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Red Dragon: Director's Edition

The arrival of Red Dragon in 2002 begs one obvious question: Was there really any need for it? Based on the first "Hannibal Lecter" novel by Thomas Harris, the story had already been directed by Michael Mann in his 1986 Manhunter, and Brett Ratner's update does little to expand plot-wise on Mann's picture (save an extended introduction and ending). And for those familiar with the '80s rendition, the proceedings this time around can be a bit underwhelming, since we already know pretty much what's going to happen and how it all will end. It's not Gus Van Sant doing a shot-for-shot remake of Manhunter, but it still has the distinctive whiff of deja vu. At least it's somewhat easier to discern just why this film was made: Anthony Hopkins playing Hannibal Lecter on the big screen equals money. He wasn't in Manhunter (the role back then went to the far more subtle Brian Cox), and with two Harris renditions under his straitjacket, one more time around would be yet another payday for Hopkins, scenarist Ted Tally, and producer Dino De Laurentiis, who essentially owns the Lecter character on screen. At least the new cast is pleasant enough bunch. Edward Norton stars as FBI Agent Will Graham, a "profiler" who has a distinctive knack for catching serial killers thanks to his ability to "see" into their motivations and temporarily inhabit their personalities. His professional colleague Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins) describes the detective's gift as a form of "imagination," but Graham isn't quite clever enough to know that the sophisticated Lecter actually is the notorious "Chesapeake Ripper" until moments before the good doctor tries to kill him. Graham survives the attack and retires to the Florida Keys, still emotionally disturbed from his years of service with the Bureau. And there he would stay, were it not for a new killer, "The Tooth Fairy," causing FBI director Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel) to pull his top agent back into the game. The only problem is that Graham often was only as good as his sources, and his best one — Lecter — is permanently lodged at a Maryland psychiatric hospital. Reluctantly, Graham approaches the fiendish physician for his insights into the new case.

*          *          *

For those not familiar with Manhunter, Red Dragon likely will be an entertaining movie — the source story holds up well, particularly with its attention to police work. For the rest of us, the chief entertainment comes from watching the new cast. Ed Norton is a welcome actor in any role, and he brings his usual intensity to this film, although at times he seems a bit too low key for his own good. Harvey Keitel dons the part of Jack Crawford with appropriate authority, and Emily Watson as the luckless, blind Reba McClane is a beautiful, sympathetic figure. Meanwhile, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Tattler reporter Freddy Lounds is magnificent simply because he's PSH, and nobody can play an annoyed, burned-out, arrogant prick to better perfection (watch how Hoffman sells everything he says by underplaying every line, every word). But Hannibal movies aren't supposed to be about subtlety, and it's none other than the estimable Ralph Fiennes who gets the part of "Tooth Fairy" Francis Dolarhyde, the speech-impeded serial killer who's slowly going wacko while convinced he's about to transform into a superhuman entity. Sure, Fiennes is up for the part of the wounded man unable to cope with his afflictions — the fact that he also was willing to run around tattooed and naked hollerin' like a hyena also proves he's a pretty good sport. But our raison d'etre remains Anthony Hopkins, and perhaps we should be glad that this will be the last Hannibal film in the foreseeable future. His first shot at the role in 1990's Silence of the Lambs was an entertaining study of threat and menace, but in this incarnation it's as if he's simply been wheeled out for one more curtain call, reading the lines but failing to suggest the doomed humanity that lies within the monster. It's a shame to realize that this talented actor has been dining out on the same dinner story for some time, and by now it's gone cold. Universal's two-disc Red Dragon director's edition features a solid anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) with Dolby Digital 5.1 audio. Features on Disc One include a commentary track with director Brett Ratner and screenwriter Ted Tally, an isolated score with comments from composer Danny Elfman, a copy of Lecter's "case file" (covering all three films), a "making-of" featurette, the short "Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer" with FBI profiler John Douglas, brief comments from Hopkins, and deleted, alternate, and extended scenes on three separate reels. On Disc Two, features include a director's video diary, a look at the Leeds house crime scene, a featurette on the visual effects, a look at the burning wheelchair stunt, screen tests, storyboards, a look at the makeup, and a student film by Ratner. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case.

(Editor's Note: Red Dragon also is available in a single-disc version with the Disc One supplements, in either anamoprhic 2.35:1 or pan-and-scan transfers.)

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