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Ex-FBI agent Will Graham is an expert investigator who quit the Bureau after almost losing his life in the process of capturing the elusive Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Years later, after a series of particularly grisly murders, Graham reluctantly agrees to come out of retirement and assist in the mysterious case. But he soon realizes that the best way to catch this killer, known as the Tooth Fairy, is to find a way to get inside the killer's mind. And the closest thing to that would be to probe the mind of another killer who is equally brilliant and twisted. For Graham, that means confronting his past and facing his former nemesis, the now-incarcerated Dr. Lecter.
For more about Red Dragon and the Red Dragon Blu-ray release, see Red Dragon Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on October 22, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Director: Brett Ratner
Writer: Ted Tally
Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton, Ralph Fiennes, Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel, Philip Seymour Hoffman
» See full cast & crew
Red Dragon Blu-ray Review
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, October 22, 2010
Why do people go to scary movies? Is there some psychological doctoral thesis on this subject which sheds light on the really rather peculiar human need to be frightened out one's wits? Is there an endorphin rush after the shock that makes it all worthwhile? What about the slow, steady spread of terror when you watch a film pitting a raving madman against an investigator who's also a family man, which you know in your heart of hearts is going to end with a showdown between good (sweet little nuclear family in a sylvan domestic setting) and evil (rabid killer, usually with some sort of threateningly sharp object in hand)? From Night of the Hunter to Cape Fear, these well worn clichés seem never to lose their adrenaline-pumping value, nor their audience appeal. Do our onscreen victims serve as scapegoats for our most buried fears that our own families may well become subject to the vagaries of unpredictable elements out in the real world?
I certainly have no easy answers for any of these quandaries, and yet as I watched Red Dragon, the second film adaptation of Thomas Harris' novel (Michael Mann's excellent Manhunter was the first) which introduced iconic serial killer Hannibal Lecter to the world, I couldn't help asking them. When one is confronted by such deliberate and deliberative evil as is embodied in the character of Hannibal Lecter, one is forced, perhaps unwillingly, to confront a whole host of issues about how reality, and indeed good and evil, are perceived. That certainly is brought home in the character of FBI agent Will Graham (Edward Norton), who in the riveting prelude to this film figures out that Lecter, who in his guise as a world famous psychiatrist has been aiding in the search for a serial killer, is himself the madman for whom he's been searching. That leads to a viscerally exciting showdown scene where both men are horribly wounded, leading both to Lecter's imprisonment and Graham's retirement from the force. But Red Dragon is actually a ménage a trois of sorts, as Graham ends up needing Lecter's assistance in tracking down another vicious serial killer, one who preys on young families, known as the Tooth Fairy Killer.
Those of you who like to play what call the "Academy Awards Game" may know that the only three times one film has managed to sweep the four major categories—Best Film, Actor, Actress and Director—were It Happened One Night in 1934, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest in 1975 and The Silence of the Lambs over 50 years later. The Silence of the Lambs caught the public's fancy, and fear factor, rather amazingly in the early weeks of 1991, and it's testament to the film's impact that it was remembered more than a year later when Oscar time came around, certainly not always the case even with films of this stature. Real Hannibal Lecter fans knew that Michael Mann had tackled the elegant and disturbing character five years previously, when the director was still red hot (or at least pastel pink hot) from Miami Vice, in his 1986 film Manhunter. In that version, a pre-CSI William Petersen was Graham and Brian Cox played Lecter. However Manhunter, being pre-Silence of the Lambs, never really concentrated on the horrors of Hannibal's reign, and instead treated the character as a supporting element in Graham's attempts to capture the Tooth Fairy.
Manhunter, despite being impeccably stylish in that almost patented Mann way, was a box office disappointment, and very few remembered it by the time Silence of the Lambs came along. When Silence became such a phenomenon, however, there was a great deal of renewed interest in Manhunter, and a bevy of fans (and critics) called it superior to even Demme's Oscar-fest. The two films are really polar opposites, despite being linked by the Lecter character. Mann's is flashy and hyperbolic, as was his wont back then, despite Petersen's tamped down portrayal of Graham. Demme's is subdued, a slow and increasingly sinister trip through a nightmare world that is almost Fellini-esque in its surrealism. Both films are immensely "entertaining" (if films this disturbing can even be termed that), but in completely different ways.
Director Brett Ratner forges a sort of middle ground between Mann and Demme with his version of Red Dragon. Ratner of course benefits immensely from an audience already primed for the "delicious" (pun intended) terrors of Hannibal Lecter, and he and scenarist Ted Tally (who also adapted The Silence of the Lambs) use that familiarity to bring Lecter much more to the center of this story than he was in Manhunter. Anthony Hopkins, reprising the role which won him the Oscar, is somewhat hobbled by the passing years as he attempts to play the character who in this film is supposed to be several years younger than he was in The Silence of the Lambs. Despite that visual disparity, not exactly ameliorated by makeup or the addition of a silly ponytail for the character, Hopkins is really rather subdued as Lecter this time around, with little overt scenery (and/or victim) chewing involved. That puts the shock value squarely in the hands of Ralph Fiennes' turn as Francis Dolarhyde, the Tooth Fairy. But here Ratner and Tally actually surprise us somewhat, painting yet another emotionally barren character who just happens to go around murdering families as his "hobby". This very understated approach is a large part of what makes Red Dragon so effective and extremely creepy; it's as if Ratner and Tally are telling the audience that even that mild mannered clerk at the mall could turn out to be your worst nightmare.
Ratner has proven himself quite an able stager of action sequences, as he's shown repeatedly in everything from his Rush Hour films to his X Men outing, but what may surprise some who are familiar with his oeuvre is the uniform excellence of the performances here. Though Hopkins doesn't get to display the hyperbolic manic depression he did in Silence of the Lambs, his understated, almost somnambulistic coolness is extremely unsettling. Fiennes is creepiness personified as put upon abuse victim become serial killer Dolarhyde. Norton is cool and collected, as intellectually astute as he almost always is in every role he plays, but he brings a really viscerally aware emotional import to the scenes where he has to view the death sites of various families, and, later, when he has to defend his own. The supporting cast is filled with a number of excellent turns, including Harvey Keitel as Norton's boss, Philip Seymour Hoffman as a smarmy tabloid reporter and Emily Watson as a blind woman with whom Dolarhyde falls in love.
There's certainly no way Red Dragon could have captured the same lightning that Silence of the Lambs did, if only because Silence came first and the audience was prepared for the mayhem. There are certainly those who insist Manhunter is the more exciting of the two adaptations, but each film has its own merits to recommend it. In fact, there are really very few opportunities filmgoers get to compare two adaptations of the same source material which were filmed within just a few years of each other. It might give you nightmares, but a perfect Hallowe'en double feature might be Manhunter and Red Dragon.
Red Dragon Blu-ray, Video Quality
Red Dragon looks as sharp as a filet knife on this AVC encoded 1080p Blu-ray, in a 2.38:1 aspect ratio. Universal loves DNR, as many BD fans already know, and while there may have been some minor digital scrubbing here, it never rises to the heights we've seen in some other Universal catalog releases. Grain texture is largely intact and the entire film is often breathtakingly gorgeous, rather odd considering its unseemly content. The Florida sequences are jaw droppingly beautiful, with wonderfully robust color which is stunningly saturated without ever going over the edge into blooming territory. Contrast and black levels are really exceptional here, with the many shadow-strewn segments offering abundant detail. No artifacting of any import was noticed and fine detail throughout this presentation is strong and very clear.
Red Dragon Blu-ray, Audio Quality
There aren't a wealth of opportunities in Red Dragon for knock your socks off surround activity, but given that caveat, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix here is surprisingly nuanced, able to craft a subliminal stratum of terror with simple, everyday sounds of households. There is some fun surround activity in some of the shock scenes, and some of the sound effects are spectacularly successful. Listen for the "whoosh" of Lecter's initial attack on Graham in the film's prelude for one sterling example. Dialogue here is very clear and well presented, and the mix between dialogue, the ubiquitous sound effects and Danny Elfman's excellent score is very well handled. In fact, it's really splendidly handled at times when all three elements are in play simultaneously, as in the climactic fire scene. Surround activity in scenes like this really comes alive and immerses the listener in a very evocative and scary soundfield.
Red Dragon Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
A glut of SD supplements ported over from the previous Collector's Edition SD-DVD augment the main feature:
Red Dragon Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Red Dragon occupies a solid place in the Hannibal Lecter filmography. While it's true that Manhunter is probably more stylish, Red Dragon is exceedingly effective on its own terms and offers a chance for some A-listers to turn in some unusual performances. Ratner shows an uncommon aptitude for actors in this outing, and while some may decry the build up to the inevitable showdown between the evil serial killer and the good and decent family man, Red Dragon offers a good deal of disturbing scares getting there. Recommended.
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Red Dragon Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Red Dragon Blu-ray Announced - July 14, 2010
Universal Studios Home Entertainment has announced Red Dragon for release on Blu-ray on October 12. This crime thriller, directed by Brett Ratner and starring Anthony Hopkins, is the second adaptation of Thomas Harris's novel (the first one was Manhunter, only ...
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