Hannibal Lecter’s first outing (in literary terms) is based on the Thomas Harris book, written by Silence Of The Lambs‘ Ted Tally, directed by Brett Ratner and previously adapted by Michael Mann for the 1986 Manhunter. This is going to be the one and only time that I mention this as I want to look at how good, or bad, Red Dragon is on its own.
Red Dragon starts with cannibalistic psychiatrist Lecter having his musical evening ruined by a particularly untalented musician in the orchestra of a performance he’s attending, followed by a dinner with the performers. Minus one musician.
Whilst Lecter is tidying up, police psychologist Will Graham (Edward Norton), who is tracking down a serial killer, drops by to get some additional insight from the police consultant, only to discover that Lecter is the killer in question. A confrontation ensues, with Graham receiving a potentially fatal wound whilst leaving Lecter in a bit of a state.
The opening credits reveal that Graham and Lecter survive, Lecter gets convicted and Graham ends up in a psychiatric unit. As the opening credits finish, we find that Graham is fixing boats at a swish home near a lake, and considers himself semi-retired. His boss, Jack Crawford (Harvey Keitel), drops by to get him to look into a new case, much to Graham’s chagrin, since he has settled down with a wife and child.
Graham, we learn, is capable of getting into the minds of serial killers, unpicking what they do and why they do it. He’s a bit like John Douglas (who appears in one of the extra features). With Graham’s help, Crawford is convinced that they can stop any more killings by the elusive, and rather embarrassingly named ‘Tooth Fairy’.
Thankfully, Graham decides to investigate the serial killer and finds himself drawn deeper into the case of the Tooth Fairy, a killer who kills families and puts shards of mirrors in their eyes, leaving bite marks showing his bad teeth.
When Graham confronts Lecter again, we get an almost identical setup to Lecter’s meeting with Agent Starling. Graham is seeking the solution to the Tooth Fairy case, whilst Lecter, in his see-through cell, provides all sorts of cryptic clues and suggestions that Graham has to solve if he’s hoping to save the day.
The Tooth Fairy, played by Ralph Fiennes, is a disfigured loner who suffered at the hands of an overbearing mother, living alone in the Dolarhyde home. He has an appreciation of Lecter and the story of the Red Dragon, believing that this will lead to his rebirth as something ‘greater’, and that all his killings are part of a grand scheme.
Befriending a blind woman, there’s a slow exposure of humanity in the characters, as well as an equally slow descent into madness, though you do get the feeling that he has spent most of his life shunned and ridiculed. Lecter and the Tooth Fairy have been in contact, and this draws the hapless Graham into a dangerous game…
The majority of the film is a slow burning affair, with things falling into place only gradually. In the last half hour, when Graham manages to identify the Tooth Fairy and the psychosis of the killer rises to the surface, we get a rapidly-paced series of events that has more to do with love than the need to inflict terror. Of course, the killer can’t be dead, can he? Just when everything seems to have come to a conclusion, the Tooth Fairy reappears and it’s up to Graham to finish the story once and for all.
Overall, I have to admit that Red Dragon is far better than I remembered, with Brett Ratner acquitting himself well at the helm. The film definitely benefits from having Ted Tally return as screenwriter, though the script does feel flabby in places.
The whole cast is strong, with both Fiennes and Norton giving understated performances as Dolarhyde and Graham respectively. Fiennes’ Dolarhyde is no over-the-top boogeyman or hunchback wannabe, whilst Hopkins is chilling as Lecter, with his staring eyes and slow, considered speeches.
It’s also nice to see Antony Heald and Frankie Faison reprise their roles as Chilton (here trying to get an insight of Lecter for publication) and Barney the quiet but authoritative orderly with, sadly, very little to do in the film. Hoffman’s portrayal of Freddy Lounds, sleazy journalist, is brilliant, despite his limited screen time, though he does get a very memorable death scene. Harvey Keitel, as Jack Crawford, is…Harvey Keitel.
Extras Commentaries from Ted Tally and Brett Ratner were culled from the DVD version. I know this because Ted Tally mentions DVD as the format for which they are doing the commentary. Ratner is an enthusiastic commentator and Tally provides much of the explanations about how the script was constructed. There’s also a commentary from Danny Elfman which is, as often is the case with Elfman, interesting.
There are scenes aplenty here – four minutes of deleted, four and a half minutes of alternate scenes and two and a half minutes of extended scenes. The alternate attic scene with the dragon talking to Dolarhyde in muted tones is interesting and helps us understand his mental state. All the scenes are presented in standard definition with an alternate commentary track.
‘The Making of Red Dragon’ is 14 minutes long and is nothing more than an extended trailer for the film with very little of interest in the way of contributions from the cast.
‘A Director’s Journey’ is forty minutes of self-indulgence on Brett Ratner’s part. It features a guy who apparently followed him for a year during the making of the film to record the film’s progress. We see each aspect of the film-production process and it would be interesting… if it wasn’t so haphazard. Don’t get me wrong, there are interesting moments, but it would have been nice if there was more to it and it was a more thorough ‘making of.’
‘Visual Effects’ runs for four and a half minutes and looks at the before and after of various video shots. Sadly, there’s no commentary or additional explanation, so we’re left with a pretty dry collection.
‘Screen and Film Tests’, oddly, has commentary and runs short of twelve minutes. It looks at screen and film tests of hair, makeup and some sets for use on camera.
‘Antony Hopkins: Lecter and Me’ gives us a four and a half minute insight into Hopkins and his beliefs into why Lecter is such an important character. He’s honest, quirky and interesting. This is the type of feature that you wish was slightly longer.
‘Makeup Application’ runs for forty-five seconds and starts with a shot of applying a bit of mirror to a woman’s face! It’s a bit unexpected and should have been much, much longer.
‘Burning Wheelchair’ is a four minute, interesting behind-the-scenes of the film sequence. It’s not something to try at home and you really have to sit in awe of the stunt man who did this.
‘Leeds House Crime Scene’ (3m, 38s) shows how the crime scene was set up, with help from a police department technical adviser. It’s interesting to see that they wanted the scene to look as realistic as possible without it being over-the-top. We also get another look at the makeup and prosthetic work.
Nearly nine minutes of storyboard-to-final scenes (dual screen) comparisons would have been made far more interesting if someone had been telling us about them, explaining why changes were made or even doing a basic film school talk through of why storyboards are used.
‘Inside the Mind of a Serial Killer’ is eight minutes long and features the FBI’s John Douglas, who pretty much invented the field of profiling. We get a bit of his background and how he pioneered the idea of actually interviewing convicted murderers. He explains how he applies his skills to profiling a serial killer, referencing Lecter and real life examples. Definitely one of the better extras.
‘Lecter’s FBI File’ is something of an unusual extra. It’s a series of pages in the form of a psychological profile taking in Lecter’s history and covering the three films (up to the time of Red Dragon) and giving the history that would later become Hannibal Rising.
‘Brett Ratner’s First Film’ is Ratner’s first New York University Film, with no audio. At three minutes long, it is the story of a couple sharing a meal, weird dream sequences and death.
The extras are all served up in standard definition, suggesting that they are the same as the original DVD release. Again, this is a case where a number of the features could have been condensed into a single ‘Making Of’ presentation; I’m aware that it’s nice to be able to list a mass of features and make the consumer think they are getting value for money, but it’s always disappointing to see features that just seem to be there for the sake of it.
Red Dragon is out on Blu-ray now.