THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT HANNIBAL

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This movie should be rated NC-17. 

And I thought I was pretty hip to on-screen violence! I was sorely mistaken. Guts dropping from a height of two stories, wild man-eating boars (in a mini-homage to 'Gladiator'), brains being fed to kids, and that's only the half of it! They tried to leave no stone unturned. Even the drug dealer at the beginning was an over the top creation. And so as this film passes into the ledgers of film history, it will serve as the Rosetta Stone for sheer, disgusting big budget movie violence. It's not good to say things like that because it only ends up making people want to see it more, but this could be where the line is drawn, where non-recommendees (told not to see it, but see it anyway) will say "Yeah, you were right. I shouldn't have seen that."

This movie takes Hannibal Lecter and throws him in amongst the likes of Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees, etc. It won't be long before he's going after sexed-up teens in log cabins. Somehow the magic of the first movie is gone when, for example, he mortally lacerates the guy trailing him through the train terminal, or wherever that was. (I don't want to go back to find out) He's come a long way from being surrounded by brick and plexiglass.  Even at his age he can get himself out of any situation, evade anyone, leave no trace, even after chopping off his own hand. The only difference between Lecter here and Freddy Krueger, Jason Voorhees and the like, is that he has major studio backing with a budget larger than all the 'Halloween' movies put together.

There are two violent sequences I hate the most. They've been like a mental poison to me. There are others if I think about it too much, so I'll just mention these two and get on with it. The first is a shot in the scene with the boars. It's a quick shot of a boar munching on one guy's face causing a great deal of blood to ooze out of the bite. I know it's fake, and it's happening to one of the bad guys, but kudos to the filmmakers for making it seem so real, and so awful. The other scene I can't shake is the big dinner finale, of course.  A couple friends of mine were particularly disturbed by that one.  It's the stuff support groups are made of. We've come a long way since the first 'Texas Chainsaw Massacre' as a nation of moviemakers and movie watchers. Or maybe we've just come full circle.

Showtime has been showing double features of this and 'Silence of the Lambs' which is unfair to the latter. But at least the people who plan the schedules of these channels get to have some fun.

Two of Hollywood's smartest director/screenwriters worked on this turkey, David Mamet and Steven Zaillian. (I was reminded of Mamet-Speak when Agent Starling tells the one D.C. police officer that he's here "because the mayor wants to look tough on crime".) They did what they could, but the problem is you have to have a good novel to work with if you're going to have a good adaptation. The relationship between Clarice and Hannibal, so crucial to 'Silence', plays here more like Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner: you just KNOW she's going to make it in time to save him from the wild boars, for example. I couldn't get into the spirit of things; I was hoping she didn't make it. Every other character in the movie is basically cannon fodder, or cannibal fodder rather. (Sorry, had to go for it.) The story relies heavily upon what I tentatively call "The Jerk Mandate". When a character turns out to be a jerk, it is only then that something gruesome can safely happen to them. There are no innocent victims here, which makes things boring.

The crucial scene that sets the tone for the movie, at least Agent Starling's half of it, is the one where she's talking to Hannibal's former jailer Barney. Might as well make this verbatim...


Barney: Do you ever think he might come after you? You ever think about him at all?

Clarice Starling: Well, at least thirty seconds of everyday. I can't help it. He's always with me, like a bad habit.


At that point, he should've taken out a copy of 'Silence of the Lambs' and said "Yeah, and they made a movie about him, too! I played myself" The movie's about that self-conscious as it is. 

I didn't see it in the theater, nor did I want to. And yet, now that it's here on cable, and I've got my clicker, and since there is indeed something about Mary... oops, I mean, something about 'Hannibal' Lecter, it did pique my curiosity. Ultimately, the film seems to serve more as a gore-delivery device than as a watchable movie. So see it once, but only if you have to, if you need a 'gore fix'. Incidentally, as 'Mary' seemed to spawn 'American Pie' and a whole new generation of gross-out comedies with attitude to match, so could 'Hannibal' lead to a similar Renaissance in gross-out horror movies. So far, 'Hannibal' is way ahead of the competition. As it stands, all we get are Jason retreads and Halloween retreads. We'll get to Friday the 13th part 13 eventually. Where's our new Pinhead for the CG generation?

This is the second film directed by Ridley Scott in a succession of three directorial credits over a period of 18 months, similar to what Steven Spielberg did when he returned to direct the Jurassic Park sequel, then 'Amistad', and then the World War II masterpiece 'Saving Private Ryan'. The strobing visual effect from 'Saving Private Ryan', which has been used by almost everyone since, is also used in this film, in the car crash scenes for example. The lens aperture is opened up fully, and the shutter on the camera is closed to a mere sliver, if I know my cameras correctly. 

Steven Soderbergh is on a similar career track, but we'll save that for another time.

Anyway, if I may be so bold, what we're finding is that when a film director directs three films in a period of 18 months, it seems that at least one of them ends up being a stinker. (Jurassic Park 2?) Although that word doesn't even begin to describe 'Hannibal'. Something more like 'reprehensible'. I do not fault the actors; the acting is top notch, and makes the movie work. I feel like hugging Ray Liotta and saying "My God! What did they do to you?" In his big scene, I was going to say that I didn't know which was worse, the part before or the part after Hannibal pops off the top of his head for all to see. It's just such a gruesome scene that you almost don't care what a bastard Liotta's character had been up to that point.

Update: When Ray Liotta hosted SNL recently he did a send-up of the big dinner scene where people can go to a restaurant and be served some of their brain.

*1/2

-so sayeth the Movie Hooligan

(c)2003 Bulk Entertainment

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