Break the silence.
There are some sequels that create such buzz and excitement that their initial opening is sometimes more thrilling than the movie itself. Sequels such as The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and the mother of all hyped sequels, Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, created a frenzy and blew away many box office records. In February of 2001 the most infamous cinematic villain, Dr. Hannibal "The Cannibal" Lecter, made his return to the big screen in Ridley Scott's lush horror sequel Hannibal. Dr. Lecter made his first appearance in Michael Mann's Manhunter (played by Brian Cox), than showed up in Jonathan Demme's Academy Award winning The Silence of the Lambs. The Silence of the Lambs featured Jodie Foster as Special Agent Clarice Starling, and in an Oscar winning role Anthony Hopkins as Dr. Hannibal Lecter. Though neither Foster nor Demme could be persuaded back for the sequel (with Julianne Moore replacing Foster as Starling), Hopkins returned to play everyone's favorite boogeyman in this gory epic culled from Thomas Harris' macabre bestseller. Released simultaneously with a new edition of The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal makes its arrival on DVD with a special edition to die for.
Facts of the Case
Many years have passed since we last visited with Dr. Hannibal Lecter (Hopkins) and Special Clarice Agent Starling (Moore). In the time away, the good doctor has made his home in the bowels of Florence, Italy, living as a wealthy art curator under the faux name "Dr. Fell." Shrouded in mystery, Lecter is able to hide away from prying eyes and live his life among classical music and finely aged wine. Simultaneously, Agent Starling has been disgraced on the force when a shootout at a local fish market goes awry, forcing Starling to shoot and kill a known crime czar while holding her baby. Demanding her badge and gun, Starling's career is in limbo.
Meanwhile, local Italian Detective Pazzi (Giancarlo Giannini) starts to get the drop on "Dr. Fell." When Pazzi realizes that Fell is really Lecter, he begins a quest to capture Hannibal and retrieve a $3 million dollar reward being offered by Mason Verger (an uncredited Gary Oldman). Verger was one of Lecter's last victims who miraculously survived, though not before Lecter decided to feed his face to some dogs. Hideously scarred and disfigured, Verger is intent on capturing Lecter for his own devious revenge.
After receiving a letter from Dr. Lecter (who has been following Starling's disgrace on the force with great interest), Starling hops back on the trail of the infamous Hannibal Lecter. Starling's courage will once again be tested when she once again comes face-to-face with the cunning and deceptive monster known as Hannibal.
Much like George Lucas' The Phantom Menace, Hannibal already had a big strike against it on opening day: the hype. I didn't know if I would like Hannibal or not, but what I did know was the reviews and audience reaction would be harsh. It didn't matter what was going to flicker up on the screen; there was just no way Hannibal would live up to audience expectations. The initial trouble came with the tone of the movie. Whereas The Silence of the Lambs was a darkly brooding horror film, Hannibal plays much more for entertainment, and yes, even laughs. Hannibal even included a rich sense of romance involving the relationship between Starling and Lecter (not to mention the setting of Florence, Italy). Even Hans Zimmer's music score is much more melodiously lush than Howard Shore's foreboding score for The Silence of the Lambs. In essence, Hannibal ended up being a vastly different movie than The Silence of the Lambs. Walking out of Hannibal, I was struck with a sense of wonder and amazement. I feel that I was one of the only people who really, really enjoyed Hannibal. For me, the goal was to not directly compare it to The Silence of the Lambs. I knew going in that the tone was going to be different (I'd read the book months before), so there were no surprises when the credits started rolling.
The idea of Hannibal almost seems like an afterthought to The Silence of the Lambs; an epilogue on Lecter, if you will. Starling is used sparingly in Hannibal, for the film really focuses on Dr. Lecter (hence the title). The gossip was that Julianne Moore wouldn't be able to play the character of Clarice Starling as well as Jodie Foster (after all, she did win an Oscar for her rendition of Clarice). The good news is that Moore is exceptional in the role, filling the part with expertise. Years on the force have taken their toll on Starling, and this time around she is much more cynical and aware of her surroundings. Though I missed Jodie Foster, I enjoyed Julianne Moore's interpretation of Starling. Moore is one of the most accomplished actresses in Hollywood, and her ability to assimilate into an Oscar winning role shows a great amount of expertise on her part. However, make no mistake; this is Anthony Hopkins' show. Reprising his Oscar winning role was a risky undertaking. Though a little slower and paunchier, Hopkins still generates scares as the vicious Lecter. Truth be told, he comes off a bit broader here than he did in The Silence of the Lambs. There his dialogue often provoked tense chuckles; in Hannibal, Lecter's jokes are low-key and instill the type of laughs that are often seen at a circus sideshow. One minor problem Hopkins faces is that Lecter is simply not as scary this time out. Lecter behind glass starring at us with his sinister eyes is terrifying. However, letting Lecter run free turns his fear down a notch. Even so, the character of Dr. Lecter in Hannibal is still able to make us squirm uncomfortably (further proof: the video Starling watches showing Lecter wildly attacking a nurse—absolutely chilling). Hopkins is in dire straits of being upstaged by the grotesque Mason Verger, played with electric glee by an uncredited Gary Oldman (Bram Stoker's Dracula). Captive Audience Productions, the make-up team behind Hannibal (as well as recent make-up films Monkeybone and Big Momma's House), have done a fantastic job of realizing Verger's most deformed features to the screen. Like a living, breathing skeleton, Verger is everything that chills your bones; cunning, monstrous, and a pedophile. But fear not, for he is a man of God, and in Verger's own words, "I have immunity from the risen Jesus, and nobody beats the riz!"
Much has been discussed about the gore in Hannibal. I won't argue with them, for the simple truth is that Hannibal is a violent film. Hangings, entrails, wild animals eating people…even a man being fed his own brain. Much of it is done tongue-in-cheek (especially the gruesome ending), and for the faint of heart Hannibal will be their worst nightmare. For the rest of us it's an uncomfortable look at man's inhumanity to cannibalism.
Fans speculated that Harris' book could not be translated to the screen, and in some respects they were right. Many pieces and characters had to be cut, including Mason's masculine sister and the odd, unsettling ending Harris concocted for Starling and Lecter. What director Ridley Scott (Gladiator) did bring to the screen was probably the best adaptation possible (written by Schindler's List scribe Steven Zaillian and State and Main writer David Mamet). Though I'm not as partial to Ridley Scott's direction as I am Demme's, Scott does an expert job of keeping the mood darkly romantic. The script for Hannibal is certainly not as textured or complex as its predecessor (many characters here, such as Paul Krendler (Ray Liotta), seem a bit one-dimensional and stale). All things being considered, this is still an above average sequel that engages the viewer while consequently repulsing them. Scott comments in the liner notes that "instead of covering old ground with a predictable sequel, it was my every intention to take Hannibal in a new direction." While not perfect, Hannibal certainly takes a different path than Silence of the Lambs, and for those willing to take a chance, it's a fun roller coaster of a ride.
Hannibal is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Though it is a generally dark film, this transfer by MGM is superlative. All flesh tones were bright and natural with blacks being very solid. As expected, this is a great looking DVD presentation and about as close as you can get to reference quality. Only the slightest amount of digital artifacting was spotted, though it is hardly worth mentioning. A great looking picture to see all the horrible images Dr. Lecter has in store for us!
Audio is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS. Jus like the video, both of these audio tracks are dead on the money. With the combination of ambient sounds, background noises, sound effects, dialogue and music, both tracks engulf the viewer in a terrifying world of violent sound. All speakers were utilized during most all of the scenes (especially during the beginning fish market shoot-out). I detected no distortion on either tracks, and to be honest, I couldn't really tell the difference between the DTS and the Dolby 5.1 track. Both were great, and it's nice to see them both included on this set. Also included is a Dolby Digital 5.1 track in French and Spanish, as well as English, French and Spanish subtitles.
Hannibal isn't called a "special edition" for nothing. MGM has seen fit to include a bevy of features for the gourmet viewer to chew on. On the first disc is a screen specific commentary track by director Ridley Scott. This is the first time that I've ever listened to a commentary track by Scott, and I must say that I was impressed. Scott talks very intelligently about the making of Hannibal, as well as about a thousand other aspects of the production (i.e., music, locations, editing). Everything from casting choices to rewrites is touched upon, and Scott never slows down enough to let the viewer get bored. This track is very nice for fans of Hannibal and should provide them with a good amount of tidbits and morsels to chew on. Also included on disc one is a teaser trailer for the upcoming Nicolas Cage flick Windtalkers (which looks unexciting to this critic), as well as a trailer for the MGM DVD re-release of The Silence of the Lambs.
Disc two starts off with the documentary "Breaking The Silence: The Making of Hannibal," lasting nearly 80 minutes. This documentary is broken into five separate segments: "Development," "Production," "Special Make-Up Effects," "Music," and "Reaction." All can be played separately, or in full. This is a very through piece that includes what seems to be everything you want to know about the making of Hannibal. There are multiple interviews with cast in crew, including (but not limited to): Anthony Hopkins, Julianne Moore, Ray Liotta, Frankie R. Faison, Francesca Neri, Ridley Scott, producers Dino De Laurentiis and Martha De Laurentiis, plus some of the special effects guys, composer Hans Zimmer, and many celebrities at the February 2001 premiere of Hannibal. Comprehensive to say the least, "Breaking The Silence: The Making of Hannibal" also features footage from behind the scenes, the making of the special effects, and publicity for the film. When you're finished with the movie, this is a great way to get a sneak peek at what it took to bring Hannibal to the screen!
Next up are 14 deleted scenes with optional commentary by Ridley Scott. Each of these scenes includes a small caption on the right hand side explaining the scenes. Many of these are expanded scenes, or were ones that were altogether cut out of the finished film. Some of them are interesting and might have fit well in the movie ("Return to the Dungeon"), whereas others were cut with good reason ("Pazzi's Password). Listening to the scenes with Scott's commentary also helps one understand the reasoning for the decisions he made in the final edit. Also included is an "alternate ending" that is definitely different (and inferior) to the original ending, though only by a slight margin. If you listen to the "Alternate Ending" with Scott's commentary you will discover what the idea was for a third, un-produced ending was. All in all these deleted scenes comprise a very nice glimpse at rare footage from the cutting-room floor.
An interactive "Multi-Angle" presentation features three separate vignettes that you can look at via your trusty controller. "Anatomy of a Shoot-Out" dissects the opening scene through multi-angle shots filmed from the original raw footage. These can all be viewed separately, or all at the same time on screen. The "Title Design" section features four different title designs that were made for the film (final title design, original teaser cut, shooting pigeons, and Nick Livesey's notebook), as well as different audio tracks (final theatrical mix, original teaser mix, commentary by Nick Livesey, commentary by Ridley Scott). This is a very neat concept, as you can mix 'n' match each audio track with the title design for lots of different perspectives and versions. A very cool feature. The final presentation is something called "Ridleygrams" and features an interview with director Ridley Scott as he discusses the opening sequence. Also included during this feature are some storyboards and storyboard-to-screen comparisons. You can watch either the storyboards, the storyboard-to-screen comparisons, or both while the interview with Scott takes place.
There are the typical promotional materials, included under a section titled "Marketing Gallery." Featured are two still archives (one featuring still photos and another featuring poster concepts), the theatrical trailer, a teaser trailer, and 19 television spots (talk about exposure). I especially enjoyed seeing the different ideas that were thrown around for the poster concepts. Finally there are production notes, as well as cast and crew filmographies.
MGM has done a commendable job on this double disc "special edition" of Hannibal. Clearly Hannibal is a movie people either love or hate. Putting comparative judgments aside, I really thought Hannibal delivered on many levels, and as I told a friend, "I went in to the theater to see something I'd never seen before. I saw a man being fed his own brains. I thought I got my money's worth." For around thirty dollars, Fans of Hannibal will have a lot of material to peruse, as well as a solid transfer and aggressive audio tracks.
MGM is acquitted of all charges with their double disc set of Hannibal. Hope you're hungry!
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• Screen-Specific Audio Commentary by Director Ridley Scott
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