TV ads for "Hannibal," the follow-up to "The Silence of the Lambs,"
begin with the statement, "For 10 years you've been waiting for him to
return." I don't know about you, but I wasn't. "Silence" is a terrific
movie and Anthony Hopkins' Dr. Hannibal Lecter remains one of the most
chilling villains ever to appear on the big screen. In his 30 scant
minutes of screen time, the erudite cannibal with the feral eyes and
spring-coiled calm demeanor left an unforgettable impression, from his
crackling "quid pro quo" exchanges with FBI agent Clarice Starling to
the horrific moment when the beast finally pounced.
The film ended perfectly, with the escaped doctor phoning Clarice and
delivering the classic line, "I do wish we could chat longer, but I'm
having an old friend for dinner." And that was that. The story was over,
with a thoroughly satisfying resolution. Not once during the next decade
did I wonder what happened to Hannibal or Clarice later.
Clearly, somebody did. Jodie Foster, who was so remarkable as Clarice,
and "Silence" director Jonathan Demme both passed on the adaptation of
Thomas Harris' controversial novel, but Anthony Hopkins signed on the
dotted line and Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter was reborn. Incidentally,
plans for yet another film are already underway. Who knows where it all
will end? Perhaps with a TV series. I can hear the promos now: "When
college student Jack McGee became the live-in caretaker at a mansion
owned by a reclusive art historian, little did he know that his new
roomie would be a cultured serial killer with a taste for human flesh!
Take a bite of comic mayhem with 'My Dinners with Hannibal,' starring
Jimmy Fallon as Jack and Eddie Izzard as the dreadful Dr. H! Coming this
fall to the WB!"
But I digress.
"Hannibal" is an extremely disappointing movie that dilutes the impact
of Hannibal Lecter while turning Clarice Starling (now played by
Julianne Moore) into a marginal character. Dense and dull, it plods
along, enlivened by periodic displays of gore-porn. Viewers get to see a
man's face sliced off (the flesh is fed to dogs), a police officer
gutted and several people eaten alive by wild boars. The most disgusting
visual is saved for the end. I won't reveal it here. Suffice to say it
manages to be repellent and idiotic at the same time.
That scene, by the way, is a textbook example of how to destroy viewer
tension. Director Ridley Scott starts it stylishly, teasing the audience
with glimpses of the victim as the villain hovers nearby. The suspense
and sense of creepiness builds slowly and steadily, only to be blown by
one long, disastrous full-head image of something happening to an actor
that would be lethal in real life. By lingering on a shot of the
impossible, the illusion is shattered. Up until that moment, I watched
with horror as the villain prepared to perform an unspeakable act on a
helpless victim. But when Scott cut to the full head image, I was jerked
out of the fantasy. Instead of being caught up in the fiction, I found
myself studying the FX. A filmmaker as talented as Ridley Scott should
know that the image dictated by the script could only be effectively
presented with brief looks from a variety of angles.
The mentality behind the shot is just one of many bad ideas connected
with "Hannibal." Taking a character as rich as Clarice Starling and
making her a flat supporting player is another. Perhaps the worst idea
is trying to turn Hannibal Lecter from the bogeyman into an antihero.
The screenplay stresses that Dr. Lecter prefers to only kill rude
people, as if that is a positive character trait. Producer Dino De
Laurentiis echoed this dumb-ass mindset, claiming that audiences have
conferred hero status on the character, then adding "When he's forced to
kill, he kills somebody the audience wants to kill too."
Bear in mind, this is from the same guy who thought his remake of "King
Kong" was better than the original. But Julianne Moore, who has always
seemed well-balanced, apparently agrees. "He is the monster everyone
wishes they could be," she told Entertainment Weekly.
What the hell is wrong with these people?
I haven't said much about the plot of "Hannibal" because there isn't
much to it. Despite being one of the most notorious serial killers on
Earth, Lecter strolls casually around upper crust Florence, Italy. In
the book, he had plastic surgery done, but the filmmakers obviously
decided, "Aw, screw it." Back in America, his one surviving victim (Gary
Oldman, uncredited and unrecognizable beneath heavy makeup) plots to
capture and kill Lecter. Clarice gets involved, yadda yadda yadda. The
photography is lush and the music florid. Moore does what she can with
her stunted character, while Hopkins rolls his vowels excessively. None
of which matters, of course. All the flourishes in the world can't
disguise the fact that "Hannibal" is just a geek show with delusions of
grandeur. If you're in the mood for gore, rent "Night of the Living
Dead," a far more frightening, entertaining and honest movie than this
Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott