In 1981, I read a great thriller novel by Thomas Harris. It was called ‘Red Dragon’, and about the hunt for a serial killer. I liked it a lot, especially the details of the painstaking forensic work and psychological profiling. A few years later, in 1986, I read that there was to be a film adaptation released, directed by Michael Mann, a film maker known for glossy productions on TV, and making advertisements. But it starred the reliable William Petersen, along with such great names as Dennis Farina, Joan Allen, and Stephen Lang. What’s more, Scottish stalwart Brian Cox had been cast as the evil cannibal serial killer, Hannibal Lecktor. (It was spelled that way then) I had to see it, even though they had not used the title of the book, calling it ‘Manhunter’ instead..
It was great. The locations and snazzy lighting so typical of Mann actually contrasted well with the darkness of the story. Petersen was on top form as the weary FBI agent, Will Graham, and Cox made the most of his short time on screen as Lecktor, the bete-noir. They stuck to the story in the book, and even though I knew the ending, I was along for the ride, in every sense imaginable. This was a modern crime thriller to relish, and had rarely been done better. Thirty-two years later, I still recommend it unreservedly.
By 2002, we had read and seen ‘The Silence of The Lambs’. Anthony Hopkins was now playing Lecter in the ‘franchise’, and it was making big money. Cue a remake of ‘Manhunter’, now with the title of the original book, ‘Red Dragon’. As expected, the A-listers arrived. As well as Hopkins, we got Edward Norton, Emily Watson, Harvey Keitel, Ralph Fiennes, and Philip Seymour Hoffman. Producer Dino De Laurentis secured a massive budget for the time, and the resulting film made a small fortune at the box office. Great cast, stuck to the story in the book, and it was atmospheric to watch, undoubtedly.
Some people, many in fact, think it is far superior to ‘Manhunter’.
I don’t agree with them.