He’s one of the most compelling villains of modern fiction. Disturbing, disgusting and absolutely captivating at the same time, Hannibal Lecter can really get inside your head.
You may not have read the novels by Thomas Harris, or even seen all of the films, but I’m willing to bet you’re familiar with The Silence of the Lambs. One of the greatest thrillers in film history, the film in which Sir Anthony Hopkins became Dr. Lecter is the cornerstone of this three-movie set.
The Hannibal Lector Collection brings together – in chronological order – Michael Mann’s Manhunter, Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs and Ridley Scott’s Hannibal. Film buffs will note the absence of Brett Ratner’s Red Dragon, essentially a remake of Manhunter. Unfortunately for any completists, MGM, the studio behind this set, doesn’t have the rights to Red Dragon, which is a Universal picture. In any case, these three films make a fantastic trilogy.
Manhunter, released in 1986, was our first glimpse at Lecter, played by Brian Cox (The Bourne Supremacy). Lecter doesn’t have much screen time, as the film focuses on former FBI profiler Will Graham (William Petersen, CSK), who’s called back in to hunt down the Tooth Fairy, a serial killer. To do so, he needs to get inside the demented mind of a killer, so he visits Lecter, whom he helped catch years before. The film is a slow burn – a dark, psychological thriller, and its only drawback now is the strong 80’s influence and its synth-heavy score.
Five years later, The Silence of the Lambs won Oscars for best picture, director, actor, actress and adapted screenplay. It’s a perfectly executed thriller, with much more Lecter. Clarice Starling (Jodie Foster, Panic Room) is an FBI trainee who gets an opportunity to help out with a major case. The feds are tracking a new serial killer, Buffalo Bill, and Starling is sent in to get insight from Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins, Amistad, who’s being held in a maximum security nuthouse. The interaction between Foster and Hopkins is the highlight of this stellar film, as the two infuse so much into every aspect of their communication, from body language and eye-contact to their words. I can’t say enough good things about The Silence of the Lambs. If you’re fan of thrillers, you simply must watch it.
2001’s Hannibal rounds out this set. Hopkins came back, but Foster chose not to reprise her role, so Julianne Moore (The Hours) stepped in. Moore’s Starling is different some ways, but the essence of the character remains. Lecter is clearly the star of Hannibal, and the character is once again highly compelling. Unfortunately, the intimate interaction between the hungry doctor and Starling is missing for most of the film. 10 years have passed since the events of ‘Lambs, and Lecter is free and living in Italy. When Starling becomes the “fall guy” for a botched FBI operation, Lecter is inspired to come out of hiding and back to public life. Disgraced, Starling is on the case to find Lecter. The film is entertaining, but it pales somewhat in comparison to ‘Lambs. The weakest aspects are a plot-line involving Lecter’s only surviving victim plotting to catch him and feed him to wild pigs, and the film’s climax, which is incredibly gruesome but also unintentionally amusing.
As a whole, these three films of The Hannibal Lecter Collection are top-notch in the thriller genre, anchored by Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lector, a fascinating villain who simultaneously repulses and attracts. So, how’s the DVD set?
Each film of The Hannibal Lecter Collection is presented on one disc, with Manhunter in 2.35:1 widescreen and the others in 1.85:1 widescreen format.
You can tell that Manhunter is the oldest of the bunch, but it holds up quite well. Colours are fairly rich and natural, and the picture is sharp. Other than a smattering of film artifacts, which don’t call attention to themselves, this is a solid transfer of well-preserved source material.
I’m fairly certain The Silence of the Lambs is the feature film disc from the two-disc collector’s edition, which is reputed to be the best video presentation available. It certainly does look good, given that this film isn’t that much newer than Manhunter. The transfer is clean, with excellent contrast and plenty of fine detail. Fans won’t be disappointed.
Hannibal is the newest and best-looking of the bunch. I hesitate to call it flawless, but it’s damn near that. The film is very complex visually, with a ton of shadow and dark, richly detailed scenes. Scott’s vision is presented here with fine detail, true colours, excellent contrast and no source artifacts. Kudos to MGM.
Manhunter has a solid 5.1 Dolby Digital track. The film’s tense, suspenseful score sounds great, despite its 80’s signature, and dialogue is always clear, though at times it gets a bit quiet. You may be surprised that the surround channels get a fair bit of play, and the overall aural experience is quite satisfying. Audio is also available in French and Spanish, with subtitles offered in English and Spanish.
The Silence of the Lambs also has a 5.1 track. It does a great job with Howard Shore’s creepy score, all dialogue and the handful of effects scattered throughout the film. Much of the audio is concentrated across the front sound stage, but when appropriate the sound fills out nicely.
Hannibal ups the ante with an available DTS 5.1 track in addition to its 5.1 Dolby Digital track. I focused on the DTS track, but rest assured that the DD mix is very good. The DTS track is superb, with a great atmospheric feel and clear, detailed sound. This film definitely has the most active audio, and none of that action gets lost here.
The Hannibal Lecter Collection drops the ball in the bonus material department. The only available feature is an audio commentary by Ridley Scott on the Hannibal disc. Scott is worth listening to, as he offers up interesting comments on a wide range of topics, but one commentary track just doesn’t cut it for a set like this.
This collection brings together three fine thrillers, each presented with excellent audio and video. Unfortunately, the near-complete lack of bonus material hamstrings the set, and ultimately means that fans looking for a definitive package will need more than The Hannibal Lecter Collection. However, buying this set may be the best – or only – way to get a widescreen, theatrical edition of Manhunter. Whether that’s worth the asking price is up to you.