Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2009

Hannibal Lecter Collection

By David Luhrssen
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Protecting our own kind, humanity, against monsters is an age-old theme in literature. It’s the story of Beowulf and of the Hannibal Lecter series. In the former, the monster Grendel was plainly not one of us. In novelist Thomas Harris’ Lecter stories, and the lore surrounding serial killers real and imaginary, the challenge in slaying the monsters is that they walk among us in our semblance.

A new Blu-ray disc set packages the acknowledged masterpiece of the Lecter cycle, director Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991), and its elegant sequel, Hannibal (2001), with a less seen predecessor, Manhunter. Michael Mann (Heat) directed Manhunter (1986) with no idea of the future. Hannibal Lecter (called Lecktor in this film) was only a supporting character, a peripheral evil trickster already in maximum security lockup, encouraging a weird killer (dubbed the “Tooth Fairy” by the cops) while dropping cryptic hints to FBI profiler Will Graham (William Petersen). Unlike Silence’s Special Agent Clarice Starling, Graham is dismissed by Lecter as a bore, scarcely worthy of his attention. Alas, he’s got a point.

Mann directed Manhunter with the trim efficiency of a television movie. It holds up as a thriller, yet the cast is clearly inferior to the actors assembled for The Silence of the Lamb. Petersen makes for a mousy FBI agent of little personality and Brian Cox as Lecktor gets the character’s gist without the gleeful malevolence, the palpable idea of heinous crime as an intellectual feast, Anthony Hopkins brought to the role.

As in all of Mann’s cop dramas, the police are determined, focused with laser precision on their case and moving with the choreography of mechanized ballet. Harris’ theme of the mysterious abyss of Lecter—a brilliant man playing god with human life—peeks through the furrowed brows of the detectives. Says Graham on Lecter, “The psychologists call him a psychopath. They don’t know what else to call him.”

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