What is the best adaptation of Red Dragon?

2022 marks the 20th anniversary of second adaptation of Thomas Harris’ groundbreaking novel Red Dragon.

This novel, released in October 1981 was the world’s first introduction to Dr Hannibal Lecter, positioned very much on the periphery of a story before he was thrust into the limelight for The Silence of the Lambs and the rest they say is history.

The first attempt to adapt Red Dragon was in 1986 by director Michael Mann. Between the director and producer Dino De Laurentiis, it was decided that the title Red Dragon would be too confusing to American audiences following the release of Year of the Dragon.

The title was changed to Manhunter, and David Lynch was eyed early on, but shied away from the graphic content of the script. In the main role we had William Peterson, as Will Graham, with the villainous, yet sympathetic role of Francis Dolarhyde going to Tom Noonan, in arguably a career-best performance.

Lecter is played Brian Cox is a very understated role, arguably the most grounded version of Lecter. While not the best portrayal of the character, it is certainly a fascinating take on it.

Manhunter is extremely 80s, with its mise-en-scene, coupled with music by Michel Rubini plus the classic Heartbeat from Red 7 which overlays the closing credits as Graham finally walks away from his role in the FBI having defeated Dolarhyde in a bloodbath with In-A-GaddaDa-Vida blaring out of the speakers.

In 2002, just a year after Ridley Scott’s adaptation of Hannibal, director Brett Ratner took the helm for another adaptation of Red Dragon, with Anthony Hopkins tempted into the role of Lecter one more time.

Here we see the capture of Lecter and the character is given considerably more screentime, which feels at odds with the main story as Lecter always works well on the periphery pulling the strings. This is the reason Hannibal didn’t work for many fans.

In the lead role, we have Edward Norton, who was an A-lister after starring in films such as American History X and Fight Club. He would be joined by a stellar support cast in Ralph Fiennes (as Dolarhyde), Harvey Keitel, Emily Watson and of course, Hopkins.

While Red Dragon has higher production value than Manhunter, it does come across quite bland, with even Hopkins seeming to go through the motions as almost a parody version of Lecter.

For what proved to be the final season (to date) of NBC’s Hannibal, series creator Bryan Fuller went for a hybrid approach, effectively splitting the season in two, giving the majority of the first half to a Hannibal (the movie) storyline whereas after a timejump, we dive into Red Dragon territory.

As I’m sure you know, Hugh Dancy portrayed Graham, Lecter was played with verve by Mads Mikkelsen and the role of Dolarhyde went to Richard Armitage.

While this is an update of the Red Dragon story, it’s arguable that Armitage’s Dolarhyde is the most terrifying portrayal to date. Just watch the scene where he stalks Will’s wife and daughter; truly chilling stuff.

Fuller’s interpretation is left more open to creative freedoms, with the unfortunate Dr. Chilton being the one roasted alive by Dolarhyde, but miraculously surviving, mainly because Fuller liked to mess with actor Raul Esparza.

There is a deviation in the conclusion also, as Dolarhyde is taken down by a combination of Will and Lecter, who literally rip his throat out.

It’s a tough call, but I would have to go with Manhunter, as parts of that film remain chilling even to this day; especially its POV opening which is extremely effective.

What do you think though? Which is your favourite adaptation of Manhunter? Let us know in the comments.

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