Red Dragon
R4 - Australia - Universal Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (31st July 2004).
The Film

In 1981 novelist Thomas Harris conceived one of the most terrifying figures in popular literature, Doctor Hannibal Lecter, the book was Red Dragon. Having been a moderate best seller it sparked a film adaptation that was loosely based on his book. In 1986 TV producer and creator of the hot show Miami Vice, Michael Mann helmed that film re-titled to Manhunter and cast actor Brian Cox to play the role of Hannibal. The contemporary cops-and-robbers melodrama was told with a very Miami Vice-esque slick style that didn't really register at the box office. The film was quickly dismissed and only managed to gross about half its production cost. Since its release the film has garnered a cult following, but it wasn't until a decade later that Hannibal would resurface again, this time in the low-budget thriller Silence of the Lambs in 1991. Filmmaker Jonathan Demme who until then made a string of forgettable films helmed the picture with an A-list star Jodie Foster and classically trained actor Anthony Hopkins released in February of 1991, the film became an instant hit, later that year garnering a slew of Oscar nominations and winning all 5 of the top honours including, Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay. Ever since then Hannibal has been an icon in popular culture. The popularity of the character spawned a series of spoofs, and commercials that imitate Anthony Hopkins' performance. Phrases from the film where memorized and spoken of by people around the world. But it was ten years later that the Character of Hannibal would make it back to the big screen, it would have been sooner had the rights of the film not been tangled in a legal web that took a decade to untangle this time at the hands of producer Dino De Laurentiis, the production of the third film in the Lecter series was a bumpy road, none of the principle crew would return, Demme passed as did screenwriter Ted Tally, even Jodie Foster declined to reprise her Oscar-winning role as Agent Clarice Starling. A complete over-haul occurred this time with director Ridley Scott hot off the heels of Gladiator, the film generated an unprecedented amount of hype, but eventually was received with mixed reviews from both audiences and the media. The film very different in structure and style to Silence of the Lambs although a box-office hit didn't quite live up to its predecessor. But that didn't stop De Laurentiis to continue to exploit the character's popularity, soon after Hannibal finished its theatrical run yet another Hannibal film was announced, this time a re-make of Manhunter. The first and original book was going to get an update, Red Dragon went into production in 2001. The project attracted a lot of attention, as Silence of the Lambs screenwriter Ted Tally signed on to pen this version, A-list Hollywood names where all in the vying for a role in what was said to be an incredible script. But it was the choice of director that confused a few people, Brett Ratner who made a name for himself making the action comedies Rush Hour and Rush Hour 2 was commissioned to take on this project. An odd choice for a director to be sure, can this guy really pull out a physiological thriller? Or will it bomb? But in 2002 those initial fears where put to rest as the prequel to Silence premiered to great reviews and a greater box-office reception.
In Red Dragon, FBI Special Agent Will Graham (Edward Norton) has been called out of early retirement to catch a serial killer, known by authorities as "The Tooth Fairy" (Ralph Finnes). But in order to do so he asks for the help of his arch-nemesis and the man who he captured and jailed, Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, Graham requires Lecter's knowledge and experience in killer profiling to help him catch "The Tooth Fairy" and bring him to justice. The only problem is that "The Tooth Fairy" is getting inside information about Graham and his family from none other than Dr. Lecter. A cat-and-mouse game ensues between Lecter, Graham and "The Tooth Fairy", but Graham must find him before another victim is found. To make matters worse a media rat Freddy Lounds (Philip Seymour Hoffman) is snoopy at the case and trying to expose Graham's involvement with Lecter to catch this serial killer for his next big scoop. All elements culminate to one seriously thrilling conclusion.
Red Dragon is generally a well-crafted piece of cinema, all the elements are there for an enjoyable ride, well-performed characters, excellent set pieces, crazy killers and suspenseful action. But it does fall a little short, in the sense that although it is well made, the script does feel a like a paint-by-numbers effort. As far as thrillers go you won't see anything new here, the charm or rather entertaining aspects of the film lies with its main character Lecter, it's always gratifying to see Hopkins back in the role that he is most remembered for. Other performances in the film also standout, for example Ralph Finnes' "The Tooth Fairy" AKA Francis Dolarhyde is equally disturbing as the flawed serial killer with a sensitive side.
The film itself is full of tense moments, some that will make you jump and other that will make you sick (especially the crime-scene walk-through) it's no secret that the production value on this film was high so what we get are very accurate and often gruesome scenes. It's debatable whether this film is better than Manhunter, or whether it should have been made, either way this film doesn't demerit the Lecter franchise, it's a worthy addition and a far better film than Hannibal was.

Video

Presented in the film's original ratio of 2.35:1 this anamorphic transfer is rather sharp, colour detail is spot on with much of the film carrying the same look as Silence of the Lambs. The transfer for the majority is clean, I did come across a few instances of dirt and artefacts on the print, some more noticeable that others but nothing that was too annoying or distracting, I also noticed some shimmer as a result of the interlacing of the video. Other than these two minor problems the transfer was adequate.

Audio

This DVD features two Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks and two DTS soundtracks each in English and Hungarian. For the purposes of this review I viewed the film in both the English DTS and English Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks.
The DTS tracks comes across very well, dialogue is clear and surround effects are also well-placed, there are a few set pieces in this film that utilize the 5.1 separation with great depth, primarily with the explosion of the Dolarhyde residence near the end of the film. The most standout aspect of this surround track is the presence of the excellent music score, which virtually immerses you within it.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is fairly similar to the DTS one, the only difference I noticed between the two was the volume levels of the dialogue, I found myself having to increase the volume on the DD 5.1 a few times.
The DVD also features subtitles in English and Hungarian.

Extras

DISC ONE
The first extra you'll find on the first disc is the audio commentary by director Brett Ratner and screenwriter Ted Tally. For those familiar with Ratner commentaries (as seen on the Rush Hour DVDs) he approaches them with an over exuberant and easily excitable attitude, constantly talking fast and moving from one topic to the next almost as if trying to keep up with what's happening onscreen, which can sometimes be hard to follow. During his torrent of speech he manages to let us know about certain complexities involved in making a film such as this, but is usually confined to letting us know which are his favourite scenes, shots, camera angles etc. This track also includes Ted Tally who manages to question Ratner throughout the track almost like a moderator would, but also adding his own insights of the project to the track by discussing the writing challenges.

The second extra you'll find on disc one is an isolated music score with additional commentary by the composer Danny Elfman. The track itself showcases the musical work created for the film, so all dialogue, sound effects etc are muted. Elfman jumps in occasionally during the track to talk about the different pieces of music he composed and how they fit into the film.

Also featured on the first disc is a series of DVD-ROM extras for your PC, you get to visit the Red Dragon Total Access interface which allows you to view some text based extras and access to the universal site as well.

These extras (mainly the commentaries) are also subtitled in both English and Hungarian.

DISC TWO
Once you've popped disc two into your player you'll find where the majority of the supplements are kept.

You'll first come across the Making-Of Red Dragon this featurette runs at 14 minutes 20 seconds, is your standard EPK style with a lot of back patting from the crew. For a making-of there is very little explanation for how the film was made.

The second featurette entitled Anthony Hopkins: Lecter and I is a brief 4 minute 26 second interview with actor Anthony Hopkins as he discusses the impact the character of Hannibal has had on his life and career.

The next brief featurette entitled The Burning Wheelchair in 4 minutes and 10 seconds we get to see how this scene was created by the stunt team.

Following that we get a Visual Effects featurette, running at 4 minutes 27 seconds we get to see the evolution of some scenes as they undergo CGI additions or enhancements.

The next extra you'll discover is the Storyboards to Final Feature Comparison running a total of 8 minutes 40 seconds this is an exploration of 4 segments from the film you'll see a split screen at the top is the final film version and at the bottom the storyboard equivalent. You get four comparisons, the first for Scene 6 in which Graham discovers that Lecter is a serial killer while going through his office from the beginning of the film, the second comparison is for Scene 156 in which Dolarhyde is about to set his house on fire. The third Scene 154-157 sees the authorities approaching the Dolarhyde house on fire and the explosion and finally we also get a comparison of Scene 167-169 of the final confrontation at Graham's Florida home.

Once you've explored the comparisons the next extra is notably the best one on the disc, it's Brett Ratner's Video Diary running in at 39 minutes 26 seconds, this feature is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of this film from the perspective of the director as he readies the project from pre-production to completion. We get access to location scouts, the shooting of scenes, and the post-production process like recording the score for the film and segments from the premiere.

The next extra is a series of camera tests entitled Screen and Film Tests this 11 minute 43 second featurette is narrated by Brett Ratner, director of photography Dante Spinotti and special make-up effects man Matthew Mungle. Here we see camera tests for hair, Lecter's cell, blood, teeth and cleft palate, fire, Graham's wardrobe, mask and tattoo tests.

Next we have some Make-up Application footage, which runs for a short 46 seconds and is narrated by Brett Ratner and special make-up effects man Matthew Mungle, here we see the application of the mirror eyes on the characters for the Leeds crime scene.

Following that is a FBI Profile: Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer featurette, which runs for 8 minutes and 18 seconds. This is basically an interview with former FBI profiler John Douglas, who worked on Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal as well as Red Dragon as an advisor, he explains here how a profile is created based on certain crimes to help agents better understand the criminal in which they are searching for.

The final featurette on the disc is the Leeds House Crime Scene this 3 minute 39 second feature explains how Technical advisors where employed to help re-create authentically accurate crime scenes for the film.

Next up on the menu are the DVD-ROM features, which are the same as seen on the first disc.

Following that we can now view the Additional Scenes, this section is broken up into three sub-menus. The first for Deleted Scenes, which include optional commentary by Brett Ratner and editor Mark Helfrich, the deleted scenes are:

- Will looks at sleeping Josh - a nice scene where we see Graham admiring his son.
- Chilton and Graham walking down the hallway - a scene where Graham is going to visit Hannibal in his cell, this scene features the two conversing about Hannibal.
- The Cat Grave - a scene where Graham outside the second crime scene discovers a cat grave, insinuating that the Tooth Fairy killed the cat as well.
- Will talks to Josh about Lecter - a scene just as the title suggests.
- Lecter watches the Leed's video tape - a scene where Lecter is given access to more information about the crime scenes.
- Josh gets more ingredients - a short scene that was cut for time reasons.
- Lounds reads letter into tape recorder - in the film you see the tape being played, here we see him actually making the recording.

The next sub menu gives us access to Alternate Versions of Scenes, which also include optional commentary by Brett Ratner and editor Mark Helfrich, these scenes include:

- Breaking the code (without reading the message out loud) - Just as the title suggests.
- FBI listens to tape (no screaming) - As they listen to the Lounds tape.
- Flaming Wheelchair - this alternate take shows us a few different angles.
- Attic scene in Dragon voice - Dolarhyde talking as if he is the Dagon, in the final version they chose not to include an audible voice but rather keep it internal within Dolarhyde.

Finally we get some Extended Scenes and these also feature optional commentary by Brett Ratner and editor Mark Helfrich, these scenes include:

- Graham investigates the Leed's bedroom - these include additional shots of Graham looking around the room.
- Graham has a vision in the tree - as he sits in the tree outside the crime scene house where he finds the symbol cut into the tree, Graham has a vision of the killings.
- Janitor finds note in Lecter's cell - the janitor is cleaning his toilet when he discovers the note wrapped up among a toilet paper roll.

Onto the next extra, a short film made by the director, this extra entitled Brett Ratner's Untitled Short Film is black and white short is a film he made at film school in 1987 and for some reason is included on this DVD.

Rounding out the extras are a Trailer in 2.35:1 non-anamorphic widescreen, a Teaser in 1.78:1 non-anamorphic widescreen and a bonus teaser for The Hulk.

Just a note on the menu screens, you have the option in viewing the menu on the special features disc two in English, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Norwegian and Swedish. Additionally all the extras include subtitles in English, French, German, Arabic, Bulgarian, Icelandic, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Finnish, Greek, Romanian, Hebrew, Hungarian, Norwegian, Swedish and Turkish.

Overall

As far as a film goes Red Dragon stands up much better than Hannibal, Ratner has done a satisfactory job with this by the numbers thriller. Fans of the Lecter series will most certainly enjoy this outing made better with great performances from the A-list cast. Additionally this Universal DVD is excellent, the transfer although with some minor flaws presents the film well as does the soundtrack. The extras are plentiful and will keep you busy for a while.

The Film: B Video: A- Audio: A+ Extras: A+ Overall: A

 


DVD Compare is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program and the Amazon Europe S.a.r.l. Associates Programme, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.co.uk, amazon.com, amazon.ca, amazon.fr, and amazon.de.