Hannibal: Special Edition
MGM Home Video
Starring Anthony Hopkins and Julianne Moore
Written by David Mamet and Steve Zaillian
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Review by Dawn Taylor
The Silence of the Lambs was a near-perfect film. Its sequel, Hannibal, doesn't even come close. Why is that?
For starters, the source material wasn't as good. Thomas Harris' novel, "The Silence of the Lambs," was tight, briskly paced, and compelling. It was a noticeable improvement over "Red Dragon," his previous novel, in which he featured Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter as a minor character (it was also the basis for the film Manhunter, which is slated to be re-made as I write this). "Red Dragon" and "Silence" were structured virtually identically the latter reads almost as if the first effort were its rough draft. Both were small, economically written thrillers that had been meticulously researched.
The third book in the quasi-series, "Hannibal," is a different animal altogether. Five-hundred-plus pages in length, it reads as if Harris wrote it as the outcome of some sort of deep-seated grudge. An underlying, "You want another Lecter book? Oh, I'll write you a fucking Lecter book!" attitude infects every chapter of the bloated work, and it's impossible to read its controversial ending without being aware that Hollywood had already optioned the property for a movie; you can almost hear Harris laughing to himself, writing an ending that he knows will never, ever be filmable in a million years, as he gleefully pockets their money.
The story picks up Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore, taking over for the wisely absent Jodie Foster) ten years after Silence, her FBI career less illustrious than she had hoped. In the book the reasons are made crystal clear: Her early fame as a rookie with the Buffalo Bill case gained her resentment from her more seasoned colleagues, and her spurning of Agent Paul Krendler's (Ray Liotta) advances caused him to sabotage her career as he continued upward into a more senior position. In the movie, we get no such explanation (although the Krendler thing is tossed off in a late scene). Here, we just see her take the blame for a shoot-out that goes wrong, and this incident alone is supposed to be enough to destroy her lifelong dreams. As written by Harris, it had taken a decade for her to become disillusioned; in Steve Zaillian's screenplay, it takes about three days and it's hardly convincing.
Demoted to a desk job, she soon receives a letter from Dr. Lecter. Hannibal's living in Florence, Italy, working as an art curator, and he's made it a point to stay on top of Clarice's doings. He's also made it to the Ten Most Wanted List, and is avidly pursued by one of his previous victims, a billionaire named Mason Verger (Gary Oldman, uncredited but his identity was no secret by the time the film opened.) Verger was a child molester assigned to Dr. Lecter for therapy; Lecter drugged him and encouraged him to cut off his face and feed it to his dogs. "It seemed like a good idea at the time," he says, reminiscing. Verger has had his lackeys training a special breed of giant killer hog to develop a taste for human flesh, because he plans to feed Lecter to them starting with his feet, so he can hear his screams. ("Ha ha ha ha ha!" laughs Thomas Harris. "Killer hogs! A guy with no face! Make a movie out of this, you bastards! Hee hee hee hee hee!")
Meanwhile (this is a 500-page book, after all), a Florence detective named Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) has become suspicious of the art curator, figures out that he's Lecter, and decides to turn him over him to Verger for a $3 million reward. Once again, the novel gave us a lot of background on Pazzi he had been a hotshot detective but blew a big case and his reputation was tarnished, his ego was damaged and he felt he had to still lavish gifts on his beautiful, much-younger wife. His financial straits inspired him to go after the money, but his yearning to regain his star status as a cop made him continue to pursue Lecter too closely, taking ridiculous risks because he needed, desperately, to get credit for catching Lecter himself. In the film, he just seems like a sad-eyed clown who doesn't know when to walk away, taking foolish chances when he really should know better.
So Clarice tracks Lecter down which was his plan all along, of course but he flees Italy to return to the States, stalks Clarice as she, in turn, looks for him, Verger catches him, he gets away, blahblahblahblah you still with me? then we get to the big gross-out dinner scene and the finale.
As stated previously, part of the problem lies in the source material. The book is structured in three acts, with the Pazzi storyline taking up most of the overlong first third. It does here, as well it's not resolved until one hour and fifteen minutes into the film (which runs, by the way, two hours and eleven minutes). This imbalance is the story's biggest flaw we want to know about Clarice and Hannibal, dammit, not this Italian guy! ("Ho ho ho ho!" chortles Thomas Harris. "Hee hee hee!")
Another fundamental problem is in the re-working of the characters themselves. The single greatest strength of The Silence of the Lambs is the character of Clarice Starling. She's scrappy and brave, and she overcomes amazing obstacles in a believable, very human way. We believe her fear, and we applaud her rallying to get over it to save the day. The Clarice of Silence is outstanding because she's never a damsel in distress, she isn't a vixen, she never uses her sexuality to gain anything she's a straightforward hero. So "Hannibal," the book and the film, is something of a betrayal of that character. Ten years down the road ... where is Clarice's strength? When she's made the scapegoat for the fish market shooting, she doesn't even defend herself or explain what really happened she just takes it and looks sad. When she goes after Lecter on Verger's farm, she ends up getting knocked out and carried off by Lecter, putting her squarely into the Chick in Jeopardy role. And as for Hannibal himself ... well, the book, at least, gave us a chance to explore his inner workings (Harris's depiction of the inside of Lecter's mind as "architecture," a series of rooms that he would spend time in, was well-written and evocative) but in the film we don't get that. We get Hannibal as a refined gent, a snappy dresser, and a lovelorn sap. He's not scary, though. Not remotely.
Finally, the biggest reason that Hannibal doesn't work is director Ridley Scott. In watching The Silence of the Lambs and Hannibal back-to-back, it's painfully obvious why one works and the other doesn't point of view. Jonathan Demme's Silence forces the audience to experience the story through Clarice, with the camera consistently at eye level or lower, an overwhelming number of intense close-ups, and at least one shot in every segment with a character looking directly into the camera as they speak to Clarice (i.e., the viewer). So the tension is visceral you're there, in the story, one hundred percent. Scott came to Hannibal directly from making Gladiator, and his eye was still accustomed to looking at big shots of big coliseums with small people; his film is curiously detached, with lots of scenes shot from rooftops, from across rivers, from hundreds of yards away. Demme gave us tight shots of the actors faces, so that we could read every emotion that coursed through them and by extension experience that emotion, too; Scott gives us piazzas and scenery, and artistic shots of set details. It's stupendously uninvolving.
Julianne Moore, as usual, is very good, although she's not given a lot of actorly stuff to do. Anthony Hopkins seems to have decided that he's now a Movie Star and doesn't need to do the hard work unlike Silence, he eschews serious acting and just plays Hannibal as, well, Anthony Hopkins with a nice paycheck in his pocket. Giancarlo Giannini is sinfully wasted, and Ray Liotta is well-cast but gets little to do (other than getting served for dinner). But at least Thomas Harris got bucketloads of cash and a few good laughs out of the experience. I'm happy for him.
Supplements ... and a Nice Chianti.
Oh boy, are there supplements. The two-disc Hannibal: Special Edition features enough supplements that you may forget what a dog the movie is. Maybe.
- "Breaking the Silence: The Making of Hannibal" This 75-minute documentary is a film geek's wet dream, no matter how you feel about the movie itself. Broken up into five segments than can be watched separately or as one long feature: "Development" is a too-short, whitewashed version of the road to getting the film made David Mamet is never mentioned, although he retained screen credit for his version of the script, and Foster's and Demme's flight from the project is glossed over. Dino DeLaurentiis says of Demme's replacement with Scott, "You know, in Italy is a statement when one Pope dies, we get a new Pope. We get new Pope for Hannibal." Charming. "Production" offers details regarding how they shot the dinner sequence and the scenes with the killer pigs; "Special Make-up Effects" takes us behind the scenes for the creation of Oldman's makeup, the animatronic baby for the shoot-out scenes, Liotta's brain and Giannini's entrails; "Music," an interview with Hans Zimmer about his score; "Reaction," with footage from the L.A. and New York premieres and after-parties, including some fun video shot inside an L.A/ industry screening, recording audience reaction during the dinner scene.
- "Multi-Angle Vignettes" Multiple video angles and audio tracks of selected scenes, with four camera views of the fish market scene; storyboarding, with a choice of a Ridley Scott interview on the subject, storyboards with the interview running as an audio track, or storyboard/shot comparison; and variations of the main title design, with optional commentary by designer Nick Livesey or Ridley Scott.
- "Deleted and Alternate Scenes" 14 of them, which would be tedious to describe here in full detail. Most are short sequences that were obviously trimmed for pacing or length. A couple of them are notable, though: An alternate version of Lecter sending Clarice the letter includes additional footage of Florence, Hopkins playing his own composition on the piano, and a P.S. that explains what happened to Clarice's mentor, Jack Crawford; the "Il Mostro Case" selection is a montage of scenes from an abandoned subplot about Pazzi's search for a serial killer (a prominent storyline in the book); a deliciously creepy scene in which Clarice, jogging thinks that someone is chasing her but Lecter is actually breaking into her car at that moment, and then proceeds to lick her steering wheel; and an alternate ending, sans decapitation. There's additional commentary by Scott, who describes a third, unshot ending, with Lecter taking the handcuffed Clarice with him in the boat and jumping overboard, forcing her to decide whether to unlock the cuffs or drown with him. Scott rejected this ending as being "too elaborate too James Bond."
- There's the inevitable Director Commentary by Ridley Scott, with a menu breaking his remarks up into 32 navigable chapters. Scott spends most of his time, frustratingly, describing to you exactly what it is that you're seeing on the screen. When he does offer some background, it only reinforces that he's somehow incapable of real depth with his actors he talks about how he gave Ray Liotta the role of Krendler after bumping into him at the gym, and comments as Clarice awakens in Lecter's house, drugged and dressed in an evening gown "Julianne here is looking the best she's looked in the film, despite the wound on her shoulder. I was always trying to induce the idea of this implicit sexuality throughout the movie, which in some ways is very easy with Julianne, 'cause that's what she is, she's a very, very, very, very attractive, feminine very feminine person, who's also very strong." Wow. That's a lot of "verys."
- There's also a Marketing Gallery featuring trailers, TV spots, production stills and poster designs. In case you're into that sort of thing.
- And, if that's not enough, you get Trailers for The Silence of the Lambs DVD and the upcoming John Woo Windtalkers feature film (which looks really, really good, and made me wish I was seeing that instead.)
- Two-disc set
- Anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1)
- Two single-sided, single-layered discs (SS-SL)
- DTS 5.1 (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
- Subtitles in English, French and Spanish
- Director's commentary track by Ridley Scott
- Documentary: "Breaking the Silence: The Making of Hannibal" (75 min.)
- Deleted and alternate scenes with optional director commentary by Ridley Scott
- Multi-angle featurettes on storyboarding, title design and action sequences
- Still gallery
- Trailers and TV spots
- Dual-DVD slimline keep-case
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