Red Dragon and Manhunter

So 80s man.
"Enter the mind of a serial killer... you may never come back."

"Before the Silence, there was the Dragon"

Hello everyone, welcome to a new week filled with creepy murderers and their half-eaten victims! Today I'm going to be doing something a little bit different, and instead of talking about a single movie I will be talking about two different movies that were both adaptations of the same novel. The first is Manhunter, released in 1986, and the second is Red Dragon, which was released in 2002, as the third and last film in which Anthony Hopkins portrayed Hannibal Lecter. While based on events from the same novel, the two present very different takes on the same plot, in terms of theme and overall tone. This is partially because they were made during very different time periods (the mid 80s have cinematically essentially nothing in common with 2002) but also due to the context in which they were released. Manhunter was released simply as an adaptation of the novel Red Dragon, whereas Red Dragon was released as the third "Hannibal Lecter" movie, and the cultural import of that character had a real impact on the way the movie's plot was framed and presented. Both concern special agent Will Graham as he is brought back on with the FBI in an attempt to stop a serial killer being called "The Tooth Fairy", due to the distinctive bite marks he leaves on his victims. To help him get into the mind of the killer and prevent further victims, Will seeks the insight of Hannibal Lecter, who was the killer behind Graham's last case, before he went into retirement, due to the strain of assuming the mindset of killers to deduce their motives. Lecter of course is a genius and a madman, and has his own motivations for assisting Graham. Now that the basics are established, let's compare and contrast!

One of the biggest differences between the two films has to do with the style that they are presented in. Manhunter is very much an 80s movie, as demonstrated by the use of a lot of strong, vivid colors and the predominance of art deco style architecture. In fact, the use of color cues in the film (which is a signature of director Michael Mann) was one of the major sources of criticism at the time of the films release. The movie uses color tones to signify different things about different scenes, emphasizing cool blues during scenes with Will and his wife, and sickly green tints during scenes with the killer, Francis Dolarhyde. Critics have since warmed to the approach, and critical opinion of the movie in general has improved over time. I think that at the time movies were sort of saturated with that kind of approach, and so critics were just sick of seeing it. Looking back, vivid colors in a movie about a serial killer is kind of novel, as today that movie would be made in grim, dark tones (and certainly we'll see that in Red Dragon). There is a measure of restraint to all the scenes in Manhunter that you also tend not to see in newer movies, an understatement to the direction and the action that tends now to be replaced with shouting and pyrotechnics. There is a fair bit of that in Red Dragon, though I wouldn't say that is out of control in that regard, and the particular scene that comes to mind (when Dolarhyde burns down his house) is actually a thing that happened in the original novel.

It's interesting that his hair is slicked back like Anthony
The way the films begin show where their emphasis differs. Manhunter begins with Will, at home with his wife in Florida, being called upon by Jack Crawford to help with the case. We get background about Will, and his motivations for leaving the FBI, and this sets the tone for the film. Manhunter is very much a movie about Will Graham, and how he relates to the characters of Dolarhyde and Hannibal Lecter. Will's character in Manhunter is very different than in Red Dragon I think, because he is portrayed as a much more anguished person. He is someone who can think like a serial killer, who can gain insight into their thought process, but who is filled with loathing whenever he does so. We can see the psychological toll this work takes on Will, and we also see that he is generally an awkward, socially uncomfortable individual. Edward Norton's portrayal of Graham is generally a lot more confident, and while he is still disturbed by Lecter and by Dolarhyde, we don't see the level of personal unease that William Petersen shows (you may know Petersen as Gil Grisham on CSI, which was inspired in no small part by the emphasis on forensic investigation in Manhunter). If you've seen the Hannibal tv series, I think you'll be able to see the similarities in characterization between Petersen's Will Graham and Hugh Dancy's portrayal (I also am astounded at how similar they look, I think they took a lot of cues from Manhunter in that regard). In Manhunter a lot of parallels are drawn between Graham and Dolarhyde, and those just aren't present in Red Dragon.

It's the fuzzy hair I think
In comparison Red Dragon is less about Will Graham overall. The movie opens with a flashback scene, the scene where Graham confronts and captures Lecter, nearly dying in the process. Immediately this emphasizes the role of Lecter, which makes sense given that this film is a sequel to two other movies focused on Hannibal Lecter (and in particular Anthony Hopkins' portrayal of the character). In Manhunter, Lecter is portrayed by Brian Cox (a prolific performer who has shared two other characters in common with Hopkins) and while he does a worthy job, there's just no comparing to the terrifying portrayal of controlled menace that Hopkins provides in the role. Red Dragon also gives a lot less focus to the forensic side of things, instead showing us a lot more of Dolarhyde's life. Here too we get a more frightening portrayal (Tom Noonan is a scary Dolarhyde, but he can't compare to the physicality and also the sheer insanity of Ralph Fiennes as Francis Dolarhyde. Unlike in Manhunter, Red Dragon really emphasizes the split  personality between Dolarhyde and the Dragon, and we see several scenes from the book not included in Manhunter, most notably a sequence where Dolarhyde eats the William Blake original painting from which he draws his serial killer identity. It is one of the crazier things I have watched a person do in a movie.

Red Dragon also emphasizes the past working, even friendly relationship between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter, a detail that was first introduced by Manhunter, and which did not exist in Red Dragon. This is something that the Hannibal TV series would further emphasize. In this way, the TV series seems to me to be a synthesis of the two films. It's really interesting to note that both Red Dragon and Manhunter were shot by the same cinematographer, and so a number of scenes are extremely reminiscent of one another. In fact, it was eerie to note that a lot of scenes feature identical conversations between characters. Despite this, the two movies give an overall very different impression, and I think that's really because they're telling two different stories, while using the exact same plot, which was super interesting. I honestly think that both are excellent movies worth watching, for totally different reasons.

That's it for today! Join me again on Thursday when we go to a porn store and experience deluded life through the lens of a 20-something would be poet.

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