Hannibal (Special Edition) Review
A shambolic disaster or a misunderstood masterpiece? Hannibal has been the recipient of a great deal of critical attention, both positive and negative - hardly surprising, given that it bears the responsibility of being the follow-up to the hugely successful The Silence of the Lambs. Certainly, expectations dropped dramatically when it was revealed that Silence director Jonathan Demme, screenwriter Ted Tally and actors Jodie Foster and Scott Glenn had all declined to participate when approached, and with such important key talent seeming to give the project as wide a berth as possible (Foster was apparently paid a fairly hefty sum in exchange for agreeing not to bad-mouth it), the signs did not look good. Contrary to what seems to encompass popular opinion, however, Hannibal is in my opinion not only every bit as good as Silence, but indeed significantly better than it in many ways.
The story takes off around ten years after the events of its predecessor, and therefore it is fitting that the film was also produced within a similar time frame. The infamous Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Anthony Hopkins), "Hannibal the Cannibal", has been missing for a decade, seemingly vanished off the face of the earth. As a result, he has been removed from the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list, much to the chagrin of Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore), the FBI agent who consulted with him in an effort to apprehend the serial killer known as Buffalo Bill. The scapegoat of a recent bungled drugs sting, Starling finds herself put back on the case to track down Lecter after new evidence is brought to light by Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), a former child molester and Lecter's only victim to have survived, albeit in a horrifically disfigured state.* Meanwhile, in Florence, Detective Inspector Rinaldo Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) becomes suspicious that the new museum curator, Dr. Fell, is none other than Lecter himself. Seeing a chance to make some money for himself, Pazzi seeks to apprehend Lecter himself and claim a substantial reward. Verger, too, has his own ideas, sensing a perfect opportunity to exact revenge against Lecter. As hunters with their own agendas close in from all angles, the good doctor knows better than to worry unduly. After all, he's going to have a lot of fun.
* As I wrote this, it suddenly dawned on me that Will Graham in Red Dragon (Manhunter) also survived an attack by Lecter.
Hannibal's demand is that you forget Silence - which is no small request, but, I think, a reasonable one. In all honesty, the only direct connection between Jonathan Demme's seminal 1990 gritty thriller and Ridley Scott's majestic horror movie is the presence of Anthony Hopkins and Frankie Faison in both casts. Everything else has changed: director, screenwriter, the entire production crew and most of the cast. The biggest change, and seemingly the most contentious, is the replacement of Jodie Foster by Julianne Moore, an equally gifted actor but one who bears little resemblance to Foster, physically or otherwise. The change from Foster to Moore, in my opinion, perfectly encapsulates the gap between the two films: both are wonderful, but you cannot approach the latter expecting it to mirror the former. The greatest strength of Silence's Clarice was arguably that Foster was able to perfectly convey her position as an enthusiastic rookie struggling to make her voice heard in a world dominated by cynical men. Hannibal's Clarice is a changed woman, experienced but world-weary and having still not gained the respect she desires. Tall and elegant, Julianne Moore does not look like the sort of person who would take disrespect on the chin, and neither does the new Clarice.
What turned so many viewers away from Hannibal was probably, to quote Paul Krendler, "all this artsy-fartsy stuff", and while Hannibal certainly does not qualify as an art film (it is a Hollywood product through and through), it is definitely more esoteric than its predecessor. To appreciate the film, you really do have to approach it as a black comedy rather than a thriller or (heaven forfend!) a horror movie. Certainly there are thriller elements, in the form of the police procedural element, and there are moments of intense horror - the notorious dinner sequence gives The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover a serious run for its money in the department of sheer nastiness - but equally well there are moments of intense gothic romance and psychodrama, and enveloping it all is a bleakly comic touch that I am sure was intentional. Many have criticised Anthony Hopkins for camping it up something rotten, but his droll, almost effeminate portrayal of Lecter is completely appropriate here (and certainly more so than in Brett Ratner's satisfactory but bland Red Dragon). In a cast of extremely straight-laced individuals - and you don't get more straight-laced than Julianne Moore, who with her stern features and elegant figure is the perfect foil for Hannibal - Hopkins/Lecter, and possibly Mason Verger, seem to be the only ones in on the joke, with Lecter flitting from location to location seemingly without a care in the world and making it all look effortless.
Thematically, the film is wonderfully rich, an incredibly layered piece of work by Steven Zaillian. (Zaillian is the same writer responsible for Schindler's List, which, in my opinion, is a woefully inferior product and one that is never remotely as subtle as Hannibal. David Mamet also worked on an early draft of the script, and although practically none of his material is included in the final film, the bafflingly idiotic rules of the Writers' Guild decreed that he receive top billing.) While Jodie Foster referred to Silence as a modern reworking of the classic tale of the brave knight venturing into the dragon's den, Hannibal acts as an approximation of Beauty and the Beast. In his own way, Hannibal loves Clarice, and while she will never return that love, she clearly respects him even if she finds his cannibalistic behaviour repugnant. Their final scene together is both disturbing and touching, as he tells her that "all you need [to remind you of your courage and incorruptability] is a mirror". At the opposite end of the thematic spectrum is the power play between Clarice and the establishment. Silence was primarily about the struggle of a woman in a male-dominated world, and while this concept is also present to an extent in Hannibal (Krendler's personal vendetta against her seems to stem from the fact that, at one time, she refused to sleep with him), the central concern seems to be the issue of corruption, and the fact that, barring Clarice, the only character who is, in a manner of speaking, completely uncorrupt, is Hannibal. The "only" way in which he could be considered evil is in the fact that he eats people; otherwise, his moral code is far stronger than that of those who seek to apprehend him - apart from Clarice, who he seems to recognize as a worthy opponent, although he is not above indulging in mind games with her.
Visually, the film is absolutely phenomenal. John Mathieson, who also shot Scott's previous film, Gladiator, bathes the screen in cold hues and shadows, making the most both of the aged grace of Florence and the austere modernity of Washington DC. Scott storyboarded the entire film himself, and his signature style is stamped all over the finished product, much more so in the comparatively workmanlike Gladiator. Hans Zimmer also provides a wonderful score, easily his most experimental in some years and a far cry from the usual brash, synthesized sound that he and his Media Ventures team tend to indulge in for action blockbusters. The opera music that appears both in the film and during the end credits is actually an original composition, a piece by Dante never before set to music.
Hannibal is, for me, is a truly wonderful piece of work: a Grand Guignol masterpiece, and that rare example of a film produced within the confines of Hollywood commerce that actually comes close to functioning as an art film. No wonder the masses hated it.
Presented anamorphically in its correct 1.85:1 aspect ratio, Hannibal looks very good indeed, and while the beautiful cinematography undoubtedly plays a large part in making the DVD look so good, those responsible for creating the transfer deserve credit for representing it so well. Back in 2001, I rated the image quality extremely highly, and while time has made me more critical and more aware of its flaws, I still consider it to be one of the format's better transfers. The opening scene with Mason Verger looks a bit soft, but as soon as the opening credits have finished rolling the image is immediately sharper and more detailed. This title has, like most DVDs, clearly been filtered to some extent, so it is never really as detailed as it could be, but it is for the most part perfectly eye-pleasing, and there is no sign of any compression artefacts. A handful of scenes demonstrate varying degrees of edge enhancement, but this is really not a huge problem. Overall this is a perfectly satisfying transfer, but it lacks that extra something to push it all the way into the 10/10 category.
The audio, however, is more than deserving of such a rating. Offering a choice between Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 tracks, the latter is very much the one to go for, providing a rich, layered mix that runs the full gamut between full-on multi-channel explosions (check out the fish market confrontation at the start of the film) and more subtle, delicate ambience (the streets of Rome come alive with the sounds of traffic and conversation). The Dolby track is encoded at only 384 Kbps instead of the recommended 448 Kbps, so unfortunately its fidelity is slightly constrained, but with the DTS track packing such a punch there seems little point in trifling over this matter.
In an impressive move for such a (relatively) early title, all the extras are fully subtitled in English and Dutch (including the commentary), as well as providing subtitles in a multitude of language for the main feature.
Hannibal made the transition from cinemas to DVD remarkably quickly - a mere six months between its respective UK theatrical and video premieres - so it is surprising just how feature-packed this 2-disc set is. Watching the various bonus features it quickly becomes clear that the film was intended to receive the most lavish DVD treatment possible right from the start, as every aspect of production has been documented in uncompromising detail.
The sole extra on the first disc is a Commentary with Ridley Scott, and it is probably one of the best commentaries I have heard to date. One of the few people who can talk on his own and still remain interesting,without resorting to cracking corny jokes, Scott gives a very in-depth analysis of the whole process, usually commenting on the events as they appear on the screen and providing a lot of insight into his thoughts both on the look of the film as well as the process of adapting such a weighty tome as Hannibal.
The second disc kicks off with what is, in my opinion, one of the best documentaries ever produced for a recent movie. Generally, unless a film is at least a couple of decades old, these behind the scenes pieces tend to be rather perfunctory in nature, providing a lot of anecdotes and back-patting but little real insight. Not so with Breaking the Silence: The Making of Hannibal, a 75-minute feature that goes through the making of the film in an admirable amount of detail. Split into five sections, every angle of the production is covered, from the chaos thrown into the proceedings when Jonathan Demme, Ted Tally and Jodie Foster all declined to participate, to the process of getting Ridley Scott, Stephen Zaillian and the cast on board, to the writing process, to the special effects, right up to the film's launch, featuring footage from various premieres in the US. Best of all, rather than going for the usual "HBO-style" treatment of splicing in numerous clips from the movie, that vast majority of its running time is comprised of good, solid interview footage, featuring the two Laurentiis producers, Scott, Hopkins and (with not nearly enough footage) Moore.
With a collection of Multi-angle Vignettes there is finally a use for that multi-angle button that appears on every remote but never pressed! There are three different features here, each of them somewhat different. The first, Anatomy of a Shoot-out, shows the shoot-out scene near the beginning of the film from various angles. It reveals that the action was photographed using several cameras at once. You can either view each of the four cameras separately, or all at once.
The second, Ridleygrams, is a look at the storyboarding process of the films. Rather than taking the conventional approach whereby a specialist artist is hired, Scott storyboarded the entire movie himself. One angle features a lengthy introduction by Scott, whereas the other two feature close-up frames and storyboard-to-film comparisons respectively, but both with Scott's introduction for audio.
The final vignette is Title Design, which is a detailed look at the opening credits sequence. You can view the introduction, or choose both an angle (the final design, the original cut, footage of birds, and pages from the notebook of designer Nick Livesey), as well as selecting the audio track you want (final theatrical mix, original cut mix, and separate commentaries by Livesey and Scott, the latter replicating much of the material from his discussion of the credits during the feature commentary).
14 Deleted and Alternate Scenes are included, ranging from very brief (a few seconds) to quite lengthy (over 11 minutes for the case of Il Mostro, which shows a subplot removed from the movie entirely). Each one has an optional commentary by Scott. There is a lot here that in my opinion would have worked well if left in the movie, although I can see why some additional material was removed. The transfer is non-anamorphic 1.85:1, but the picture quality is just on the right side of reasonable. The audio is Dolby 2.0.
Finally, a Marketing Gallery rounds off the package, including a teaser trailer, which features no footage from the movie, and the more standard theatrical trailer, which is also included on MGM DVDs such as The Silence of the Lambs, Jeepers Creepers and Carrie. Also included are a whopping 19 TV spots, and a collection of photos (from production and from the movie itself), and various concepts for posters, many of which range interesting to downright disturbing.
Hannibal has been available on DVD for nearly four years now, but as a comprehensive package detailing every aspect of a production it remains hard to beat. I make no secret of the fact that I consider this both a woefully underrated film and one of the best releases of 2001, which, when you consider Amélie, Mulholland Dr. and Sex and Lucía (all modern-day favourites of mine), was a pretty good year for movies.