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movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Hannibal

Starring: Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore
Director: Ridley Scott
Rated: R
RunTime: 131 Minutes
Release Date: February 2001
Genres: Horror, Suspense

*Also starring: Gary Oldman, Ray Liotta, Diane Baker, Giancarlo Giannini, Francesca Neri, Ivano Marescotti, Boyd Kestner

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
No Rating Supplied

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 pretentious drivel.

Copyright 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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