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Reviewed April 28th, 2003 by David Nusair


It was just a year ago that Hannibal, the sequel to Silence of the Lambs, was released. It was, not unexpectedly, a huge moneymaker - which made another sequel inevitable. But instead of creating an entirely new story, the filmmakers have gone back to the origins of Hannibal using Thomas Harris' novel Red Dragon. The book's been filmed before, as Manhunter, but Michael Mann (the director of that movie) created a story that was visually compelling but lacked a lot of key elements found in Harris' novel.

Edward Norton stars as Will Graham, a retired FBI agent responsible for capturing Hannibal Lector (Anthony Hopkins) - a feat that forced Graham into an early retirement. But after receiving a visit from an old crony from the Bureau (Harvey Keitel), Graham is goaded into working one last case. Two families have been brutally murdered, and there is a very strong possibility the killer will strike again in less than three weeks. Graham immediately spots several clues that nobody else did, but soon finds himself stumped. With nobody else to turn to, Graham asks Lector for his help. Meanwhile, we're introduced to the vicious killer known as The Tooth Fairy in the press - a meek man by the name of Francis Dolarhyde (Ralph Fiennes).

It's inevitable that comparisons to Silence of the Lambs will arise in talking about Red Dragon (or Hannibal, for that matter). Jonathon Demme's take on Harris' novel should not have been anything more than a well-executed thriller. But his stunning directorial work, combined with amazing performances and a well-written and tightly wound script, proved to make for an exceptionally entertaining movie that managed to transcend the genre. It won a number of Oscars and catapulted Hopkins into a major star, but a sequel would not be commissioned until a decade later. Hannibal, which picked up where Silence left off, was an agreeable enough filming of Harris' novel, but fell prey to Ridley Scott's overactive sense of style. Brett Ratner's Red Dragon proves to be somewhat better than Hannibal, in that it's a consistently tense and taut thriller, but it's still a far cry from Silence.

Surprisingly enough, Hopkins' performance is the least interesting thing about the movie. It is clear he's got the character of Hannibal down by this point, from the steely gaze to that unmistakable voice, but he's also not giving us anything new this time around. It is easy enough to get the impression that he essentially just showed up on set and started acting; he's not embodying the character as he did in the first film. It does not help, either, that Hannibal has become such a huge pop culture icon over the last decade - the constant exposure sort of diminishes his impact. Still, Hopkins is always watchable and that is no different here. However, he's nowhere near as good as Fiennes, playing a truly deplorable character for the first time in his career. With the huge dragon tattoo on his backside and dyed-black hair, Fiennes dives into this role and really becomes this guy. His performance is as exciting and fresh as Hopkins' was in Silence.

Ratner, best known for the Rush Hour series, is a bit of an odd choice to helm Red Dragon but he proves to be a competent choice. He never elevates the material to something more than just a thriller, like Demme did, but as far as thrillers go, this is certainly a consistently entertaining and exciting one. It probably does not hurt that Ted Tally, the man who wrote Silence, is back for this one and clearly knows a thing or two about pacing. The film opens with a compelling flashback sequence detailing Hannibal's capture, and never slows down from that point. Danny Elfman's done the score, and though his work has never exactly been subtle, the music during the credits montage is so over-the-top, it's almost a parody of what a titles sequence generally sounds like. The only glaring problem here is the ridiculously long time it takes for Graham to figure out how Dolarhyde is choosing his victims. The method is staring Graham right in the face on many occasions, yet he does not figure it out until the last 15 minutes. Obviously, Graham cannot discover this too quickly, otherwise, he captures Dolarhyde and the film essentially ends. Still, the way it's done, Graham winds up coming off like an idiot.

All in all, Red Dragon works best if you try not to compare it to Silence of the Lambs. It is like trying to compare a generic donut joint with Krispy Kreme. They're both tasty, but there's really no contest as to which is the better snack.

Audio: Red Dragon is presented with a DD 5.1 soundtrack and it’s a stunner. During quiet scenes it is fine, but it’s when the film requires the surrounds that the disc really comes alive. This is definitely a superb mix, and it’s no surprise that it’s so effective – given the high budget of the film.

Video: Ditto this 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer. This is about as good as it gets when it comes to live action. It’s ultra-clear and crisp; this transfer is so sparkly and shiny, you’ll really be stunned.

Extras: Now this is how you do a special edition. Red Dragon is so packed with features that by the time you’ve gone through them, you’ll know everything you ever wanted to know about the film (and then some). First up is a commentary track with director Brett Ratner and screenwriter Ted Tally. This is a really great track, which should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever listened to one of Ratner’s commentaries before. He is very enthusiastic and has a lot of stuff to say about his film, and Tally chimes in with a lot of his own experiences working on the film. A great track. Also included is an isolated score, with commentary from Danny Elfman during quiet moments (which adds up to around half an hour). Not quite as good as the Ratner/Tally commentary, but worth a listen – especially if you are an Elfman fan. The rest of the extras on disc one are in one of two sections: either Enter the Mind of Hannibal Lector or Inside Red Dragon. The first section houses three items, with the first an eight-minute interview with a real-life profiler named John Douglas. This was actually really interesting, but far too short. He’s talked to folks like Charles Manson and Richard Speck; this is a guy that deserves his own movie. Next is a four-minute interview with Hopkins, in which he talks about Lector and how he prepares. Oddly enough, he memorizes a poem a week just to keep his mind sharp. Finally, there is a written section on Lector’s life and crimes. Nothing terrible exciting here. In the second section, Inside Red Dragon, we start with a 15-minute behind-the-scenes featurette. It is not bad, but it is the typical fluff piece we have come to expect – with the various participants talking about how great an experience it was working on the film. The doc on the second disc is much, much better. Next up are 14 deleted, extended, and alternate scenes, available with or without commentary. Quite a few good ones here, but nothing that would have radically changed the film. Rounding out the extras on the first disc are the expected production notes, cast/crew filmographies and Universal “recommendations.”

Moving onto disc two, first up is a 39-minute featurette entitled “A Director’s Journey.” Ratner hired a filmmaker to follow him around for the entire period he was working on the film, from pre-production all the way to post. This is extremely interesting and informative, and certainly ranks right up there with some of the best making-of documentaries. Though it’s far too short (it could’ve run for a lot longer), it does provide us with an intimate look at what goes into making a film. There is even an appearance by Michael Jackson, as he visits the set on afternoon. This featurette is so entertaining, it might just be worth the price of the entire set. As for the rest of the extras on disc two, they are not quite up there. A series of short documentaries follows, starting with a four-minute look at the film’s visual effects. This is somewhat interesting, as we get to see the minute changes made using computers (a telephone is removed from a shot, for example). Next is an 11-minute series of screen and film tests. This essentially features the actors testing out different costumes and hairstyles. Next is a 45-second peek at how makeup was applied to one of the Tooth Fairy’s victims. This one is kind of gruesome, and is even preceded by a warning to keep kids away. Next up is a four-minute look at the burning wheelchair stunt, followed by a three-minute explanation of how the realism was accomplished for the Leeds crime scene. Finally, there are four storyboard-to-film comparisons and the film’s two trailers (a teaser and the final). Oh, and there’s a short student film by Ratner also included, but it’s so bad you’d be well advised to skip it.

Conclusion: If you have any interest at all in this movie, you’d be well advised to check out this disc. Even if it is just a rental, you will surely get your money’s worth.


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