Manhunter versus Red Dragon versus Hannibal
(The gist: Manhunter is a quality horror movie. I can see why so many horror experts love it and prefer it. However, I saw Red Dragon first and fell in love with Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs long before. Yet I can abide by the alternative prequel in the television series Hannibal. There, I can appreciate the deviations from the novel as it occurs prior to the story. In four versions of Red Dragon, the novel always wins. All three adaptations are quality horror, yet Red Dragon reserves a special preference in my mind, as minority of an opinion as that may be.)
I will openly admit it: I came into viewing Manhunter with extreme bias. The Silence of the Lambs franchise is potentially my favorite horror franchise, and Hannibal Lecter (as played by Anthony Hopkins) is probably my favorite fictional serial killer.
I have read all four books by Thomas Harris (though I try to pretend Hannibal Rising does not exist in either medium), and I have watched Silence of the Lambs, Red Dragon, and Hannibal multiple times. Yet, I had never seen Manhunter, which is technically the original appearance of Hannibal Lecter.
Red Dragon is a particular favorite of mine in the franchise because, in addition to the talents of Anthony Hopkins, Edward Norton is one of my favorite actors. That is a lot of favorites to compete with, so going in to viewing Manhunter, I fully anticipated to not be very effectively seduced.
I know this might not be a popular opinion. I am aware that many horror addicts prefer the original and regard the remake in Red Dragon as both unworthy and annoying. I can appreciate that view; I think if I met Manhunter first and had become enamored originally, I would have the same reaction. However, I was introduced to Anthony Hopkins’s Hannibal Lecter, and after that, nothing could compare.
I am not saying Manhunter is not a quality horror movie; it definitely is, especially for the 80s. Yet, for me, Red Dragon is just superior in most ways. Most importantly, it follows the novel more closely, which I almost always prefer and is particularly favorable to me as a writer. I also enjoyed the acting/casting, cinematography, and sets better in Red Dragon.
Perhaps most (and this is closely related to how the movies were adapted from the novel), I preferred the story composition in Red Dragon. The story is move developed and involved. There is more about Will Graham and Hannibal, more about the villain. In Red Dragon, the Tooth Fairy is introduced earlier, and his story develops in parallel with Will Graham and the investigation, creating a balance in the movie. In Manhunter, on the other hand, the Tooth Fairy emerges later, and his story is more abbreviated, making his character flatter and less sympathetic. While this harkens more toward how Silence of the Lambs was done with Buffalo Bill, I still always prefer to really get inside the killer’s perspective.
Yes, the two are largely the same movie. Manhunter had to be groundbreaking for horror at the time of its release. I am sure I would have truly appreciated that had I seen it at the time (when I was three) and prior to seeing the Silence of the Lambs franchise. Simply put, in the ways Red Dragon and Manhunter are different, I prefer Red Dragon.
Yet the comparisons do not stop there. The Red Dragon novel has been adapted into a third version—the television series Hannibal. Hannibal probably deviates from the novel the most, capturing adventures of the characters created in the novel that are not included in the book.
After two film versions, I definitely appreciate the deviations the show takes. I enjoy Lawrence Fishburne as Jack Crawford. I like Freddie Lounds as an ambitious woman. I am intrigued by Will Graham being even more tortured and directly under the therapy of Hannibal Lecter. Mads Mikkelsen plays a convincing Hannibal who I could envision aging in Anthony Hopkins.
In four versions of Red Dragon, the novel always wins. I could happily laze in the world of Thomas Harris’s mind and his characters. All three adaptations are quality horror, yet Red Dragon reserves a special preference in my mind, especially with the inclusion of Anthony Hopkins and Edward Norton. Yet, the television series Hannibal allows me to delve deeper into all the characters along alternative prequel lines.
Ultimately, I will probably love anything from this series or franchise (except Hannibal Rising; I do not want to know why he eats people!). I enjoyed Manhunter and would have loved it even more had I never seen Red Dragon beforehand.