NEW YORK — Edward Norton has committed to star for director Brett Ratner in “Red Dragon,” Universal’s new adaptation of the 1981 Thomas Harris novel considered a prequel to “Silence of the Lambs.” Anthony Hopkins, who most recently toplined “Hannibal,” is in final talks to play the cannibalistic serial killer Dr. Lecter for the third time, and production is slated to begin by the end of November for a summer 2002 release.

The source material for “Red Dragon” is the same used for “Manhunter,” the thriller directed by Michael Mann in 1986. That film, which starred William Petersen, marked the first screen appearance of Lecter, in the form of actor Brian Cox.

The new film, scripted by Oscar-winning “Silence of the Lambs” scribe Ted Tally, will similarly focus on the attempt by an obsessive former FBI agent to hunt down a brutal serial killer known as the Tooth Fairy. Tally’s script uses elements from the book that didn’t make it to the first movie, and broadens the relationship between the agent and Lecter to fully utilize the box office potential of Hopkins.

The film was fast-tracked by Universal after the Ridley Scott-directed “Hannibal” grossed more than $350 million worldwide for U and partner MGM. “Red Dragon” is being produced by Dino and Martha De Laurentiis.

Norton will play FBI agent Will Graham, who solves crimes by immersing himself so far into the psyche of the serial killer that he risks losing his own identity. His most famous catch was Lecter. In “Red Dragon,” Graham is forced out of retirement, and reacquaints himself with an incarcerated Lecter in hopes of figuring out the motive and identity of the Tooth Fairy before the killer strikes again.

Norton is represented by Endeavor.