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Hannibal
Review written by: Alex Sandell


"Now, if I could just cross over this threshold before
my damn back gives out!" 

Time and again I hear people complaining that Hannibal wasn't "scary enough."  "Scary" was never the point.  The movie is based on a novel that was essentially a romance.  Itís not like the premise isnít at least a little frightening.  Wouldn't you be just a little bit scared if you were the object of Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter's (Anthony Hopkins) affections?  Okay, don't answer that question.  He's become something of a sex symbol, really.  I don't know what that says about our culture, but it sure makes me feel better about my receding hairline.  (Hannibal Lecter's biggest victims are probably the pocketbooks of The Hair Club For Men and The Bosley Institute.  Soon, men just won't think it's cool to have their "naturally growing hair" back, especially when it looks about as realistic as the crap plugged into the plastic head of a friggin' Ken doll.)   

Another common complaint is that the film is too gruesome.  Compared to its source material, the movie is bright, light and flighty.  It's not like The Silence of the Lambs was a G rated walk in the park.  Hannibal is a well-directed festival of good taste, spattered with a little blood, actually.  Yes, those are brain segments hidden in that box, but the box came from Dean & Deluca, damnit!  

Then there are the people on the opposite end complaining that Hannibal isn't good simply because the ending varied from that which was presented to us in the novel.  In the book, Clarice M. Starling falls in love with Hannibal Lecter, and the two lovebirds dance off into the moonlight, together.  This is the logical ending to the couple's affair, and I was upset that it wasn't used, but I can completely understand why it wasn't ... the movie would have been abhorred by feminists and hated by Silence purists.  These same feminists and "purists" would overlook the fact that the wheels of romance were already set in motion in The Silence of the Lambs ("people will say we're in love"), just like they ignored the same fact when they whined about the book.  The film was kind enough to let individuals who take their fictional characters with one too many lumps of reality go on with their fantasies regarding Special Agent Starling as being the flawless tower of incorruptibility that they have built her up to be.  Those of us who read the novel already know how it really ends.    

Finally, there are people like me -- and I think there are a lot of us (the film did gross $165,000,000 at the Box Office, in the United States and Canada, alone) -- people who realize that with Hannibal they just witnessed one of the greatest sequels in cinematic history.  The first half of the movie is flawless.  We are reintroduced to characters we grew to know and love during The Silence of the Lambs.  The scene is set for what is to come, and director Ridley Scott gives us so much eye-candy our brains will need fillings.  

What sets this eye-candy apart from so much of the rest is the fact that it plays second fiddle to the incredible performances given by our two leads.  No one could recreate what Jodie Foster initially did with her portrayal of Clarice Starling in The Silence of the Lambs, and fortunately Julianne Moore doesn't try to.  No one could recreate what Anthony Hopkins initially did with his portrayal of Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, and fortunately Anthony Hopkins doesn't try to recreate it, but chooses instead to enhance it.  

Julianne Moore's Clarice Starling is not the stuttering agent full of butterflies that Jodie Foster gave us ten years ago.  Moore's Starling is a jaded and angry agent hiding her vast amount of insecurities behind a curtain of gung-ho confidence (think Eminem, only without the rapping).  Anthony Hopkins no longer plays Hannibal Lecter as a vicious monster full of venomous bile.  He now plays Hannibal as a charismatic and scholarly man, one who just happens to spit venomous bile at anyone who gets within spitting distance of his sordid past.  

Hopkins' Hannibal throws himself into the arts, fine dining, and graphic murder all with the same gleeful enthusiasm, which makes for a performance that is both invigorating and creepy.  Watching this caged bird free is as intense an entertainment experience as they come.  Both carnal artist and connoisseur, Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter makes for the most interesting onscreen monster since Anthony Perkins' Norman Bates.  Lecter's confidence and complete lack of fear in the face of adversity is exactly what Starling is looking for, especially now that she has seen the corruption that lies atop the FBI and is feeling more vulnerable than ever.

Clarice Starling was always trying to escape.  She was always running away from whatever wronged her and heading toward something pure.  Once she made it "all the way to the F ... B ... I" she thought she had found the purity she sought.  She hadn't.  The people she thought would be the most incorruptible turned out to be the most corrupted.  In a topsy-turvy world such as this, Hannibal Lecter just may be the last person to run to.  The last reliable thing left to hold onto.  The only thing left to silence the lambs.  And it is when Clarice realizes this that the movie becomes slightly less than perfect.

While the first half of the film moves along at a leisurely pace with Hannibal strolling the streets of Florence and Clarice getting screwed over by the system, the second half seems hurried.  Due to the fact that the romance has been ripped out, along with the majority of subplots that surrounded it, Ridley Scott, a master director, and one who did not fail us with Hannibal, isn't given the choice material to work with in the second half that he was in the first.  

What Scott gives us during the second half is a roller-coaster ride of guts and gore.  The film begins to concern itself less with plot than it does with outdoing the last bloody scene with the next, ending up culminating in what is the most visually grotesque finale put into any major mainstream film.  This is all fine, fun and good, but it's still slightly lacking.  The film based itself so strongly on the novel during its first half that, like the novel it was based on, it ends up setting itself up for the inevitable romance between Clarice and Hannibal; a romance that, in the film, never comes.

Had the movie included the romance, it would have been a contemporary classic.  It would have been an equal to The Silence of the Lambs, which I feel is one of the best films ever made.  As it is, it's simply one of the greatest horror movies ever made, with some of the best directing put on the silver screen, incredible acting, and cinematography to die for.  Call me crazy, but I can live with that.  At least if Hannibal Lecter lets me.   

If you're still looking for scary, watch Julianne Moore selling herself out in one of those cosmetic commercials.  If that doesn't keep you up at night, nothing will.

On a scale of 1-10?

10

Agree? Disagree? Email me at alex@juicycerebellum.com

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Text ©(Copyright) 2002 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].

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