I am writing this rant to clear up a few things about the film Red Dragon and it's predecessor Manhunter.

First off, let me just say that I was appalled to to hear that a studio was going to have the audacity to remake Manhunter. I say this because remaking a Michael Mann film seems tantamount to "touching up" the Mona Lisa. You just don't want to go there. Yes, I know Ali was bad (at least that's what everyone is telling me), but this in no way should reflect upon Mann's earlier brilliance like Thief, Manhunter, Heat, The Insider, etc... . That said, when I heard that Brett Ratner of Rush Hour and Rush Hour 2 fame was going to be at the helm of this project, I thought that must be some kind of sick joke, one truly worthy of the tastes of Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter.

I was upset. I voiced my opinions to anyone who would listen.


But then...

I started to watch the trailers for the movie. I started to see pictures in Entertainment Weekly. I noticed that Anthony Hopkins was acting more vibrant in this incarnation of the evil Doctor. He wasn't as poised or as suave as in Silence Of The Lambs or Hannibal. I then read that he only agreed to do the role if he didn't have to play Hannibal as "cute". What this meant was no jokes or saying "goody-goody". I was still behind Manhunter(I still am), but my interest in the film was pushed into overdrive when I found out that Ratner was going to shoot the original ending of the book on which the film is based.

Red Dragon by Thomas Harris.

"Ratner shot that ending?"

Actually, this meant very little to me as I had never read the book. I had just seen parts of Manhunter when I was kid and it was only in the last 2 years that I even watched it all the way through. And, it was only my admiration for Michael Mann that made me go back to it in the first place.

"Ratner shot that ending?"

I decided to do something I had never done before. I was going to buy the book Red Dragon and read it before the film hit theaters October 4th. Being a slow reader, and with the movie less then a month away, this seemed like an indomitable feat. Yet, I did it. Some people read Harry Potter or Lord Of The Rings to get up to speed for the Summer Blockbusters, MUSHY read Red Dragon.

All I can say is that I am more excited about this movie then any other released within the past year. This includes Signs, Minority Report, The Kids Stay In The Picture (which I actually read this book YEARS before the movie came out), you name it, Red Dragon beats it. There is something about Red Dragon that stirs up the Mush and makes him realize that he's going to see this film quite a few times in the theater.

Lets start with casting... Edward Norton is playing Agent Will Graham. This is the role that William Peterson(CSI) made so memorable. Norton is one helluva an actor and he is a terrific choice, I just feel that he may look a little young to play the role of a top FBI agent. I do think that he is that phenomenal of an actor that he should be able to pull off this part.

Mary-Louise Parker is taking over Kim Griest's role as Graham's wife. I am not that big a fan of Parker, but this role requires a strong yet vulnerable women and I feel that she has the right "mix" and nuance to be able to handle this character.

Emily Watson in the Reba McClane role, Harvey Kietel in the role of Agent Jack Crawford and Phillip Seymour Hoffman playing the annoying Freddy Lounds are all solid casting choices. Joan Allen, Dennis Farina and Stephen Lang who all tackled these roles in the earlier Manhunter were perfect in those parts as well.

Obviously, getting a chance to see Anthony Hopkins chew the scenery as Hannibal Lecter again is something that is TOO good to pass up. But..., lets just say a few words about the original "Hannibal the Cannibal" from Manhunter.

Brian Cox was terrific in the first incarnation of this famous screen baddie. I remember as a young boy of 14, turning off the film when he first came on to the screen. There was something about Cox's coldness as the part of Lecter, his callous portrayal that made me not want to watch anymore of the movie(and I didn't resume it until 13 years later). There hadn't even been any real violence up to that point, just tone and mood but that was enough to terrify me. The fact that the people in authority were subservient to him was all the more spine tingling.

I certainly don't look at Hopkins playing this role, or this remake as "the true interpretation of Thomas Harris" as Director Brett Ratner maintains. Rather, I think Red Dragon could shine a huge light on Manhunter. Not saying that one film is better then the other, moreso that these films are 2 separate entities. Two interpretations of a multilayered piece of literary material that his been overshadowed by it's big screen predecessors Silence Of The Lambs and Hannibal.

My only bone of contention in the films casting is that of the main killer, Francis "The Tooth Fairy" The Red Dragon " Dolarhyde. In Manhunter this role was creepily portrayed by Tom Noonan. In Red Dragon this role is being done by Ralph Fiennes. Both of these actors are world class, that is not the point, what is the point is that they should've gone with another "Noonan-Like" character. Noonan is a tall, "different" looking sort of man. He seemed evil, fragile and sinister while I am not sure about Ralph Fiennes in the same role. Surely, he will play it differently, that is not the point, director Brett Ratner said he didn't want a "name" actor, but Fiennes was in The English Patient which won an Academy Award for crying out loud!!! Fiennes may not be Tom Cruise but he's no Jaye Davidson now is he? Also, part of Dolarhydes malady is not wanting to look at himself. He thinks he's ugly, he thinks others think he is ugly, it is only as The Red Dragon that he thinks he can be wanted and desired. Which is why he kills his victims in the grotesque manner that he does. Ralph Fiennes is one of the BETTER looking actors in the world. A terrific actor, a "force" if you will..., but I am curious about this casting choice. I look forward to seeing him portray such an evil figure on celluloid.

Another point I'd like to touch on briefly, is that I don't think people really understand what Red Dragon is. Having stood by the display at my local movie theater, talking with some colleagues about the movie, people would walk by and look at the standee but not really know what Red Dragon was. Sure, they would see Hannibal Lecter, but they didn't seem to get that this film was a prequel(and remember I am making the assumption that it is; we'll talk more about that later). It's almost as if people aren't ready for another installment of Lecter so soon after Hannibal. After all, one must remember there was a lengthy period of from Silence to Hannibal. Also, lets not forget that the main characters from that film were also carried over(Clarice Starling and Hannibal Lecter). This gave the audience something to cling to, something to remember. Red Dragon is an anomaly in that people know Hannibal but all the other characters are different, also remember that this film is "going back to the beginning" to "understand the origin of evil." So in a sense it is a new film, but it really isn't because the book Red Dragon has already been made as Manhunter.

Another question I have is how has Lecter's part been "beefed up"? In both Manhunter and the book, Lecter is a minor character in terms of screen and page time. With Hopkins obviously being the person people want to see, I am curious how his role has been reworked to make his character the major player that I am sure he's going to be in Red Dragon.

As an aside, I remember once the hoopla of Silence Of The Lambs started, people were then going back to Manhunter and evaluating that films place alongside this new film. One gets the impression that that same thing could happen again, with audiences being curious to the see "before and after" of both films.

Movie PictureHaving recently read through Red Dragon(I am a slow reader but I wanted to have the book read before the movie came out), I felt I was in a unique position to observe both Manhunter and Red Dragon in their faithfulness to Thomas Harris's book. I recently screened Manhunter and I have watched and rewatched all the commercials for Red Dragon. Based just on this, I must say that Manhunter was extremely faithful to Harris's novel. There were changes that Manhunter director Michael Mann made for whatever reasons(budget, time, logistics, etc...) but over all there was a lot in the book that I was reminded of when I watched the movie. As for the Red Dragon trailers, this film seems to have gone "all the way" in it's translating of book to screen. There are scenes that have been shown that if you are familiar with both movie and book, you realize aren't in Manhunter. Interestingly enough, it seems as if Red Dragon has shot many of the same scenes, almost in the exact same way as Manhunter. All this says to me again, is that these films took a similar approach to the material of Harris, but they also allowed themselves some levity in their execution. As stated earlier, Ratner shot the original ending of the book..., if this is the case then I think that is a very bold choice on his part and I am reminded of the end of To Live And Die In L.A. (another William Petersen vehicle). To understand what I mean, read Red Dragon (you still have time as the movie opens Oct. 4th), watch Manhunter to equate yourself with 80s William Petersen, then watch William Friedkin's To Live And Die In L.A. which was Petersen's debut film before doing Manhunter.

Here is my only other question..., what year is this movie taking place in? As it is the first of the trilogy and there is talk of "going back to the beginning", I am assuming that it takes place in the late 70s early 80s (like Manhunter did). This makes sense as Super 8mm film plays a major role in the movie and at that time, that was a more viable way to shoot "home movies" then on video. If it is present day, it is plainly obvious to all that shooting Super Super 8mm instead of on video (or digital video for that matter) is entirely too cumbersome. However, and this is where things get tricky, Ratner strikes me as one who is into innovation(much like Michael Mann before him), there is so much that can be done with digital video, especially with the "home movies" in Red Dragon that updating the film might be too much for the young director to pass up. On another topic previously mentioned, some friends and I were talking about Anthony Hopkins portrayal of Lecter this time, and we both seemed "put off" by how he was acting in the trailers for Red Dragon. Upon further reflection, I realized that Hopkin's acting style made all the sense in the world. As this is the first chapter in the series, Lecter was also younger. He was not yet the calm, elder statesmen he would be portrayed as in Silence Of The Lambs and Hannibal.

Other points of interest, the scriptwriter for Silence Of The Lambs, Ted Tally, is also the man who penned the script for Red Dragon. Dante Spinotti, the man who shot Manhunter (and Michael Mann's other films Heat and The Insider) also shot this film as well. On top of everything else this film has going for it, with the casting, the director..., I feel that these other ingredients clearly show how no stone has been left unturned. It seems that everyone involved has done their best to do this material the justice it deserves.

So there you have it, Mushy's take on what I think is going to be a very interesting movie. I felt something like this was important for people to read. I truly think if you read it before seeing Red Dragon, then you reread this and watch Manhunter (maybe you'll even read the book Red Dragon) you will see how interesting this whole situation is. Here you have what looks like a remake of Manhunter, but it is not, it is just another reinterpretation of Thomas Harris's novel. Looking at Manhunter now, you see a totally different interpretation. One that seems born out of budget considerations but was still no less faithful to the material. In fact, I think the budget constraints that Mann had ended up making the film more interesting. It became a meditation on the theme of "becoming a monster to catch a monster"(one that shows up Mann's other work). Whereas Red Dragon seems to be covering more literary ground as far as the novel is concerned. It's focus seems more on mood and faithfulness to the previously written material. My dream would be for UNIVERSAL to release a box set with Manhunter, Red Dragon, Silence Of The Lambs and Hannibal. In addition to that, there would be talks with both Michael Mann and Brett Ratner about their choices for the films. Part of that, would also allow Ted Demme (Silence) and Ridley Scott (Hannibal) a chance to expound on their choices for their two distinctive movies as well.

With all that said, see you at the theater on October 4th...

To end this on a sort of Hannibal Lecter/Francis Dolarhyde note (those who have seen the movie Manhunter or read the book Red Dragon will understand)...

Dear Avid Fans, Why in Manhunter is Hannibal Lecter spelled Lecktor in the movie but Lecter on the video box and in all the other Hannibal related material? Also, why is Dolarhyde's name spelled Dollarhyde in Manhunter the movie, but in the book it's spelled Dolarhyde?

Okay, I think the Mush has beat this horse enough for one essay. Goodnight.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Movieweb.