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Michael Mann’s Silence Of The Lambs Precursor, Manhunter, Gets The Blu-ray It Deserves

While Manhunter lacks the epic, two-movies-in-one scope of Heat, a case could be that this is Michael Mann’s finest hour. (Personally, I’d call it a draw.) Some inevitably complain that the film’s most extreme ’80s-isms—particularly the soundtrack—have aged badly, but working from Thomas Harris’ inspired second novel (Red Dragon, the book that marks the debut of Hannibal Lecter), Mann made an intricately layered film full of literary conceits and expressive, even surreal cinematic flourishes. Harris’ novel provided the perfect platform for the writer-director to dive deep into several career-long preoccupations: intensive research, procedural precision, and the study of all-consuming obsession. Heat didn’t arrive for another nine years, but the script was written around the same time as Manhunter, while the lessons of Red Dragon were still fresh in Mann’s mind.

Manhunter has had a surprisingly undistinguished life on Blu-ray. A pair of worthwhile DVD special editions were released in 2001, but when the film arrived on Blu-ray in 2009, it was a bare bones disc buried in The Hannibal Lecter Collection. When the film got a standalone releases two years later, it was the same no frills edition in a new package. With that in mind, fans of the film should be thrilled that Shout! Factory has resurrected the old extras (Mann’s insightful commentary, The Manhunter Look, and Inside Manhunter), while also delivering roughly three hours of new material.

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Those old extras can be found on disc two—which also contains the director’s cut in standard definition—while the new material can be found on the first disc, along with the theatrical cut in HD, a still gallery, and the trailer. Unfortunately, Mann has elected not to participate, but we do get fresh thoughts from cinematographer Dante Spinotti, several of the musicians on the underrated, misunderstood soundtrack (in a 42-minute documentary entitled The Music of Manhunter), and key cast members William Petersen, Joan Allen, Tom Noonan, and Brian Cox.

Petersen explains that Mann originally approached him to star in Heat (a few years earlier, he almost landed James Belushi’s role in Thief), only to shoot Manhunter instead. Joan Allen remembers working on the Chicago stage with Petersen and Dennis Farina and recalls a random encounter with Quentin Tarantino, who seized the opportunity to rave about Manhunter. Noonan talks about the pain of working with Mann—he made the actor wax his body hair and do upwards of 50 takes of the “you owe me awe” monologue—and the strategic decision to avoid his fellow cast members during the shoot. Finally, the extremely articulate and insightful Brian Cox reveals that Kevin Kline turned down Petersen’s role (asked why, he said he was too freaked out) and explains that he wouldn’t change a thing about Manhunter—except perhaps the soundtrack.

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