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Blu-ray Reviews

HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: The Hannibal Lecter Collection



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#1 of 6 Cameron Yee

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Posted September 28 2009 - 04:37 PM

http://static.hometh...-5706_front.jpg">   THE FEATURES SPECIAL FEATURES Video 1080p high definition 16x9 2.35:1 / 1.85:1 / 1.85:1 480i or 480p standard definition; 1080p high definition Audio DTS-HD Master Audio: English 5.1 / Dolby Digital: French 5.1, Spanish 2.1 Stereo Subtitles English SDH, Spanish / Additionally Cantonese, Korean, Mandarin on "Silence of the Lambs" None

The Collection: 3/5

MGM's "The Hannibal Lecter Collection" includes the films "Manhunter," "The Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal." There are other films featuring or including the Lecter character - "Red Dragon" (a 2002 remake of the first film) and "Hannibal Rising" (a Lecter origin story) - but since they were made by other studios, they are not included in MGM's three-disc set.

Though "Silence of the Lambs" came out on Blu-ray last March, this is the first time the other films have been available on Blu-ray in the United States and Canada. Unfortunately, they are only available through this collection, not as individual titles. This is probably acceptable for someone who doesn't own any of the films, but for those who already have "Silence of the Lambs," have been waiting for "Manhunter" and could do without "Hannibal" (which I believe describes the majority of collectors) it becomes a harder choice. While "The Silence of the Lambs" is a no-brainer and the technical presentation of "Manhunter" is generally very good, "Hannibal" has mediocre video quality and is devoid of extras, incentives it needs to be worth owning. Unlike "Manhunter," the film by itself is not enough to do it and makes the collection as a whole difficult to recommend. Ultimately, I can only see the release appealing to those who are starting from scratch, and even then I would only recommend it reluctantly, suggesting instead to wait until each release is available separately.

Continue reading for evaluation of each disc in the collection, which includes content from my March 2009 review of the "Silence of the Lambs" on Blu-ray.

Manhunter

The Feature: 3.5/5

Retired FBI profiler Will Graham (William Petersen) is about to break a promise. Having previously captured Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (Brian Cox), a serial killer who targeted college women, Graham was the best, but his uncanny ability to get inside the head of his suspect came at a great psychological cost. When he could no longer stop thinking like Lecktor, it was time for him to stop profiling and retire to a peaceful life by the ocean with his wife and son.

But a new serial killer - dubbed the Tooth Fairy - has the bureau stumped and Graham's former boss Jack Crawford (Dennis Farina) decides to take a chance and ask him to come back. Graham reluctantly commits, compelled in part by a need for closure, and it's not long before he begins finding new clues and leads. He even pays a visit to Lecktor in hopes of getting extra insight into the killer's identity. But Lecktor may be more than just an interested observer, he might be involved somehow, once more putting Graham, and now his loved ones, in danger.

Marking the first appearance of Lecter (spelled "Lecktor" in this iteration), "Manhunter" feels tame in comparison to the thrills and dread of "The Silence of the Lambs." The Doctor certainly is more conventional, his crimes simply summarized as murders of college women, with no mention of any predilection for consuming human flesh. The elements involving the Tooth Fairy hit the right notes, but ultimately too much time is spent on Graham and his internal struggles than on the case. As a result the conclusion, which includes Joan Allen as an inadvertent Tooth Fairy love interest and victim, feels rushed and underdeveloped. Though the film has a strong cult following, I actually prefer the 2002 remake, which devotes more attention to the killer's psychological background and introduces the love interest earlier. Of course neither compares to "Silence," the film that permanently embedded Lecter into the pop culture consciousness.

Video Quality: 4/5

The film is correctly framed at 2.35:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec. The transfer exhibits solid and inky black levels and decent shadow detail and contrast. Overall sharpness is quite good, though there are a few moments of source-related softness and fine object detail is mostly average. The color palette is muted and cool, typical of both the era's film stock and director Michael Mann's work, but shows sufficient depth in the few moments of deep color (sunsets and ocean waves). Grain is visible throughout most of the film, along with some occasional noise, but it's not distracting and suits the gritty subject matter. The transfer also shows no major blemishes - only an occasional bit of "sparkle" - and is likewise free of obvious edge enhancement and noise reduction measures.

Audio Quality: 3/5

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track provides light surround activity in support of the score and some environmental effects (which can sound a bit dated in both their character and fidelity), but otherwise it's a front and center presentation with consistently clear and intelligible dialogue. There's decent bass activity related to the electronic elements of the score, but LFE is absent. Overall it's a track that gets the job done but also shows its age on occasion.

Special Features: 0/5

No extra features are included.

Recap

The Feature: 3.5/5
Video Quality: 4/5
Audio Quality: 3/5
Special Features: 0/5
Overall Score (not an average): 3.5/5


The film marking Lecter's first appearance gets decent technical treatment but no special feature items.


The Silence of the Lambs

The Feature: 5/5

A film has reached a certain pop culture significance when a broad TV comedy like "The Office" can reference it with only the name "Clarice" and some slurping sounds. In fact I'd wager that even if someone hasn't seen "The Silence of the Lambs" (or read Thomas Harris's novel) they still know who Hannibal Lecter is and what he's known for, after years of jokes and impressions of the film's most memorable character. So you'd think after 18 years of both praise and parody that the film would somehow be diminished, that Lecter would have lost his teeth by now. Well, time and the continuing pop culture references haven't done it and neither have the dim sequels and prequels that followed in its wake of success. "The Silence of the Lambs" continues to be as horrific and permeated with dread as it was when it first hit theaters, thanks in large part to the cast that features Anthony Hopkins as the high class serial killer Lecter and Jodie Foster as the strong, but beautifully vulnerable, FBI-agent-in-training Clarice Starling. But much can also be said about director Jonathan Demme's guiding hand that knows how to pace and build up to horror rather than just spring it on a person like a cat leaping from a cupboard. In fact I can't say the film contains any horror movie tropes of that ilk, going for something more subtle and nuanced, which explains its continuing appeal and its broad success at the time (Academy Awards for Hopkins, Foster and Demme and the award for Best Picture). As rare as it is for a horror film to win an Oscar, rarer still is a film that loses none of its impact from either time or exposure.

Video Quality: 3.5/5

Though my score is consistent with other sites' video quality evaluations, I would recommend reading Robert Harris's "A Few Words About" thread on the subject. While I have done my best to describe what I see and offered some guesses as to the cause, Harris is truly the expert in such matters, and ultimately I defer to his expertise. The following is what I wrote in my original review.

The film is accurately framed at 1.85:1 and presented in 1080p with the MPEG-2 codec. The film's drab and dreary color palette doesn't prove to be much of a challenge for the format, with fleshtones veering toward the bluish-green for most of the film. Overall contrast can be a little flat, with inconsistent black levels that don't always plumb the darkest depths. The second visit between Clarice and Lecter, where Lecter is swallowed up in shadow, is a prime example of the black level limitations, with things looking more gray than inky. Detail and sharpness show similar levels of inconsistency, looking quite pleasing at times but at others looking a touch hazy or soft. Skin surfaces in close ups often look waxy or smudged, a sure sign of noise reduction, though at other times the softness looks like the result of extremely shallow depth-of-field (of course the transfer cannot be faulted for the latter). The occasional telltale loss of detail in wide shots further points to the use of filtering, though fortunately there seems to be no attempts to compensate for its side effects with sharpening measures. Overall, I would label the transfer as inconsistent, the presence of noise reduction being the most bothersome. For a taste of what might have been, check out the high definition theatrical trailer in the special features. There's much more visible grain structure (not a bad thing) and a much more satisfying level of detail.

Audio Quality: 3.5/5

The DTS-HD Master Audio track is front heavy with clear and intelligible dialogue taking (literal) center stage. Surround activity is limited to support for the soundtrack and some mild wraparound effects in a few key scenes. LFE is non-existent of course, but bass response seems appropriate for the material.

Special Features: 4/5

The special features package includes the majority of items from MGM's 2001 Special Edition and 2004 Collector's Edition. As expected, some of the special features from the Criterion Collection release, which included an audio commentary with Hopkins and Foster, remain absent. However, this Blu-Ray does have a new picture-in-picture video commentary that includes the two leads, though the feature itself could have been better implemented. Perhaps then the photo gallery could have been carried over too. As it is, it's a nearly complete package of extras, though, after awhile, a bit repetitive in terms of actual information. Items are in high definition where noted.

"Breaking the Silence" Video Commentary: The new feature has interview clips with the actors Foster, Hopkins, Scott Glenn, Anthony Heald, Kasi Lemmons and screenwriter Ted Tally, along with various factoids related to the film. The clips are hard coded onto a standard definition transfer of the film, which is a pretty regressive technique considering the Blu-Ray format has a picture-in-picture feature tailor-made for this sort of thing.

Understanding the Madness (19:35): FBI and other law enforcement professionals provide a history of criminal profiling and talk about the film's major influences. In high definition with stereo audio.

Inside the Labyrinth (1:03:00): 2001 retrospective documentary includes interviews with Hopkins, Foster and other members of the cast and crew and covers major topics like development, the characters, set design, protests from the gay community and the Academy Awards.

Page to Screen (41:17): Cable channel program covers some familiar territory but places more emphasis on the source material, the optioning of the novel and early development efforts.

Scoring the Silence (16:00): Composer Howard Shore reflects on writing the music, and shares the philosophy and goals behind the project.

1991 "Making Of" (8:08): A brief, archival behind-the-scenes look at the production.

Deleted Scenes (20:32): Twenty-two scenes.

Outtakes (1:45): Actors struggle with latex gloves, get their lines wrong and goof off.

Anthony Hopkins Phone Message (00:33): Hopkins leaves an outgoing message for the answering machine.

TV Spots (5:55): Eight spots.

Theatrical Trailer (1:50): In high definition with stereo audio.

Teaser Trailer (1:05)

Recap

The Feature: 5/5
Video Quality: 3.5/5
Audio Quality: 3.5/5
Special Features: 4/5
Overall Score (not an average): 4/5


An enduring and masterful contemporary horror film gets an average presentation and a fine - if at times redundant - set of special features.


Hannibal

The Feature: 2/5

It's been 10 years since Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore, taking over for Foster) and Dr. Lecter had their fateful meeting. Though he has remained the deadly charmer, laying low as an academic in Italy, she has become hard and cynical, a result of both her continuing work for the FBI and the gender politics that permeate the agency. When a drug raid she's leading goes awry, it becomes a major career setback, prompting Lecter to come out of retirement to "encourage" his old friend. Meanwhile, Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), one of Lecter's former patients and his only surviving victim, is poised to exact his revenge, manipulating all the players in a way that would do his former psychiatrist proud.

Foregoing much of the subtlety and dreadful tone of its predecessor, "Hannibal" instead embraces the graphic and gorey along with excesses of plot and character. The horribly mutilated and flamboyant Verger character serves as the perfect symbol of this new direction. Though the film doesn't go so far as to become self-parodying, Lecter is now more entertaining than frightful, his folksy quips and silky demeanor played more to elicit fan reaction than to help tell a story. Though no sequel could have lived up to "Silence," it's surprising how readily "Hannibal" seemed to abandon what made the other film so great, though by all accounts the problems can be traced back to the source material, a novel that seemed to generate similarly unfavorable reviews. As a completionist, it's hard to simply skip over the film - Starling's character evolution is interesting as are the details about Lecter's past crimes - but ultimately the movie can only be viewed as a disappointment, another example of a sequel gone wrong.

Video Quality: 2.5/5

The film is correctly framed at 1.85:1 and presented in 1080p with the MPEG2 codec. Contained to a single layer Blu-ray disc, the transfer's sharpness is problematic and its fine object detail limited. Consistently veiled in a haziness, the image appears only slightly better than upscaled standard definition. Visible edge halos further detract from the presentation, indicating the transfer was subjected to the deadly combination of noise filtering and image sharpening. Looking past the obvious, color rendition, black levels and contrast are actually decent, but they're not enough to make up for the transfer's other deficiencies.

Audio Quality: 4/5

The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track features balanced and detailed surround activity that provides support for the score and environmental and atmospheric sound effects. LFE, mostly present in scenes involving firearms, is strong and clean. Dialogue is consistently clear and intelligible.

Special Features: 0/5

No extras relevant to the feature are included, only three high definition trailers for "The Silence of the Lambs," "The Usual Suspects," and "Bulletproof Monk."

Recap

The Feature: 2/5
Video Quality: 2.5/5
Audio Quality: 4/5
Special Features: 0/5
Overall Score (not an average): 2/5


A disappointing sequel gets divergent video and audio presentations and a practically non-existent special features package.

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#2 of 6 Michael Reuben

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Posted September 29 2009 - 12:56 AM

Thanks, Cameron. You just saved me some money.

Since I already own Silence, the only reason for me to get this collection is for a decent treatment of Hannibal (which I rate more highly than most people). But a single layer isn't nearly enough to give the film its visual due, and the failure to include any of the wealth of special features from the DVD edition is . . . I would say "shocking" if it weren't so typical for Fox's handling of the MGM catalogue.

As for Manhunter, you're going to get this question anyway; so it might as well come from a friendly source: There have been numerous versions over the years, and I've given up trying to keep track. Is there any indication (or any way for you to determine) which version of the film has been used here? If it's the theatrical cut, there are people who may buy this trilogy for that alone.
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#3 of 6 Worth

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Posted September 29 2009 - 01:25 AM

"Manhunter" is definitely the theatrical cut. It's the same as the previous MGM dvd. I saw the film several times upon theatrical release and became very familiar with it. It's also an excellent transfer - very film-like.

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#4 of 6 Michael Reuben

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Posted September 29 2009 - 01:57 AM

Thanks, Nick. Maybe we'll get lucky and see a single-disc release down the line.
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#5 of 6 bosque

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Posted September 29 2009 - 09:08 AM

This is also being discussed in Robert Harris' thread about the trilogy.  Although I too would rather get a single-disc release of Manhunter, it appears that MGM have the rights to the original theatrical cut (which is the best IMO).  A UK 2 disc set released by Momentum in 2003 also contains what is described as a "theatrical" cut which is different to the MGM release (it's missing Wil Graham's lines about the killer, "his heart bleeding for him, someone took a kid and made him into a monster".   I'm sure I recall that Michael Mann was no longer happy with those lines and, where he was able to, got them removed.  This gives me the impression that the MGM theatrical may go OOP for a while rather than be re-issued as a stand-alone disc.

#6 of 6 Neil Middlemiss

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Posted October 14 2009 - 03:07 AM

This collection is available at Amazon for just $31.99 (click on the link in the review to buy) - thats just a smidge over ten bucks each...Just in time for my Halloween movie marathon !
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