As part of its recent campaign of catalogue "horror" titles to debut on Blu-ray, MGM/Fox Home Entertainment have released The Hannibal Lecter Collection to the devoted High Def fans of America's favorite fictional serial killer. This 3-disc set includes Michael Mann's Manhunter, Jonathan Demme's The Silence Of The Lambs, and Ridley Scott's Hannibal.
Long before Anthony Hopkins colonized the role of Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter, fellow British actor Brian Cox helmed the role in Michael Mann’s suspenseful 1986 psychological thriller, Manhunter. Unlike Brett Ratner’s lame-o remake, Red Dragon, Manhunter actually strikes a positive chord with viewers, introducing us to a young William Petersen as Will Graham, the former FBI man who caught Hannibal Lecktor (the spelling is changed in this version — go figure). But Graham’s life of early retirement after being sliced open by the psychotic Lecktor comes to an abrupt end when his old superior Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) asks for his assistance in profiling and capturing a killer dubbed “The Tooth Fairy.”
In this early adaptation of Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon (the title was changed for filmgoers following the box office meltdown of Year Of The Dragon), Lecktor is more of a secondary character (whereas the remake was specifically catered to the character and the then-current popularity of Hopkins’ Lecter), and only has a few scenes — but they are memorable nonetheless. The rest of the film is very Michael Mann, inhabiting a decidedly Mann-ish ‘80s soundtrack (which gave way to Hollywood’s current method of using recording artists’ works to add emotion to their films — a method filmmakers have since lost the “art” of), lengthy sequences, long camera angles, and a great central character (Petersen delivers a wonderful performance here in a role that pretty much paved the way for his CSI character, Gil Grissom).
Unfortunately, Manhunter did not become a big hit in the States. It has always been a favorite pick among those who actually saw it, but the character of Hannibal Lecktor/Lecter would have to wait a few more years to become a household name. Jonathon Demme’s The Silence Of The Lambs was an even lower-budgeted film than Mann’s, but between the director’s dark sense of humor and two breakthrough performances by then Jodie Foster and Anthony Hopkins, the Orion-financed film became an International hit.
In 1991’s The Silence Of The Lambs, a serial killer known as “Buffalo Bill” (Monk’s Ted Levine) is kidnapping, killing, and subsequently skinning his female victims. Hoping to gain some insight into the murderer, a young FBI trainee named Clarice Starling (Foster) is sent in by her superior Jack Crawford (this time played by a more subtle Scott Glenn) to interview the incarcerated Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins). Lecter develops a sort of fixation for the Probationary Agent Starling, offering her information — in exchange for a look into her childhood memories. This gives the not-so-good doctor an opportunity to sum the greenhorn up, which provides his deadly mind a chance to thrive once again.
The Silence Of The Lambs would go on to win five Academy Awards and lay the groundwork for many a psychological thriller for years to follow. It is, without a doubt, the best of the Hannibal Lecter films made (Manhunter comes in at a close second place). Alas, producer Dino De Laurentiis was not content with letting the character get out of the moviefaring public’s eye — and, ten years later, the sequel Hannibal (2001) came to pass.
Jodie Foster did not want to return (there were also talks that Anthony Hopkins would not reprise his role, either). In her stead was the less-spectacular Julianne Moore, who amazed audiences worldwide by not actually flaunting her body parts around for a change. The story took place ten years later, and director Ridley Scott (who lost all credibility when he made that Italian sword-and-sandal retread, Gladiator, but whom the Academy continued to let work just the same) brought us a rather unconvincing follow-up, wherein Special Agent Starling (Moore) is at odds with her resentful male Bureau bosses. Meanwhile, an eccentric and disfigured millionaire (Gary Oldman) — who is also the only survivor of Lecter’s first rampage — has a bounty out on the escaped lunatic. The great Giancarlo Giannini is superb as a greedy Florence police inspector who answers Oldman’s call, and Ray Liotta is pretty much forgettable as a corrupt FBI guy.