Hannibal [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - MGM Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (9th November 2011).
The Film

I have to admit, as good of a filmmaker as Sir Ridley Scott is, being the man tasked to follow up the Academy Award-sweeping “The Silence of the Lambs” (1991) is as unenviable a task as I can imagine. Set ten years after the events in “Silence”, “Hannibal” (2001) was to have reunited the award-winning team of director Jonathan Demme, screenwriter Ted Tally, and stars Anthony Hopkins and Jodie Foster. Author Thomas Harris finished his novel and sent it off to all the principals, but the reaction wasn’t exactly one of enthusiasm. Demme and Tally dropped off almost immediately, the former saying that he felt the novel was “too grotesque” and that it wasn’t what he was after tonally. This meant it was down to Foster and Hopkins to keep the film afloat. Rumors are that the studio was willing to recast both roles if necessary but, let’s face it, they knew there wouldn’t be a picture if they lost everyone they needed. Foster eventually backed out, citing commitments to a film she was going to be making, but she later said it was because the character of Clarice Starling wasn’t written to be congruous with her appearance in the previous film. That left only Hopkins who, thankfully, returned to reprise his trademark role as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Roles were recast, the script was heavily re-written and the resulting picture is something that, while interesting in some aspects, feels like an entirely different beast than what many might have been expecting. And I don’t feel it was for the best.

Ten years after his escape at the end of “The Silence of the Lambs”, Hannibal Lecter is living a cultured life in Italy. Clarice Starling (Julianne Moore) is still an agent with the FBI, but she still hasn’t been able to get Lecter out of her mind. She finds herself drawn back into his web when one of his few surviving victims, Mason Verger (Gary Oldman), alerts her to some recent evidence of Lecter’s potential whereabouts. Starling contacts the local authorities in Italy, and Inspector Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) takes on the case. He’s known Lecter as Dr. Fell, a curator at the local museum. Rather than aid the FBI, however, Pazzi decides to try capturing Lecter himself when he discovers Mason Verger is offering a $3 million reward to have Lecter in his own possession. Things go awry, Pazzi is killed and Lecter is soon on his way back to the United States to catch up with Clarice.

There’s a lot going on in this movie, perhaps even too much at times. The first thing to remember is that screenwriter Steve Zaillian, who re-wrote a poorly-received script by David Mamet, had to condense Harris’ 600-page novel into a more easily digestible 120+ pages, leaving a great deal of story and characters on the cutting room floor. Another thing to remember is that Harris’ source novel wasn’t exactly met with praise upon release, so even though people wanted to see the return of Hannibal, they weren’t exactly thrilled with the direction Harris was taking him. This led to many changes from the novel, which those familiar would agree were for the better. Hannibal and Clarice on the run together as lovers in South America? Oy vey. It’s not wonder Foster balked at joining the cast. The problem with a film like “Hannibal” is that it’s following what many regard as a near-flawless picture, and we all know it’s virtually impossible to go up from there. Even hiring someone as notable as Ridley Scott to helm it doesn’t guarantee success. By creating another adventure for Hannibal, it strips away the character’s mystique, leaving viewers with more answers than questions. I prefer my villains to be more conspicuous.

The reason why “The Silence of the Lambs” works so well, and made Lecter so memorable, was that he is essentially a supporting player to the larger investigation in the film. He’s only in the film for around 16 minutes, yet in that brief amount of time he managed to become a household name, a frequent parody, and a horror icon. He comes across as so charming and astute, yet we know he’s a psychopath who likes to eat his victims. Not seeing him perform these acts is what makes him so intriguing. In “Hannibal” he is, obviously, center stage, and I think it becomes too much of a good thing. Hopkins is fantastic in the role, no question about it, but the character loses bite when he’s forced into the role of sorta-protagonist (it’s clear we’re meant to root for him), leaving the bland Mason Verger to inherit the role of villain. Hannibal is an international criminal who is wanted for crimes committed in the United States, so even though he’s guilty of some malfeasance in Italy I don’t understand why he’d risk flying back to the U.S. Just to see Starling? I don’t buy it. Lecter might be a romantic deep down, but he isn’t dumb enough to risk capture by the FBI or Mason Verger just to fawn over Clarice. Still, despite his questionable decisions I thought Hopkins was one of the few standouts in this laborious picture.

The other standout would be Gary Oldman as Mason Verger. I don’t find the character himself particularly interesting – he’s a rich, wheelchair-bound vegetable that can talk – but Oldman imbues him with a wry sense of humor that provides some needed levity throughout the film. I get Verger’s motive for wanting to exact some form of revenge on Hannibal after being talked into slicing off his own face. He just doesn’t provide the film with a compelling enough antagonist to justify Hannibal’s ascent to Good Guy territory. The make-up work on Oldman, courtesy of Greg Cannom, is absolutely brilliant in its ability to repulse. Rather than go with something extremely grotesque (in the novel Verger has no face at all; he lives in a sterile room) Scott and Cannom decided to create something that would be more medically accurate. I think the end result is one of the film’s true crowning achievements. Oldman doesn’t need to display any range beneath the latex because Verger has none; the man is completely consumed with all things Lecter, with the ultimate goal being delivered his former doctor so that he can be tortured in a manner commensurate with Verger’s tortured life.

The most controversial bit of casting was no doubt who would be taking over the role of Clarice Starling. I read that something like 300 actresses sought out the role, with the part eventually going to Julianne Moore after Hopkins mentioned to the producers that he had worked with her before and thought she’d be a good fit. The truth is that no one but Jodie Foster is a good fit. There’s a reason she won an Oscar for her performance, and the have someone else step into her shoes doesn’t gel. I think Moore is a completely competent actress, but she’s never really wowed me. I mostly give her a pass because of a rule I have that anyone who was in “Boogie Nights” (1997) is a-ok. Yes, even Heather Graham. But I digress. Just as Scott had an uphill job directing this sequel, Moore had an even bigger battle trying to make Starling her own while also paying respect to the character Foster made so popular. It just doesn’t work for me. Even though I know Moore is Starling, I still feel like I’m watching another character, like this film exists in some twilight zone/alternate reality. Some stories have said that Foster wanted too much money, so producer Dino De Laurentiis simply told her to take a hike. Even if that isn’t true, I still think they should have done everything possible to retain the core duo of Foster and Hopkins. They’d built a rapport that didn’t feel genuine with Moore, and in the process it diluted the budding relationship (in Hannibal’s mind, at least) between the two.

There’s no mistaking that Ridley Scott brought a vastly different style to this film than Jonathan Demme did to “Silence”. There was a methodical pace to that film which is absent here in “Hannibal”. I’d consider “Silence” to be a psychological horror film, whereas Scott has practically made a full-bore gothic horror film in the old Universal Studios tradition. Lecter is transformed into a larger than life villain – all he’s missing are a pair of fangs and a cape. Mason Verger looks like a crippled Freddy Krueger. One of the major plots points is that Verger’s plan once he obtains Lecter is to unleash a dozen flesh-hungry, 500-lb. hogs to eat Lecter from the feet up. People are brutally dispatched by Hannibal throughout the film. There’s a lot of gore here, though I hear the novel was dripping with it as well. I have zero problems with that, but the film doesn’t always live in pure horror territory. The entire second act takes place in Italy, and it’s rather boring. Watching Det. Pazzi stalk around, desperate to bag Lecter and collect a big paycheck, isn’t exactly thrilling. The most enjoyable parts of Hannibal come near the end, once he’s back in the U.S. and in the hands of Verger. Only then does Scott seem to let the restraints off of Hopkins, allowing him to act in more villainous ways than we’ve been treated to for the past hour and change. I still don’t like the ending, though.

Video

This standalone Blu-ray of “Hannibal” is the exact same disc that was previously found in the “Hannibal Lecter Collection”. Surely you didn’t think that we were getting a new edition, right? The 25GB single-layer disc features an unremarkable 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps MPEG-2 encoded image that is passable for high definition, but it’s far from reference quality material. I can’t say that there are obvious deficiencies with the image; it’s just that it doesn’t look terribly strong. I’m sure a better encode on a dual-layered 50GB disc would have yielded better results, but I have a feeling we’ll have to make due with this one for a while. Every aspect of this image is mid-range across the board, from the appearance of details right on down to color and black levels. Nothing is particularly bad, but it’s also not great. Scott seems to have favored a muted color palette here, so nothing really leaps off the screen. I don’t recall seeing any primaries in the image – just a lot of neutral tones. Black levels hold well; they never appear hazy or washed out. Detail is where this transfer could use a great boost, as the majority of finer background details are virtually indistinguishable. Facial close-ups look good, not great. More could have been done to help this film shine on Blu-ray, but the current disc is just acceptable enough that fans probably won’t bitch about it TOO much.

Audio

There’s exactly one impressive moment to be found when listening to the English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit, and that would be during the fish market shootout between the FBI and a group of African gangsters. There’s a massive amount of gun fire erupting from all corners of the room, with shotgun blasts powerful enough to emit some serious oomph from your subwoofer. The rattling of machine gun fire sounds like a buzz saw in your ear as gang members are mowed down with extreme prejudice. Once all of that subsides, then the track gets dull quickly. I know many people enjoy Hans Zimmer’s score; I am not one of them. I felt the orchestral arrangements were too serene and, frankly, boring when compared to Howard Shore’s masterful score from “The Silence of the Lambs”. Even some scenes of minor action that should pack a greater punch sounded like all their action was relegated to the front channels. Dialogue is well-balanced among the track, never getting lost amongst the minor melees or soundtrack cues. Just like the video quality, this is a perfectly passable track but it lacks anything to help it stand out.
Spanish and French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround sound tracks are also included. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired or Spanish.

Extras

Remember how “Hannibal” received a 2-disc set when it arrived on DVD? And it was jam-packed with TONS of awesome bonus features, something typical of most Ridley Scott films?

Yeah, none of that’s here…

Bonus trailers (1080p) are included for the following:

- “The Silence of the Lambs” runs for 1 minute and 48 seconds.
- “The Usual Suspects” runs for 2 minutes and 24 seconds.
- “Bulletproof Monk” runs for 1 minute and 47 seconds.

Packaging

The single disc comes in an eco-case with some rather uninspired cover art.

Overall

While not nearly as good as its predecessor, “Hannibal” still has some redeeming qualities to ensure it’s not a total wash. Hopkins steals the show, as expected, and Oldman provides a fun supporting role. I’m still not sold on Julianne Moore as Starling. She does the best she can with the material, but in the end it ends up feeling like a different character. Foster’s involvement would have made the film far more enjoyable for me, and I’m sure many others as well. The lack of all previous bonus features is troubling, but if you like the film enough I’m sure you can live with owning this barebones disc at a sub-$15 price.

The Film: C+ Video: B- Audio: B Extras: F Overall: C+

 


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