, but the older MPEG-2 encode was utilized and it does not produce the definitive image improvement that could have potentially been achieved. The color scheme supports the latest 2-disc MGM and the non-anamorphic Criterion still looks greenish. Detail is improved, skin tones strike a warmer tone (as very often the case with hi-def). I don't know if I can add much more than what my screen captures state. There is some noise still existing, but everything, in general terms, is superior visually to the SD-DVD counterparts. Depending on your system the improvements will vary but I toggled back and forth and it was quite evident that the 1080P transfer had more depth, sharpness and an overall film-like feel. While it is probably not perfect - it is the best I have seen The Silence of the Lambs look in my home theater.

Also available separately:

Audio offers a 5.1 DTS-HD Master @ 2764 kbps. It had its moments with some deep bass scares from Howard Shore's original score but while I wouldn't use the term 'aggressive' to describe the track - it did have a nice consistency to it. It doesn't tower over the older MGM 5.1 but did exhibit some improved depth and range to my faulty ears. While an improvement - listeners shouldn't expect a dramatic, blow-your-windows-out mix. It's competent and deeply suspense-inducing. The dialogue is supported with subtitles in a few languages signifying this as a region FREE release (verified elsewhere).

 

Supplements go the last mile. Breaking the Silence replays the entire film with head shots, boxed in the bottom right corner, of key performers giving scene input. Some of the other documentaries are repeated from past editions and some are new - and in HD! All-in-all there is well over 2.5 hours of material to access with Inside the Labyrinth: Making of The Silence of the Lambs (1:06:29) being the most thorough. There are deleting scenes, outtakes, a documentary on scoring the film, TV Spots, and more. This is surely the most complete digital package of extraneous information on The Silence of the Lambs. The only thing I think we lose if the 'Photo Gallery'. With over 20 Gig of extras using the word 'stacked' to describe the disc supplements would be appropriate.

Okay, bottom line - the MPEG-2 is not ideal, but the Blu-ray is the definitive for transfer quality at present. I'd forgotten how great the film was and seeing it in hi-def intensified the emotions that it evokes. Memorable, almost iconic, performances and a plethora of supplements to peruse. So, as a fan I'd have to say I recommend. 

Gary W. Tooze

Leonard Norwitz
October 4th, 2009

 

 

 

 


 

About the Reviewer: I first noticed that some movies were actually "films" back around 1960 when I saw Seven Samurai (in the then popular truncated version), La Strada and The Third Man for the first time. American classics were a later and happy discovery.

My earliest teacher in Aesthetics was Alexander Sesonske, who encouraged the comparison of unlike objects. He opened my mind to the study of art in a broader sense, rather than of technique or the gratification of instantaneous events. My take on video, or audio for that matter – about which I feel more competent – is not particularly technical. Rather it is aesthetic, perceptual, psychological and strongly influenced by temporal considerations in much the same way as music. I hope you will find my musings entertaining and informative, fun, interactive and very much a work in progress.


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