Director:  Michael Mann

Starring: William L. Petersen, Kim Greist, Joan Allen, Brian Cox

Warning: this review contains spoilers and strong language!

There have now been three UK releases of Michael Mann's slick 1986 thriller Manhunter (based on Thomas Harris's novel Red Dragon). The first was released by BMG: it wasn't anamorphic, and had 2.0 PCM audio, but is apparently a facsimile of the film as it appeared during its theatrical run. The second, an anamorphic transfer from Momentum Pictures, contained a different version of the film, which was missing a section of dialogue that many fans of the film thought was one of the highlights of the movie (the so-called "someone manufactured a monster" speech, transcribed below). Now there's a third version, again from Momentum containing what they're calling the Director's Cut (which for the sake of this review, we'll refer to as the "new" version). 

This new 119'04" version is being released as a two-disc set, containing Momentum's original single-disc version and a second disc containing the new Director's Cut version, taken from a new hi-definition master prepared by Director Michael Mann, who calls the new cut the "Director's Preferred Version".

Enough has been written about the differences between various versions of Manhunter to fill a book (in addition to the three discs above, there have been similar Region 1 discs from Anchor Bay, and a version of the film that Mann prepared for US cable channel Showtime, in 1987), all of which have their own idiosyncrasies. This new version is closely based on the Showtime version. Like many directors of his generation, it seems that Michael Mann doesn't know when to leave well enough alone. While many fans may appreciate the changes made to a favourite film, many will not. If you don't continue to make the original version available you diminish the respect that the people who most admire your work have for your art.  

I spent a whole day comparing the three UK discs, and am not at all certain that I've spotted all the differences. In any case, I didn't intend to, and don't propose to, list every single change here. You'll have to wait for an article in the peerless Video Watchdog magazine to itemise the nuances of each version! Here are some observations, however, which may help you to decide whether or not you want to patronise the new release.

The transfer on the new disc has been approved by the director, so any quibbles about some of the artistic changes are somewhat moot. Comparing the new version to the original BMG disc is very interesting. Some shots have been noticeably re-framed, others have not. The film was shot on Super-35, which has allowed a lot of leeway in the transfer. The new transfer, (which presents the film in a ratio of 2.35:1, with anamorphic enhancement) has been approved by Mann, but it's not what fans are used to seeing (or not seeing, as the case may be!)  

The new version's colour balance is certainly an improvement over the BMG version, although there are shots in the new transfer that looked much better in Momentum's earlier transfer. Many - perhaps all - of the shots and scenes in the new version of the film that did not appear in the theatrical release have been added using a creaky analogue 1" NTSC videotape source, resulting in a marked drop in the quality, compared to the material that surrounds them. It's not always as bad as something like Momentum's Witchfinder General disc, but it is very distracting. There's a hefty tramline scratch on the scene where Lecktor (Brian Cox) is examining the Tooth Fairy files ("Have you ever seen blood in the moonlight, Will? It appears quite black"), but otherwise the new version is practically spotless, with virtually no signs of film dirt.

The film is presented on a single-layer disc, and often looks very fuzzy (much fuzzier than the version on the existing Momentum disc). There are some shots (the torch-lit point-of-view shots of the Tooth Fairy going up the stairs at the beginning of the film, for example) which seem completely solarised. (Solarisation is where you don't get a smooth transition between two tones: instead you get crude, sharply-divided bands of tone, like a low-resolution computer image). There seems to be no reason for these shots to look like this, strongly suggesting that this is the result of way too much compression. The average bit-rate is a rather mediocre 4.35Mb/s. This is partly because less than 4Gb of the available disc space has been used. Mann may have approved the new hi-definition master that was used for this transfer, but if he saw this disc I'm sure he'd be appalled. 

The new disc reverts back to a two-channel surround audio (in Dolby Digital, at 224kbps), which is how the film played theatrically. The old Momentum disc (a.k.a. Disc One of the new two-disc set) has a 5.1 remix, which isn't notably more impressive. More channels is not necessarily better, of course, and the 2.0 version sounds fine.

It should also be noted that the original Momentum release carried subtitles in German, Italian, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Danish and Turkish. The new Director's Cut version only has Englsih subtitles.

So, what changes have been made to this new version? It's probably easiest to list what is in the latest version, and what isn't...

The BMG version starts with green credits on a black background (inter-cut with the point-of-view shots of the killer entering the Leeds house). These credits continue over a black screen which gradually lightens to blue, and, as the credits end, the camera pans down to the beach scene with Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) asking Will Graham (William Petersen) if he'll come back to work on a new serial killer case. The single-disc Momentum version begins with the De Laurentiis Entertainment Group logo, and follows the same pattern as the BMG release, except that the background only changes from black to blue after all the credits have unspooled. The new version begins with white credits on a black background, but, after the Leeds house scene, the background very quickly fades to blue, and the bulk of the credits play over the scene of Crawford and Graham on the beach. It gets the viewer into the action faster, but the text appearing over a dialogue scene is irksome.  

A chunk of dialogue is missing from the scene just after the Atlanta PD briefing, where Will discusses the killer's motivation with Springfield (Norman Snow): "His act fuels his fantasy". "Which is?" "I don't know". Will's line later in the scene, when he is discussing Doctor Lecktor and his victims, describing Lecktor as being "a psychopath - they don't know what else to call him" has been restored (it was in the theatrical release, and on the BMG disc, but has been trimmed from some of the other versions). 

There are two extra scenes with Will's wife, Molly (Kim Greist). The first takes place after Graham's run-in with doomed journalist Freddy Lounds (Stephen Lang). It's a phone conversation between Will and Molly, which includes a discussion of what colour they should paint the kitchen, which prompts Will to snap at his wife. 

The initial encounter between Lecktor and Graham has been extended by about twenty seconds. Lecktor picks up on Graham's description of himself as "a layman": "A lay man? Interesting term. So many experts on government grants, and you say you're a layman? But it was you who caught me, wasn't it, Will? Do you know how you did it?" Graham is defensive: "What does it matter now?" "It doesn't matter to me, Will", Lecktor taunts. (A similar exchange takes place in the Manhunter remake, Red Dragon).

The original theatrical cut of the film cuts from the scene where the girl on the airplane is freaked out by Graham's photo's of the Leeds and Jacobi crime scenes to a scene where Will is in the back yard of the Jacobi house, looking for evidence that the killer staked out the house before entering it. The new version inserts a scene with a real estate agent, Geehan, showing Graham into the house. The estate agent was played by a regular of Mann's Miami Vice TV series, Michael Talbott.

After Graham's interview and photo-shoot with Lounds there's additional dialogue between Crawford and Will. Crawford tells him that he's arranged for Molly to fly to Washington, where she can spend some time with Graham. Much could be read into this brief exchange, but it's most likely that it's simply included to explain the addition of the later scene with Molly and Graham.

The new version truncates the scene where Spurgen (Jim Zubiena) gives Graham the Glaser safety shot ammunition. In the theatrical version, as they leave the building, there are two shots, nicely mixed together with a dissolve, pulling back to reveal the car park, full of cars. Both versions then cut to the scene at the airport, where someone cuts open a bundle of National Tattler newspapers, with Will and Lounds' photo' on the front page. The theatrical version cuts to the stake-out, and the arrest of the jogger, but the Director's Cut version inserts a scene that begins with a reflection of the Washington Monument in a hotel room window, which goes out of focus to tighten on a shot of Graham's naked, heavily-scarred abdomen. This leads into a nice, intimate scene between Graham and Molly (the Director's Cut probably doubles her screen time, and adds a lot more depth to the character).

The most controversial change made to the film occurs during the pivotal scene where Graham and Jack Crawford are studying the videotapes of the cine film. The Director's Cut omits a key speech, where Graham admits some sympathy for the Tooth Fairy: "This started from an abused kid, a battered infant... 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. He butchers whole families to pursue trivial fantasies. As an adult, someone should blow the sick fuck out of his socks. Does that sound like a contradiction to you, Jack? Does this kind of thinking make you uncomfortable?" The missing dialogue is covered in the Director's Cut by a cutaway shot to Jack, which looks like it was dropped in from a VHS recording. (Oddly, the same cutaway shot looks much better on the single-disc Momentum version, more evidence that this new disc has been compromised by excessive compression). The original Momentum disc has an encoding error during this scene (there are three or four bright pink frames during the shots of the children on the videotape, at 93'58"). This is not present on the Director's Cut version. Incidentally, Graham expresses similar sentiments about the Tooth Fairy in the Red Dragon movie, although the exchange is moved to a different scene, and Graham is talking to Molly, not Crawford).

All versions of the film end with a happily-ever-after scene with Will, Molly and their son Kevin (David Seaman) cavorting on the beach, but the Director's Cut version of the film precedes this with a scene featuring the wounded, bruised Will visiting the Sherman family, who would have been Francis Dollarhyde's next victims had Graham not stopped him.

The new disc has one entirely new bonus feature, but it's one that should make the cost much more bearable: a commentary track by Michael Mann. Mann has a reputation for being reticent to discuss his work, but this isn't the first film he's contributed a commentary track to (the Region 1 release of Thief also has one). The commentary is a goldmine for fans of the film, but it can be a little frustrating (when he acknowledges changes he's made for this new version of the film, but doesn't explain why he's made them, for example). There are a few gaps here and there, but among the interesting topics under discussion are how Mann resisted the temptation to feature the charismatic Lecktor more extensively; which scene was inspired by the 1959 Doris Day musical Pillow Talk; how Cox was cast as Lecktor (Mann's friend Brian Dennehy talked himself out of the role); and how he chose the music used in the film (which is, incidentally, dutifully identified by the disc's English subtitles). Subjects not covered at any length are actress Kim Greist (who caused Terry Gilliam such consternation on Brazil) or the finale's heavily-stylised fractured editing.

The set's other disc contains two short featurettes: The Manhunter Look - A Conversation With Dante Spinotti (10m), focusing on the film's outstanding cinematography) and Inside Manhunter (17m), a more general overview of the production. Both include contributions from most key cast and crew members (including Petersen, Tom Noonan and Joan Allen). These are certainly worth getting, especially if you're still holding out with a copy of the BMG disc (which is now a collector's item). The disc also contains a theatrical trailer (which includes a couple of shots that aren't in any extant version of the film) and a modest photo gallery.

Whether or not to invest in this new two-disc version is a tough call. The new version of the film is an interesting variation, but it isn't the film that many of its fans have grown to admire. The commentary is of real value, as are the two featurettes. But there's a huge caveat: the use of a single-layer disc has seriously compromised picture quality. Sad to report that Momentum's uncharacteristic penny-pinching has virtually ruined what might otherwise have been a very attractive disc. With a Region 1 version of the Director's Cut lurking in the wings, Momentum might find that they've wasted a valuable window of opportunity... 

The Theatrical Cut on DVD

There are at least two DVDs that  present the theatrical version of Mann's film: the UK release, from BMG (which was used as the basis of the comparative review, above), and a French version, from CTN, under the title Le Sixième Sens. Both are officially discontinued. The French version scores over the UK disc because it has an anamorphic transfer. It also has a 2.0 Dolby Surround audio track, whereas the UK version is one of the few non-music discs available with a surround-compatible PCM track (at 1536kbps).


Further reading and acknowledgements:

Manhunter - Spread Your Wings and Learn to Die by Tim Lucas, Video Watchdog No. 13

The Unseen Manhunter - The Slaying of Red Dragon by Paul M. Sammon, Video Watchdog No. 13

Manhunter - Limited Edition DVD review by Kim Newman, Video Watchdog No. 71

With thanks to Richard Crowther and Eystein Strommen.

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