Thomas Harris’s second novel and the first in the Hannibal Lecter trilogy, Red Dragon was released in 1981 to considerable critical acclaim. The book itself is bound with a blue theme, consistent with the idea of progression across the three novels – Silence of the Lambs in green, and Hannibal in red.

The narrative follows a compulsive and psychotic serial killer calling himself the Red Dragon, although the Police Department refer to him by the more flippant moniker of The Tooth Fairy, a reference to their only lead; clearly defined tooth marks in the flesh of several victims. In fact, the Red Dragon is a photographic film processor named Francis Dolarhyde, who is haunted by the classic painting The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun, which he believes is communicating with him and ordering him to kill.

The novel represents the debut not only of Lecter, but also of Jack Crawford – who, by the time of The Silence of the Lambs, has become mentor to Clarice Starling. However, she is not present in this novel, for the lead FBI agent is one Will Graham. Graham himself was responsible for the initial identification of Lecter as a serial killer, and bears the scars of his attempted murder, in the form of a long slash across his torso. Graham is put on the Red Dragon case as a result of this achievement, since Crawford believes that he can understand the mind of a killer like no one else.

Lecter is introduced as a sinister and mysterious inmate at the Baltimore State Hospital for the Criminally Insane. Lecter spends the entire novel incarcerated, but the efficiency with which he intimidates Graham even from within his cell, leaves the reader in no doubt as to his amorality. The reader is also given a sense that they are joining a drama that has been unfolding well before the book begins – Lecter has already accrued a number of victims, and mention is even made of Mason Verger, 'the one that got away', although his significance is not made apparent until Hannibal.

Biblical references are evident throughout the book – Lecter and Dolarhyde communicate via a book code using scriptural references, and the coming of Red Dragon is a prophecy from the book of Revelation. The book ends with a quote from Ecclesiastes 1:17, "And I gave my heart to know wisdom, and to know madness and folly: I perceived that this also is vexation of spirit." The evil bond between the two killers is thus emphasised, and the perversion of such Biblical quotations denotes the dark, sinister nature of them both.

The novel was unique for its time in a number of ways. Shortly after Ridley Scott's Alien began the trend for double endings in film, Red Dragon invokes such a device in literature. Also, Dolarhyde is portrayed as a sympathetic character in certain passages; especially the description of his disadvantaged childhood, and his disfigurement is used to encourage the reader’s compassion towards him, not to repulse them from him. The same misplaced sympathy is eventually attached to Lecter himself, as a figure of reverence and admiration – although for many people that perception was not complete until Hannibal.

In conclusion, Red Dragon is a triumph for Harris, and perfectly sets the stage for the following novels. Lecter does not need to be in the outside world to create fear, and his terrifying intelligence and resourcefulness is readily apparent to the reader. Lecter’s significance increases with each successive novel, but already he is a crucial part of the plot's development. The eventual demise of Dolarhyde is predictable but brilliantly done. It is evident that, even at that early stage, Harris knew in what direction he would take his masterpiece for the next eighteen years. I can do no better than quote Stephen King: "Lecter is far more terrifying on the page than he could ever be on film."

Red Dragon was itself made into a film, by the name of Manhunter, although this never gained the notoriety of its sequels. There is talk that it could be remade with Anthony Hopkins as Lecter.

Update: As they so often are, the rumours were true; Red Dragon has indeed been made into a full film, which opens soon. I won't deny someone else the pleasure of noding all its details in full, although perhaps I'll add a little more commentary when I've seen it.

The Red Dragon as commonly portrayed in fantasy fiction and role-playing games

The Red Dragon is generally considered to be the greediest, scariest, and nastiest of all the evil dragons. They are exceedingly vain, xenophobic, and are known to keep inventory of their treasure hoards right down to the last coin.

Baby red dragons have tiny bright glossy scales, which are highly visible in most outdoor surroundings. Because of this, they are generally kept underground until they reach puberty, at which point their scales become a duller, deeper red. The scales of a red dragon continue to grow in size and thickness throughout its life, which means that very old red dragons have incredible natural defenses.

Most red dragons prefer mountainous lairs. This allows them to look down over their domain, and generally pump themselves up about how mighty they are. They almost always live alone, unless they have children, or magically controlled servants. Other dragons are viewed only as competition, unless it is mating season.

Most red dragons attack anyone and everyone who approaches their lair, although they have a particular hatred of good dragons. They can digest anything, but tend to eat meat, and many of them have a taste for maiden flesh.

The red dragon is a terrible foe in combat, but they tend to be overconfident, which is something that can be used against them. Solo adversaries will generally be attacked by the conventional means of tooth and claw, while larger groups will be hit with spells and the dragon's terrible flaming breath weapon.

Your local red dragons may vary. I recommend consulting a local wizard or sage before making any dragon related decisions.

Red Dragon - the 2002 cinema release

To understand the origin of evil, you must go back to the beginning.

This is the third of Thomas Harris's Hannibal Lecter series to be converted to a film. Red Dragon is the prequel to Silence of the Lambs and its events take place just before the best-selling story. This tale was made into a film many years ago: the infamous 1986 Manhunter, a strange movie which deviates greatly from the script. Red Dragon, however, is a faithful representation of the book: everybody's favourite serial killer, Dr. Hannibal Lecter, helps detective Will Graham to catch a brutal murderer who strikes at the full moon.

The film was released in October 2002; the deadline was pushed forward from the original November. It made its World Premiere at the Venice International Film Festival (August 29th - September 8th, 2002). The film is a shade over two hours long and released by studio Universal Pictures.

Cast and crew

Behind the scenes are some familiar faces. Ted Tally, the original screenwriter of Silence of the Lambs, converted the books into script with a little help from Harris himself. Tally won an Academy Award for the Silence of the Lambs screenplay and was interested in continuing the project:

We didn't want to end up in sequel hell so we thought that someone else should take a fresh approach to it. Red Dragon is a different story for me because this is a book that I've always loved. My love for Red Dragon led to the Silence of the Lambs assignment.... I look at Red Dragon as the end of a trilogy.... I really feel that Red Dragon would be a fitting end to the series... it feels like a sequel, a continuation.
-- Ted Tally

Another familiar return is the married couple Dino and Martha De Laurentiis, who were the filmmakers for Hannibal. And curiously enough, cinematographer Dante Spinotti, who worked on Manhunter, returns for this version. The new-comer to the movie is Brett Ratner, who directed The Family Man and the Rush Hour films. But don't hold that against him.

After careful decision, Anthony Hopkins returned to play Dr. Hannibal Lecter once again.

... I voiced my reticence to my agent. He said, 'Well, it'll be good. Why not do another one?' I said, 'Well, I've done two.' He said, 'Well, Ted Tally is writing the script' and I said, 'Yeah, I know. He's a good writer. Let me see the script.' And I read the script. I wasn't that reticent. I wasn't saying no. I just wanted to think about it and I read the script. I don't like playing hard to get because I don't think actors can afford to play hard to get. I told my agent, 'Just sign the deal.' 'Should we ask for more money?' 'No, no, do it.' So, I read it and I said, 'Yeah, it's good. Really good.' So I met Brett Ratner here in New York last June, who had been primed by Dino to talk me into doing it. I wasn't that reticent about it, but he was very nervous. He sat down and said, 'We could have a good movie.' I said, 'Yeah, okay. I'll do it.'
-- Anthony Hopkins


His primary concern was that Dr. Lecter is viewed as a role model, so he intended to make Dr. Lecter appear more of a monster than a connoisseur this time around.

I wanted to play it with more menace, more danger and much more rage, because after all, he has put me in here for life and I'm really not very happy about it. I also wanted to reveal to the Will Graham character and to the audience that behind the mask of this charming man is this lethal killer who's dangerous. You don't mess around. You don't go out to dinner and have a friendly chat with him. I just wanted to show that vicious, really horrifying side of him.
-- Anthony Hopkins

One of the challenges for Hopkins was the timeline of the series: Red Dragon was filmed ten years after Silence of the Lambs but, chronologically, the events occur just prior to it. Hopkins had to work hard to play the role of a younger Dr. Lecter convincingly. Since he works out regularly, he actually had to lose a little weight and muscle definition for the role. Hair and makeup deserve an Academy Award of their own for their fine work in smoothing out his face. There was a rumour at the time that De Laurentiis planned to use CGI effects to make Hopkins appear younger, but this, it appears, was unnecessary.

Edward Norton plays detective Will Graham with consummate skill. The media-shy Norton said that a major attraction in working on the film was the involvement of Brett Rattner and Anthony Hopkins. Norton captures the sadness of the role - the tortured, injured looks of a pure empath and eideteker (someone with a remarkable visual memory). This is something his character and Dr. Lecter share in common; cf. Dr. Lecter's dissertations on a memory palace.

Ralph Fiennes plays serial killer Francis Dolarhyde. With those lovely blue eyes he captures the dark nature of a confused killer, both wicked and sad:

Well, it appealed to me on many levels, and it's a great role in terms of way, way extreme behaviors with the tattoo, and also the look is very particular with the scarred face. But principally, it appealed to me because I think you get to play many sides of the guy, he's not just a cutout psychopath. There's this whole relationship with Emily Watson, which when I read the screenplay it really made it a part that I wanted to play ... I could play his confusion, and his uncertainty, and how to deal with this woman who is very direct, and very open and can't see him, and therefore in his head can't judge him. Because I think, he thinks of himself as very deformed, even though he is not too bad. I think that his esteem is very low, and that's why he's killing people, and wanting to feel omnipotent and empowered, and suddenly this honest, open, simple approach from this woman throws him off in his head, throws him off balance.
-- Ralph Fiennes

Emily Watson plays Reba McClane, a canny, blind woman who has tentatively begun a relationship with Dolarhyde's quiet side. Jack Crawford is no longer played by Scott Glenn; in this movie, he was played by Harvey Keitel. But in a nice touch, Anthony Heald returns to play the simpering Dr Chilton, and Frankie Faison appeared briefly to play nurse Barney. Philip Seymour Hoffman plays the "bottom-feeding" newshound Freddy Lounds. And Mary Louise Parker plays a fine dark-haired Molly Graham.

Scenes and Scenery

Filming started in January 2002 and took place primarily in Baltimore, Los Angeles and Florida. Three weeks of scenery footage also took place around Maryland. Many of the scenes purporting to be Chicago were actually Baltimore: for example, when Freddy Lounds rolls his great big car into a parking lot underneath the National Tattler offices - actually, offices for The Sun newspaper. Will Graham's private home in Marathon, Florida, was filmed at a private residence in Islamorada, Florida.

One of the most hair-raising scenes to film must have been the encounter with a fully-grown Bengal Tiger, lying on a vetinarian's table for an operation. Animal trainers brought in two tigers and taught them to lie still during filming. Since the American Humane Association Guidelines prevent animal tranquilization for films, both tigers was fully alert and awake at all times. The tigers got tetchy several times and jumped from the tables, but trainers simply led them back to their places. The sound of their breathing and purring was so loud that it had to be muffled during editing.

Comparisons with Manhunter

Thomas Harris's Red Dragon has been released as a movie before: Michael Mann's 1986 movie, Manhunter. There were mixed feelings among fans about it. Purists felt that Mann deviated from the script far too much for it to be enjoyable - characters, locations and the entire ending was changed. Complaints said that these deviations stopped the story being an intellectual thriller and made it a base horror story.

Thomas Harris himself was one of those critics:

Harris absolutely hated it (Manhunter).... He was very miffed that the title was changed so he was all for doing a new version that was closer to his book.
-- Ted Tally

Having said that, Manhunter was one heck of a horror story. Fans of the movie felt that it hit the right note of terror. The movie was similar in ambience and scenery to the great classic Psycho.

I talk to some important directors.... Everybody is scared to do Red Dragon because Manhunter is good movie. But Hannibal Lecter is a two-dimensional character in Manhunter.
-- Dino De Laurentiis

The tough part is that you already have a film that was made out of the book in Manhunter which everyone thinks is one of the greatest thrillers of its era. I liked Manhunter but I felt that Red Dragon could be better, because there was a lot of stuff from the novel left out of Manhunter that we could use. More importantly, Thomas Harris felt like a better film could be made, a more faithful version. It also seems quite fitting to have Anthony Hopkins complete the trilogy.
-- Ted Tally

So if you're expecting another Manhunter, don't. The new Red Dragon is an outstanding film in its own right, and it succeeds where Manhunter fails: it successfully translates a short, sharp book into a genuinely shocking film.

So, is it anything like the book? (here there be spoilers)

Yes. It's almost exactly like the book.

According to actors and crew, Brett Ratner held the book in Biblical esteem and wanted the movie to be as close to the book as possible. There has been considerable backlash from fans over Hannibal and Manhunter, where the endings deviated from the book in a way that diminishes the whole story. In fact, in the screenplay ending of Hannibal, any resemblence to the book's actual ending is purely coincidental. But the twists and turns of Hannibal were always going to be hard to sell to a wider audience. Given the strength of Red Dragon's plot, its characters and shocking ending, it's easy to see why Ratner wanted to stick to the script. The suspense and the horror was already written for him; he just had to bring it to life.

To this end, avid fans (ha ha, sorry, just my little joke) of the book will recognise whole scenes repeated word for word: the first conversation between Graham and Will is largely verbatim; Graham's musings in the Leeds house are spot on. The movie is an accurate and faithful representation of the books, with several notable exceptions.

Since the project began, it was widely recognised that viewers would want Dr. Lecter to have a more influential role in the movie. Tally needed to increase Dr. Lecter's role, to give him more dialogue and more scenes. However, considering how tightly the rest of the book is written, adding in scenes was no mean feat. Tally talked to Thomas Harris about it:

... He knew that we would have to beef up the character of Lecter for the film. He spent a lot of time thinking up ways to expand Lecter's role in the movie and he faxed me pages of possible dialogue, some of which I used. I mean, he knows Lecter better than anyone.
-- Ted Tally

Hence, most of the minor deviations from the book were overseen by Harris himself. This gives the new material the right style and the right feel; nothing feels ham-fisted or out of place. The deviations are largely cosmetic and mostly minor, involving slight changes of scenery or a little less dialogue. Nothing is added or removed from the movie that changes the course or the feel of the story. A relative comparison is the conversion-to-film of The Lord of the Rings: the crew have tried very hard to keep the movie as similar as possible, but have deviated where they felt necessary. There were no changes on an "Arwen and Aragorn" scale; everyone who falls in love here bears the scars to prove it.

One of the key additions occurs in the opening scene: the disappearance of the flautist Benjamin Raspail, "of the gluey flute." This event is only alluded to in Silence of the Lambs. Since it leads into how Will Graham caught Dr. Lecter, it's a very valuable piece of information for the viewers. The scene itself is a visual feast (ho ho, I really just can't help myself): Baltimore, 1983, the Baltimore Philharmonic playing the 3rd movement of Boccherini's Concerto in D Major. And the fumbling, daydreaming flautist Benjamin Raspail is ruining Dr. Lecter's enjoyment.

Shortly, the scene changes to Dr. Lecter's house, where dinner is being served for the Board of the Philharmonic Orchestra:

Chairwoman: Hannibal, confess. What is this divine-looking amuse-bouche?
Hannibal: If I tell you, I'm afraid you wouldn't even try it.

As the act continues, the details surrounding Dr. Lecter's capture are changed from the original. It is not Wound Man that is his downfall, but Larousse Gastronomique. The capture is made not in his office, but in the elegance of his home, and the whole scene is heavy with the intimate art of killing.

Other small changes were made to the location and movements in the final scene (more guns, less fish-hooks!) however the events and their essence remain almost precisely the same.

Similarly to additions in the movie, little of the original work has been left out. Scenes discussing the private life of Freddy Lounds were removed, although, to be truthful, Lounds' nature and personal life can be portrayed accurately without delving into the details. One sight of his grey-at-the-roots hair and cheap discount jacket speak a thousand words. Other scenes involving direct conversation with forensic psychiatrist Dr Alam Bloom have also been removed. But the information contained therein is disseminated in other ways - relayed through Crawford, Dr. Lecter and Graham himself.

So in summary, it's a successful and reasonably faithful translation of the book.

Money, money, money.

The movie cost US$80 million to make - roughly the same as Hannibal - and recouped almost half of that (US$36.5m) in its opening weekend earlier this month, making it the biggest opening weekend ever. In October. In the United States. Still, that's a lot of clams for any movie to make. The movie wrestled with The Ring to maintain supremacy at the box office, eventually winning out.

Together, the collective box office value of the three movies is expected to reach US$1 billion (that's right, with a b) with the third release.

Hopkins' payment deal is note-worthy. Rather than negotiating a set fee, Hopkins requested - and got - an agreement for 7.5% of the movie's gross, including $8 million in advance. If the movie goes as well as the other two, Hopkins could stand to make over $20 million.

Interesting facts:

Dr. Lecter's recipe for sweetbreads that Will Graham finds in his office is from Prosper Montagne and Dr. Gottschalk's Larousse Gastronomique, first published in 1938 in French and considered one of the finest cookbooks ever created.

Get your hands on a copy of the 1975 soft-cover The Joy of Cooking. Dr. Lecter's coded message to Dolarhyde is right there - page 100, beginning on line 6.

In order to learn his lines, Anthony Hopkins read his scenes in the script 250 times. He does this with all of his scripts, so that he can learn the lines comfortably and avoid straining to recall his part. This, he said to Australian television show Premiere, lets him relax into the role.

British tabloid The Mirror reported that Ralph Fiennes had no problems filming the nude scenes. In fact, Brett Ratner went so far to say, "We had to digitally remove part of his willy because it was so long, in the end we had to remove three or four inches."

The prosthetic that gave Fiennes a cleft palate took forty minutes to apply, but his fabulous tattoos took seven to eight hours to apply, with several make-up artists working non-stop with ink to apply them.

Moral of the story:

Don't be a serial killer. One day, you'll get shot.

Sauces Sources:

And thanks to BrianShader for his excellent writeup of the book, above.

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