HANNIBAL

Directed by Ridley Scott. UK/USA. 2001.


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It is a movie truism that the middle entry in every trilogy is much weaker then the first and third entries. (This is not only true of my following examples, but also of the Star Wars series, although you will not find me saying so in public, as I do not wish to have Lucas’ zealous followers put scorpions in my underwear drawer.) Take Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. It’s nowhere NEAR the level of Raiders of the Lost Ark, or The Last Crusade. Though I love Michael J Fox to pieces I will be the first to admit Back to the Future II was one of the worst things I have ever seen on film (and I’ve seen Crossroads, AND Changing Lanes). Though film goers all have their own little individual gripes with various Hollywood products, I have yet to encounter a paying movie goer who doesn’t wince in bitterness at these two little words:

Batman Returns.

Hannibal. All Rights Reserved.With the release of Red Dragon I can say with confidence that my favourite movie truism is in no danger of being eradicated. I am totally awed by cinema’s ability to take sterling source material like Thomas Harris’ book, and turn it into a front runner for the Cinematic Sludge of the Decade Award. 

Hannibal tells the story of the chase to recapture the escaped serial killer Hannibal “the Cannibal” Lecter. Clarice Starling needs to reach her nemesis before an angry survivor of Lecter’s attacks does, lest her career be finished, and a vicious murder committed. For those who haven’t yet read the book or seen the film let me say these two things:

1) Read the book.  Avoid the film.

2) I haven’t looked at a pig the same way since I finished Harris’ novel. I used to think them cute. Now, not so much. *shudder*

Julianne Moore (Safe, An Ideal Husband) plays Clarice Starling in this middle mystery installment. While her performance is strong, I couldn’t help but mentally compare her turn to that of Jodie Foster’s in Silence of the Lambs, and it came off as a second. Foster’s Starling was a complex character. Moore’s Starling plays as, admittedly driven, but one dimensional. There’s none of the spirit or background Harris’ book gives the agent in Moore’s performance, and although she makes her Starling filled to the brim with ferocity, there’s none of Foster’s empathy, or street smarts that made Foster’s Starling so memorable, present in Moore’s work. To be fair, the crushing blow the script dealt to the original material would have made an appropriate re-creation of Harris’ agent INSANELY difficult, to almost impossible, which is the only explanation I can think of for the unusually sub-par performance given by this great actress.

Hannibal. All Rights Reserved.Anthony Hopkins (Shadowlands, Bad Company) is once again scaring everyone to death as Harris’ frightening creation: Hannibal “The Cannibal” Lecter. As with Moore, Hannibal’s beyond bad script makes it a waste of a fine actor’s time. When I read the novel I thought that the depth of attention given to Hannibal himself, the outlining of his interactions, the way Harris portrayed Hannibal’s skill at mental manipulation would make for a terrific chance for Hopkins to show what a tremendous talent he is. To be fair here, Hopkins did the very best he could with what little he had in the script, but it’s still a nothing performance when you compare it to his Hannibal in Silence of the Lambs or Red Dragon. Hopkins makes Hannibal frightening, but with none of the sinister magnetism he so effortlessly poured into the same role in it’s previous incarnations. The role isn’t nearly as well developed as it could have been, with none of Harris’ wonderful power of getting his audience to examine a killer’s motivations being put into the film, and for the life of me I can’t figure out why. It’s not as though (film director) Ridley Scott had a novice in the role that he couldn’t be sure of. Hannibal is an absurd waste of Anthony Hopkins. 

A truism as valid as my theory on the lesser value of number two in a series of three, is that of the book always being better then the movie. I just don’t understand how a book as terrifying as Hannibal was mangled into such an ordinary movie. So many of the finer points of the book were missed in the film leaving me with the ultimate impression that Hannibal’s scriptwriter having used the book as a doorstop and not much else. My recommendation? Grab a copy of all of Thomas Harris’ books, but only spend your time on the film adaptations of The Silence of the Lambs, and Red Dragon. Hannibal is a must miss.

Jen Johnston
 
 
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