RED DRAGON - HD DVD review

It is a good prequel that better fits into the Hannibal Lector mythology due to the inclusion of Anthony Hopkins.

DeanWink

"Red Dragon" is Hollywood's second adaptation of Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon. The film was first adapted to screen in 1986 by director Michael Mann under the title "Manhunter." In 1991, the character of Hannibal Lector received quite a boost with Jonathan Demme's powerful "Silence of the Lambs." "Red Dragon" came about after the success of "Hannibal" and the need to produce more films starring Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector. "Manhunter" was a relatively low-budget film with Brian Cox as Dr. Hannibal Lecktor (character name spelled differently), William Petersen as Will Graham, Dennis Farina as Jack Crawford, Joan Allen as Reba McClane, Stephen Lang as Freddy Lounds and Tom Noonan as Francis Dollarhyde (character name spelled differently). The big budget remake features a more recognizable cast with Anthony Hopkins reprising his role as Dr. Hannibal Lector, Edward Norton as Will Graham, Harvey Keitel as Jack Crawford, Emily Watson as Reba McClane, Philip Seymour Hoffman as Freddy Lounds and Ralph Fiennes as Francis Dolarhyde.

While an improvement over the earlier Thomas Harris adaptation, "Red Dragon" is improved mainly due to its larger budget, more expensive cast and stylistic differences that align the film closer to "Silence of the Lambs." Everybody has come to associate Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lector, and those who looked towards "Manhunter" as the first chapter in the story found a different characterization by Brian Cox. Edward Norton is a brainer and less physical Graham and Ralph Fiennes brings a true creepy loneliness to the film's villain. It is not too often that a film is remade after just fifteen years; aside from Japanese horror films that have continually been remade for American cinema. There was a large potential for profit by having Anthony Hopkins reprise Hannibal Lector in as many films as possible and after the success of "Silence of the Lambs" and "Hannibal," it did make perfectly good sense for Thomas Harris' novel to once again be placed in front of the cameras.

In this prequel to "Silence of the Lambs," Hannibal Lector has been captured by Will Graham and finds himself in a maximum security cell in Baltimore, Maryland. Graham was nearly killed when he captured the carnivorous Lector and has retired from the FBI. However, a new serial killer called the Tooth Fairy has been on a murderous spree and Jack Crawford requests that Will Graham returns to the FBI to help solve the crime before more families are slain and to perhaps discuss the murders with Hannibal Lector and see if the imprisoned serial killer may be able to find something in the clues that Will Graham is completely unable to see. The Tooth Fairy is a lonely recluse who believes he has a hideous face and is tormented by a demon detailed in a painting "The Red Dragon." He is in correspondence with Lector and has discovered the identity of the FBI agent on his trail through Lector's communications. Graham must discover the identity of the Tooth Fairy before he slaughters more innocents, or before his own family comes under danger by the serial killer. He must also conquer his own fears and face the man he jailed and that nearly killed him.

"Red Dragon" is a good crime/thriller that details for fans of Hannibal Lector the manner in which the cannibal was first captured and the man responsible. With a talented and impressive cast, "Red Dragon" is a flashier and better acted version of the earlier film "Manhunter." It is always fun to watch Anthony Hopkins slip into the skin of Lector and both Edward Norton and Ralph Fiennes are very talented actors who make any film a better film. Although I've never been a big fan of director Brett Ratner, he successfully connects this film to the mythology of "Silence of the Lambs." The prison cell visited by Jody Foster is recreated beautifully. Ratner keeps to the style and demeanor of Jonthan Demme's film and doesn't try to fully recreate or reinvent the world of Hannibal Lector. The film is certainly his own, but it is not the same breed as the live, fast edited "Rush Hour" films. This is a far better film than "Hannibal," but not nearly as powerful as "Silence of the Lambs." It is a good prequel that better fits into the Hannibal Lector mythology due to the inclusion of Anthony Hopkins.

Video:
The HD-DVD version of "Red Dragon" is an improvement over the earlier standard definition release and a pretty decent entry for the blue laser format. "Red Dragon" is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen and mastered with the VC-1 codec. The film features natural colors that help the highly detailed image come to life more vividly that the slightly drab standard definition release. Much of "Red Dragon" features darkly lit scenes or droll interiors. Lector's cell is a depressing place and the Tooth Fairy is not the biggest fan of brightly lit places. The style chosen by the filmmakers intensifies some of the color from the presentation, and this nicely reflects the dark and foreboding mood of the story. The level of detail shown is surprisingly good, with a number of scenes looking quite stunning. With the great number of dark scenes, the black levels and shadow detail hold up nicely and allow for "Red Dragon" to remain convincing, regardless of lighting conditions. I wouldn't go as far as to state that this is a top-tier title, but "Red Dragon" is a very nice looking HD-DVD disc.

Audio:
"Red Dragon" features Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 multi-channel surround mixes in three languages – English, French and Spanish. The film sounded pretty good on standard definition detail and finds a decent upgrade with the higher bitrates possible with HD-DVD. The soundtrack features a well rounded mix that combines all six channels into an enveloping and effective soundtrack. Action takes place through the rear surrounds routinely and effectively. As a thriller, a menacing sounding soundtrack is always a bonus and fortunately, "Red Dragon" is effective at enhancing the thrilling moments of the film. When the Tooth Fairy's house explodes, the entire soundtrack comes to life and the rear surrounds are nicely used during these moments. The .1 LFE subwoofer rattles heavily throughout the film and augments the score and action onscreen. Danny Elfman is my favorite cinematic composer and his score sounds amazing on the HD-DVD. The soundtrack is clean and clear; as was the picture quality. Dialogue is easily heard by each actor.

Extras:
The 2-disc special edition of "Red Dragon" is nicely ported to high definition with this HD-DVD release. The rear of the packaging features a lengthy list of bonus materials and this list is certainly not misleading. This is a feature-packed HD-DVD release that makes an argument that this is one of the better values yet released by Universal on the format. With a running time of 125 minutes, it is certainly impressive that a lengthy film with a solid looking picture and good sound can fit this large a number of supplements on a single side of an HD-30 platter. Whereas Blu-ray has found its releases missing a lot of bonus materials previously available, Universal has typically kept to a high standard.

Two full length commentary tracks are contained on the HD-DVD release. The Feature Commentary with Director Brett Ratner and Writer Ted Tally was an entertaining listen as the two talk enthusiastically through the entire film. Ratner discusses his surprise as being offered the job to direct an Anthony Hopkins starred Hannibal Lector film and gets into a lot of details about his experiences on the making of the film. Both he and Ted Tally take turns talking and feed nicely off each other. Not listed on the rear packaging, but included on the disc is the Music Score Commentary with Composer Danny Elfman. This features the film's vocals dropped out and a volume boosted isolated musical score track. It was nice to have Elfman's track isolated, but there are long periods of time when everything is completely silent. Elfman does contribute some commentary to his decisions for his selections, but these are not as plentiful as I would have hoped.

The bonus features that do not require additional viewings of the film are plentiful and require a couple hours to completely sit through. Lector's FBI File and Life History is a menu based supplement with a lot of readable information that is shown as a mock FBI file. The twenty five pages detail information from this film, "Silence of the Lambs," and "Hannibal." There is also background information from his killings and early life that will more than likely be covered in the upcoming story "Hannibal Rising." The Deleted Scenes with optional Commentary by Director Brett Ratner, Writer Ted Tally and Editor Mark Helfrich (5:23) features a few character building segments, including scenes between Graham and his family and an additional scene with Philip Seymour Hoffman.

Two collections of Additional Scenes are also included outside of those in the "Deleted Scenes" set. The Extended Scenes with optional Commentary by Director Brett Ratner, Writer Ted Talley and Editor Mark Helfrich (2:28) are short, but finds Will Graham looking more deeply at crime scenes and the discovery of a note in Lector's cell. The Alternate Versions (4:34) feature the same optional commentary as the Extended and Deleted Scenes. These scenes are slightly different versions of scenes in the film, but they are interesting to see and the commentary tracks are informative. I'm not sure why these three collections were not contained together, or featured the scenes separately.

A short vignette, Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer – Hosted by John Douglas (8:16) is a promotional bit finds the FBI profiler used on the Criterion Special edition of "Silence of the Lambs" and looks deeper into the category of criminals known as serial killers. Although entertaining, it was short and barely scratched the surface of Serial Killers. Douglas sits outside of the Lector cell and talks about his experiences interviewing Serial Killers. Anthony Hopkins: Lector and Me (4:25) is a short promotional bit where Sir Anthony Hopkins talks about returning to the Lector role for a third time. This would have benefited from a longer running time. The third short featurettes, The Making of Red Dragon (14:17) is another EPK feeling supplement that briefly looks at the making of the film and features moments with the stars and filmmakers.

After the first three short featurettes, the quality of supplements greatly improved on the second page of items contained on the HD-DVD menu. A Director's Journey – The Making of Red Dragon (39:25) is a far superior making of film that follows Director Brett Ratner around begins with his debut on the Red Carpet and shows short scenes of Rev Run, Puff Daddy and people involved in the film. This video diary style of featurettes a lot of information with the energetic and likable Ratner shows discussions and moments with the director that are typically ignored by the flashy promotional featurettes we the consumers are more familiar with. I really enjoyed this supplement. Brett Ratner's Student Film (3:37) shows the director's first student film sans audio. While not either entertaining or lengthy, it is a nice little bonus to the "Red Dragon" HD-DVD release.

A number of the familiar DVD bonus materials are also included. Visual Effects (4:25) is a brief look at a couple scenes that used CGI and shows the before and after plates. These can be as simple as the Blood on Lector's shirt or the more complex explosion of Dolarhyde's house. The Screen Tests (11:43) finds Brett Ratner supplying commentary with the cinematographer and makeup effects designer discussing various screen tests for the film including wardrobe, hair and makeup. Without the commentary, this would have been painfully boring, but Ratner and company make this somewhat enjoyable. Makeup Application (:45) is an incredibly short look at gore makeup and the mirror effects. The Burning Wheelchair (4:00) and The Leeds Crime Scene (3:37) looks at two scenes and the work that went into filming them. They are two nice little vignettes. Finally, a Storyboards to Final Feature Comparison (8:38) of a few scenes from the film shows the finished scene above the film's storyboards.

Closing Comments:
The cannibalistic villain Hannibal Lector and the veteran actor that is most memorable in the role, Anthony Hopkins, finally come together in a screen adaptation of Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon. Previously filmed by Michael Mann as "Manhunter," this new adaptation combines a stellar cast with a high budget and effectively adds to the mythology of Hannibal Lector. This worthy prequel to the powerful "Silence of the Lambs" is easily the best additional Lector film since the original 1991 production. The HD-DVD release features strong visuals and effective use of Dolby Digital Plus 5.1. The number of bonus materials is quite impressive and provides better bang for the buck. This is a very nice release that is the first to market for high definition for Hannibal Lector. I'll eagerly await the next films, but for now, this is a tasty morsel.

Ratings

Video
8
Audio
9
Extras
8
Film Value
8