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John Leavitt’s previous work for The Toast can be found here.

Red_Dragon_movieManhunter_michael_mann_film_posterI think remakes get a bad rap, I really do. We re-stage plays all the time, adding different time periods, costumes, and interpretations; why not movies? Movies are big complex things with many moving parts made by lots of people, why not open them up to a new take on the same material? The biggest problem modern remakes/adaptations have is hemming too close to the source material, having to hit-off a check list of “has to be in” moments and quotes until the movie becomes a game of Trope Bingo.

Red Dragon (2006, Brett Ratner ) vs. Manhunter (1986, Michael Mann) provides a wonderful example.

Because both movies were based on the same source material, Thomas Harris’ 1981 novel Red Dragon (re-titled Manhunter for fear audiences would think it was a kung-fu movie and changing Hannibal Lecter’s name to ‘Lecktor’ for license reasons, please take note Bryan Fuller.) They share not only the same basic story and characters, but  whole chunks of dialogue. The meeting between Will Graham and Hannibal is almost identical in both movies, providing an opportunity to look at two sets of casts and crew working from (nearly) the same script ending up in different places.

It’s not just that Michael Mann is a better director than Brett “X3” Ratner (although he is.) Mann, who wrote the screenplay, had much more freedom to create his version of the story. Ratner, even with his glaring limitations as a director, was still working under two decades of cultural cruft built up around the Hannibal Lecter mythos and dealing with a studio that desperately wanted to make people forget about 2001’s little-loved Hannibal. Manhunter could be whatever the hell Mann wanted it to be, Red Dragon had to remind people of Silence Of The Lambs until they screamed Bingo.

Now, please enjoy this shot-by-shot video comparison of the opening scenes that I made WITH MY OWN HANDS:

Some Notes:

In Red Dragon, Hopkins’ Lecter arrives encrusted with the mannerisms from previous movies, bits of iconic “Hannibal Lecter Stuff” – the glass walled cell, the slow rising movement, the soft gentle timber to his voice. The cell in Manhunter is spartan and alien, a quick shot of the journals is all you need establish character. Hopkins wants to draw you in, Cox is actively dismissive and antagonistic. He’s not even going to pretend he’s not better than you. His line readings are direct and rapid-fire, opposed to Hopkins’ bemused sing-song.

The mirroring of the first few shots, shifting the view from right to left, doesn’t seem to serve any purpose other besides making this split-screen look nice.

Not to rag on Ed Norton as he is one of my favorite living actors but man he just looks bored during this entire movie.

The lighting. Manhunter, for all it’s strangeness, tends to go for naturalistic lighting. The cell is white and over-lit. The lighting in Red Dragon, again cribbed from Silence Of The Lambs is moody and gothic, but without any of the realism outside the cell that SOTL had for contrast. it might as well be the “serial killer room” in a haunted house ride.

Mann holds shots longer, and repeats the pattern of the bars when framing Will and Lecktor. (cue NBC Hannibal fans screaming)

The biggest change is Will’s reaction. In Manhunter he leaves the cell and then runs like a bat out of hell down the hallway, stopping only to catch his breath once he’s damn sure there’s a long distance between him and Lektor. Norton’s Will only gets a shot of his sweat-drenched shirt while he waits for Lecter to interpret the case. He leaves the hospital much less fazed by the encounter.

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John Leavitt is a cartoonist, writer, director, and illustrator, His cartoons and illustrations have appeared in: The New Yorker, The Chronicle Review, The New York Press, The Common Review, The Journal Of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Narrative Magazine and elsewhere. He has worked with Molly Crabapple to produce posters for The Electronic Frontier Foundation and others.

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